The Niger Delta clearly ranks among one of the most polluted places on the planet. No fewer than 7,000 cases of oil spills were reported between 1976 and 2001 alone. The narrative can be changed. But first, we must speed up the clean-up.


It is now well over one thousand days since Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited Ogoniland to flag off what could become a ground-breaking undertaking on the world’s environmental map and perhaps the most significant state-led intervention to restore dignity to one of Africa’s most marginalised ethnic groups.

But it has taken the combined and sustained advocacy of non-governmental actors to keep the Ogoni Clean-up cause alive. It may be thanks to such interventions that the federal government, in spite of its many deviations from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) blueprint of 2011, and the grand spectacle of high hope that marked the event of June 2, 2016 in Bodo City, is only now taking baby steps to do the needful.

Truth be told, the forty months that have been lost in the past three years were not in favour of any strategic benefit to the Ogoni people. If anything, it was time in which the goodwill that was generated during the flag-off of the exercise soured into a monument of visible cynicism, the type that polluted the trust that was gradually beginning to build up among a neglected people. For one, it brought back memories of the old days when multinational oil companies told them one thing and did the exact opposite.

But it’s a good thing that the momentum is back where it should be and that being the case, there are a number of items that come up for scrutiny.

First, government must set its priorities right. The clean-up of Ogoniland is to span four local government areas. As the UNEP report pointed out, not less than $1 billion will be required for the first five years of a process that could last an entire generation. The revelation that only a paltry $180 million is in the escrow account for the implementation of the environmental remediation, does not say so much about deep intentions or concerted strategy for bringing home a long-term project.

Those who are following the policy process regarding the remediation of the pollution have repeatedly pointed to the need to set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) responsible for the clean-up as an act of parliament. Leaving it where it is at the moment – the product of a gazette – could one day see it fall casualty to a change in the nation’s political leadership.

In UNEP’s words, “the environmental restoration of Ogoniland in Nigeria could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.”


It has also been suggested repeatedly that HYPREP should ensure it is engaging only the right stakeholders and that it publishes its activities every step of the way through dedicated channels. And to that extent, I agree with Monday Osasah of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development that “a civil society desk” is imperative “for…nuanced information sharing to keep the civil populace abreast of happenings on the issues of clean up, and to also foster proper liaison with the office.”

A lack of proper accountability in the dealings of a project of this magnitude will not augur well for the overall aims it hopes to achieve. Not least when the absence of a CSO Desk in HYPREP depicts the body as one recluse from the public it is expected to be serving. It also goes to explain the perception that HYPREP is not open and transparent in carrying out its duties. Various advocacy engagements, press briefings have pointed to this. For this singular reason, CSOs have held a CSO-HYPREP dialogue to address the issue of information sharing and dissemination, and collaboration as partners in progress and in the spirit and letters of the open government partnership, which the buhari government had signed into in 2016.

A May 5 expose posted by online newspaper PREMIUM TIMES carried the caption, “How Buhari administration awarded Ogoni cleanup contracts to unqualified firms”. In it, the newspaper revealed that its investigations showed 16 contractors had been awarded remediation contracts and that none of the said firms had even the remotest connection to the oil industry or environment-related issues. There were other cases mentioned in that report where HYPREP broke even its own ground rules.

There is also the need to ensure that government institutions whose functions are linked with the remediation, for instance the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), as well as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) be effectively operationalised to ensure seamless implementation of the processes, so that the traditional rivalry and the concomitant ego-flexing that often hamper effective service delivery is eliminated. The crisis of variations in the interpretation, between the two front line bodies, of the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN) should worry any genuine observer of goings-on in the sector. Actually there are deeper issues than even the EGASPIN hoopla.

The new momentum must not be allowed to drop. There is need for a sense of urgency in light of lost time and the need to serve justice. In Ogoniland today, there are cases of child cancer! Why? The answer lies in test results showing children from whole villages whose water sources contain benzene 900 times above the WHO approved level. Benzene is a known carcinogenic.

In UNEP’s words, “the environmental restoration of Ogoniland in Nigeria could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.”

It took 36 years of communal naivety before the people realised that a deep, putrid environmental sore had been dug into their earth and that as a result, land, air and water had been tragically degraded beneath levels conducive to human survival – or for any other living thing for that matter.


Actually, the unprecedented findings that came to light during the 14-month long survey of UNEP revealed unbelievable realities.

More than 200 locations were examined, 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way surveyed, with more than 5,000 medical records checked and over 23,000 people at local community meetings engaged.

“Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300 square metres (Barabeedom-K.dere, Gokana local government area (LGA) to 79 hectares (Ajeokpori-Akpajo, Eleme LGA). Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes”, the report said.

Let’s not forget that oil was first struck in Bomu, Ogoniland in 1957. That was when the rain began to beat them (apologies to Achebe). It took 36 years of communal naivety before the people realised that a deep, putrid environmental sore had been dug into their earth and that as a result, land, air and water had been tragically degraded beneath levels conducive to human survival – or for any other living thing for that matter.

The Niger Delta clearly ranks among one of the most polluted places on the planet. No fewer than 7,000 cases of oil spills were reported between 1976 and 2001 alone. The narrative can be changed. But first, we must speed up the clean-up.

Cyril Abaku is a senior researcher with TVC NEWS, Lagos.