The Nigerian and United States Governments have been alerted that Ogoniland, in Rivers State may be the next flashpoint of crisis in the country if nothing is done to address the long standing injustice against the people.
Spokesman of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Anslem John-Miller, who recently addressed the US Congress on the same issue, told THISDAY in an exclusive chat that despite consistent representations to the government, Shell and the international community on environmental challenges faced by Ogoniland since 1990s, water pollution remains a major threat causing hundreds of deaths annually.
John-Miller said the Ogoni people were dying daily as a result of benzene contaminated water, supporting his claim with a report of a study conducted by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
According to him, UNEP in August 2011, submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan who promised to implement the findings.
John-Miller said: “In anticipation of a massive protest by the Ogoni people for failure of the government to implement the report after one year, the government in 2012 established the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Control and Restoration Agency (HYPREP).
“Despite their reservations, the people assured the government that they would collaborate with the agency in implementing the UNEP report.
“However, it is sad to note that to this date, very little has been done by the HYPREP to implement the UNEP report despite the fact that the report observes that Ogoni people are dying in their numbers on a daily basis as a result of the consumption of benzene contaminated water.”
The MOSOP leader who is also the President of the US-based Council of Ogoni Professionals (COP), noted that the environmental, social, and political demands of the people contained in the Ogoni Bills of Rights (OBR) which was submitted to the Nigerian Government since 1990 and the international community has not been resolved to this date.
Shell, he said, had publicly indicated its willingness to work with the government and the Ogoni people in implementing the UNEP report, adding that President and Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Company, Ben Van Beurden, recently said the multinational organisation had set aside funds for implementing the UNEP report and that he was embarking on a trip to Nigeria to seeks ways of working with the government to implement the said report.
The COP president stressed that while the Ogoni people welcome the move by the Shell president, “I am concerned that unless all parties are onboard, especially the Nigerian Government, such efforts would amount to nothing
“While the UNEP report remains unresolved, hundreds of Ogoni refugees and political asylum-seekers remain stranded in the Republic of Benin, living under dehumanising conditions with no access to food, medication, education among others.”
On the creation of a new state for the Ogoni people, John-Miller said a ‘Bori State’ was imperative in advancing its impasse with Shell and the Nigerian Government.
“The proposed ‘Bori State’ as acknowledged by the National Assembly is one that would be economically viable due to abundant human and natural resources endowed in Ogoni and the neighboring communities of Andoni, Opobo, Nkoro, Oyigbo which make up the proposed state.
“However, given the high level of politics based on the dominance of majority versus minority at the ongoing National Conference in Nigeria, we are not hopeful that ‘Bori State’ would be among the states recommended to be created at the end of the conference.”
On behalf of the Ogoni people, Jon-Miller expressed satisfaction that US remains a strategic partner of Nigeria in navigating through her rough waters adding that the formation of the US/Nigeria Bi-National Commission was a bold step in the right direction.
“However, since deliberations and activities of the commission remain at the inter-governmental level, it is very difficult for concerned individuals and civil society organisations that would have contributed toward the success of the commission to participate.
“To address the concerns of the Ogoni and other peoples of the Niger Delta, I strongly appeal to this committee to work with the Barack Obama administration to appoint a special envoy saddled with the responsibility of working with the commission and the Nigerian Government to address the legitimate and genuine concerns of the Ogoni people and others,” he insisted.
According to him, the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger-Delta Amnesty Programme can best be described as bureaucracies in Nigeria.
If these establishments were effective, John-Miller argued, the over two-decade Ogoni conflict with Shell and the Nigerian Government would have been a thing of the past, “but that is not the case,” he concluded.