Emilia Oga is a Research Assistant & Program Support at The SING Foundation
The Ogoniland oil spill cleanup issues may be likened to a showdown between a porcupine and an elephant. The purse-sized animal bares its spikes and proceeds to shoot them off in random successions and without precision at the looming elephant. In one calculated step the porcupine is crushed under the elephant’s foot and he goes on his merry way. Since 1970, when the first oil spill in Ogoniland occurred in which thousands of barrels was spilt on into rivers and farmlands, the communities have suffered beyond words. Men women and children have been forced to watch voicelessly while they lose their loved ones and means of livelihood. Rivers and other sources of water have been lost, mangrove forests destroyed, farmlands destroyed, sources of food destroyed, water hyacinth and aquatic life population lost. Ogoniland communities are forced to live with terminal diseases and other health hazards while in complete penury. For a people whose livelihood depends on farming and fishing, there has been no upside in the discovery of oil in their communities. A non-violent move to save their communities was crushed in 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of MOSOP (an Ogoni socio-cultural group) was executed with eight others by the then military government of General Sani Abacha (a perfect instance of the trampling of the porcupine). The Ogoni people are yet to recover from the ordeal. Multinationals have failed to adhere to safe exploration practices, make quick responses to sites of spills or acknowledge and give accurate data on the situation. The Nigerian government has failed to enforce the exploration rules or hold multinationals accountable for malpractices. In cases of established malpractices, multinationals fail to give deserved compensations to suffering communities. Shell Petroleum Development Company had to pay the Bodo Community in Ogoniland the sum of $55 million in compensation over two terrible spills in 2008 and 2009 after it was discovered that the company did not disclose the accurate volume of spilt crude oil and had offered the community a much smaller sum of $4000. Amnesty international has since 2009 uncovered 89 spills in which multinational were incorrect in their stated cause of the spill, volume of crude oil spilt or the magnitude of the damage. The Nigerian government through the Department of Petroleum Resources estimated that there were more than 7000 spills between 1970 and 2000 in the Niger Delta region. Out of these, 3000 oil spills were in Ogoniland alone. This accounts for 40% of all the spills that occurred in Shell’s operations worldwide within the same time frame.In 2010, the Nigerian government commissioned the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to carry out an assessment on the damages caused by oil exploration to Ogoniland. This, many viewed was a step in the right direction notwithstanding that it took Nigeria 52 years after oil exploration had begun in Ogoniland to commission an environmental assessment. The assessment project lasted 14 months during which 200 locations were examined, medical records of indigenes were analyzed, locals were interviewed and over 122 kilometers of pipeline were surveyed. The reports from the findings came in 2011 after which nothing was done in the years that followed despite the gravity of the findings. The UNEP ascertained in their findings that the devastation done in Ogoniland would take 25 to 30 years to clean up and would cost approximately $1 Billion. They reported dangerous levels of contaminations in over ground and underground water sources, soil, vegetation and air. In one community called EjamaEbubu, the project found contamination from a spill that took place more than 40 years ago. No cleanup efforts seemed forthcoming; instead it became a campaign talking point for politicians. Hopes were high again when in June 2016 the Buhari led government represented by his deputy Osibanjo announced the commencement of the long awaited cleanup exercise in Bodo. More time wasting continued. In February 2019, the first phase of the cleanup contracts was awarded to 16 companies. The companies are Louizont Ferretti Enterprises Ltd, Environmental Resources Managers Limited, Asonic Associates Limited, Mosvinny Nigeria Limited, Rey & Reina International Limited, Pacrim Engineering Ltd, Basic (Nigeria) Technology Limited, Newpal Nigeria Ltd, Amazing Environmental Solutions International Limited, Earthpro Unique Integrated Ltd, Nautilus Engineering and Construction Limited, Tiptree Intertrade Nigeria Limited, Navante Oil & Gas Company Limited, Secura Investments Limited, Shamsa Resources and Services Ltd, and Odun Environmental Limited. A total of N714.45 million has been issued to them as 15% advance payment for the contracted tasks. Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), the agency coordinating the proposed cleanup, has confirmed the reception of only $180 million. Sadly, it seems our hope has once again been crushed. Premium Times investigation of the awarded contracts revealed that almost all the sixteen companies awarded the contracts to carry out the first phase of the clean up by the present administration have absolutely no experience in controlling, remedying or even cleaning up oil spills. Only one company out of the lot had any qualifications or experience in oil clean up exercises. An investigation done by Times and reported on May 5th 2019 stated that the companies awarded these contracts were originally set up for poultry farming, car sales, textile dealership, fashion, palm oil production, building design and construction. Furthermore, these companies did not meet the minimum qualification requirements set down by the HYPREP. They fell short of the standard they set. After these discoveries the HYREP coordinator Mr. Dekil became evasive and unresponsive to questions from journalists. Similar to the government’s responses to the suffering of the Ogoni people, the urgency and necessity of the cleanup exercise is being treated with the same nonchalance while the people of the Ogoni land communities continue to die in numbers. The suffering knows no bounds. Oil spills cause damage to the human respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, cancers, skin diseases and digestive tract infections. Nuke Kambari, a man from Mogo community interviewed by Vanguard in 2018, explained how he lost members of his family and friends to the spills. He explained that those who did not die at the time of the spills if it caught fire died from the resulting illnesses and starvation. Children are forced to discontinue school due to illnesses and lack of funds. In addition, researches have shown that oil spills are capable of causing death in newborns and in cases where they survive, may result in physical or brain damage. Neonatal mortality rate increases by almost a 100% within a 10 kilometer radius of a major spill. Amnesty International (AI) reported that babies are twice as likely to die in the first month if their mothers were living near oil spill sites. People have lost their children, parents, brothers, sisters and neighbors. Others have lost their homes and source of sustenance. Some have lost all of the above. As a result, there is growing distrust, tension and apprehension among the communities. Most people in the communities have with verifiable reasons expressed their loss of faith in the government over any efforts to remedy their environment. They have lost their means of livelihood, health and loved ones but yet are forced to listen to controversies on the awarding of cleanup contracts that would save them. It is a terrible reality that a region which produces the bulk of the country’s revenue would lie in waste while the government does little. The actions they do take are riddled with political self-extension, ethnic discrimination and a desire for financial benefits. Like all interactions between entities of unequal strength, the porcupine remains helpless beneath the weight of the elephant.