The resolution of the Federal Government early this week to deal with oil pollution in the Niger Delta is laudable. President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have on Wednesday announced a trust fund to pay for the clean-up of the Ogoniland region. Representatives of the Ogoni people, the United Nations, the oil companies operating in Nigeria and the government itself, will oversee the fund. Meanwhile, Amnesty International (AI) is said to have appealed to Shell to ensure that it complies with the Federal Government’s directive to clean up the already devastated Delta region.
This call by AI is welcome but we do not need to wait for AI to tell Shell to show commitment. Nigeria should tell Shell to follow the rules. We wonder why past governments were not decisive on this recurring issue, which explains why we commend the present administration for making this all-important move to address the ugly situation. The degree of environmental degradation in Nigeria is the second highest in the world. This is one bad news that must end. Nigerians cannot continually tolerate the country’s name being dragged in the mud. Nigeria has so much potential which suggests that whatever can work in any part of the world, can even work better in Nigeria. But the people and the government must be willing to defend their own at every point, and this starts from doing the right thing in every circumstance.
Oil companies in Nigeria must operate by global standards. Why is it that when spillage happens elsewhere, the oil companies clean up the site immediately, but when it happens in Nigeria, they relax and have to be begged to do their job. This should stop. The Niger Delta people have been debased enough. Their water is polluted, they cannot drink and even the fishes are dead. Their land is contaminated, they cannot farm and yet the oil companies that brought these woes upon them are waiting to be cajoled to do the right thing. The Federal Government should act in finality this time.
The establishment of the topical Trust Fund was a key recommendation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which published a study on oil pollution in Ogoniland four years ago. The UNEP study had called for Shell’s clean-up methods to be urgently overhauled, including reviewing its methodology and addressing serious delays in responding to spills. Initial $10 million is expected to be paid by stakeholders into the Fund, which is a far cry from the $1 billion recommended by UNEP. The money is meant to cover the first five years of a clean-up job, which could span 30 years, and the contribution is supposed to be made by the oil industry and the government. The objective is to use the money to address oil pollution in the region.
It is shocking to learn that little has changed since 2011 when UNEP highlighted the numerous problems accompanying the way Shell cleans up oil sites. There is still oil pollution around. But nothing suggests that this is an intractable problem. It can be solved and must be solved permanently. Shell should address the issue of oil spillage in Nigeria the way it does in other advanced countries of the world. It is needless playing double-standard. Sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.