* But community leaders blame bunkering on absence of compensation
By Codratus Godson
The much-talked about $1Bn Ogoni clean up as ordered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is likely to go down the dream even after cleaning uo the Ogoni areas due to massive re-pollution caused by illegal refining and pipeline vandalism. This emerged at the symposium on the ‘UNEP Report and Ogoni Clean Up’ organized by the Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Rivers State Council on Wednesday, December 4, 2019, at the NUJ House in Port Harcourt.
Reviewing the pre-and post UNEP Report scenarios, the president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, identified illegal oil bunkering activities in Ogoniland as the greatest threat to the success of the ongoing clean-up of the area.
The third MOSOP leader said many impacted sites in Ogoniland have increased more than it was three years ago due to activities of illegal oil bunkering in Ogoni communities.
He said: “Artisanal refining, which we call ‘kpofire’ or illegal bunkering is the greatest challenge facing the ongoing clean of Ogoni. It will be impossible for the clean-up exercise to be successful when kpofire business is going on.
“We need the support of the media because due to the activities of the illegal bunkerers, the number of impacted sites in Ogoni has increased from the number we had three years ago.
“The communities are in full support of their children engaging in such acts. Before now, we thought it was only women that were supporting the artisanal refining, but we have realized that men are in full support. It is the women that we fear most for in terms of the harms of carcinogen in the environment but they have emerged as enthusiastic supporters of illegal refining, saying it was the source of livelihood for their families.
“Few months ago, I held a meeting with people of the communities where these illegal activities are high. To my greatest surprise, they told me that if their children should be made to stop the artisanal refining, where will the children get money to feed them?”
The MOSOP president stated that the people of Ogoni ethnic nationality whole-heartedly accepted the clean-up exercise as recommended by the UNEP Report because it has to do with their environment.
He said it was when they did not find compensation in the Report that their enthusiasm waned.
He also said the implementation is too slow due to excessive bureaucracy introduced in the procurement processes and called for waivers to speed up the processes and restore the confidence of the masses.
Explaining the re-pollution issue, an impacted community member and activist, Young Kigbara, said compensation was critical in the Ogoni clean up exercise and said the communities cannot be asked to protect pipelines against well armed bandits and bunkerers.
In his opening remarks, the former vice chancellor of the University of Science and Technology (now Rivers State University), BB Fakae, charged the media to beam attention on the UNEP Report saying it was a scientific exercise that needed deep understanding.
Fakae gave account of how he helped to get the Ogoni stakeholders to allow the UNEP team to conduct the study when the Ogoni people were suspicious and restive.
In his welcome remark, the chairman of the Correspondents’ Chapel, Ernest Chinwo, said in 2018, attention was beamed on insecurity but the Chapel chose to look at the environment because protecting the environment amounted to protecting the future. The journalists may form a media observatory to monitor the Ogoni Clean Up more adequately.