Tony Ita Etim, Port Harcourt
President Muhammadu Buhari has warned oil companies operating in the Niger Delta to observe international best practices in doing business in the region.
The president also announced that he will deal ruthlessly with crude oil thieves and those vandalizing oil facilities in region.
Buhari gave the warning on Thursday when he flagged off the process of implementing the United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP, report in Bodo, Gokana local government area of Rivers state.
Buhari, who was represented by his Vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, stated “let me seize this opportunity to sound a note of warning that the current oil theft and illegal refining will not be tolerated. The regulators of the oil industry must live up to expectations. They must ensure that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal best practices”.
The president said his administration was laying a foundation for change. The government places high emphasis on the diversification of the economy to ensure that the economy was strong and capable of supporting the teeming young people through job and wealth creation.
According to Buhari, the clean-up of Ogoniland has embedded in the programme livelihood and sustainable development components.
Buhari explained “We are in Ogoniland, on the heart of the Niger Delta to fulfil our promise to you and to bring justice and succour to our people. The clean-up of this land will require change on the path all those who deal with the Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies and our communities. The tempo of this assignment increased when my cabinet was constituted.
“Today marks another milestone in the life of our administration. I recall the time as a military head of state when I visited Bodo Town in Ogoniland. During that visit, I commissioned a large fish pond and planted a tree as a sign for that government’s concern for the environment. Unfortunately, since then, the degradation of land, water and air has done huge damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta, especially the Ogoniland.
“Oil exploration and production have been going on in Nigeria for six decades. Oil has given a boost to the Nigerian economy, but the ecosystem of the Niger Delta has been severely damaged. Fishing and agriculture have been badly affected. There were acts, enactment, laws, guidelines, regulations to govern the operators of the oil industry. However, either because of lack of will or willful non-compliance with environmental laws, the environment was put in jeopardy.
“The various communities in the Niger Delta region, noting the negative impact of oil production and lack of consideration for best practices, quite right commenced the struggle for justice and fair– play in the conduct of business by the oil industry operators.
“This, unfortunately, led to loss of lives and property. International concern was raised while past government were urged to take decisive steps to address issue, Buhari stated.
Buhari praised former President Olusegun Obasanjo which engaged the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to undertake a mission towards the clean-up of Ogoniland while recommendations were made for its (clean up) implementation.
“We are in Ogoniland, on the heart of the Niger Delta to fulfil our promise to you and to bring justice and succour to our people. The clean-up of this land will require change on the path all those who deal with the Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies and our communities. The tempo of this assignment increased when my cabinet was constituted.
“We are, therefore, laying a solid foundation today for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. This is an epoch making event in the history of Nigeria.
“There is therefore the need for all Nigerians irrespective of political affiliation to support the effort of this administration. Our lives to a great extent depends on the quality of our environment”, pleaded Buhari.
In his remarks, the Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike said the state government fully welcome the implementation of the UNEP report and thanked Mr. President for his magnanimity.
Wike told the president, “Your presence in Ogoni today (yesterday), Your Excellency, is a bold step in the right direction. The Niger Delta has been subjected to oil spillage for many years”, he said.
Wike described the UNEP Report as the best available document that would ensure the socio-economic transformation of Ogoniland.
According to Wike, “It is a clear road-map on the remediation and clean-up of Ogoniland, a community which has been devastated by oil spillage. Only environmental justice can sustain peace and development in Ogoniland and the entire Niger Delta region.”
Also speaking, Ms Amina Mohammed who is Minister for Environment explained that the flag off of the process was a promise that is being kept by President Muhammadu Buhari to launch and implement the UNEP Report and its recommendations for the clean-up. “It is now a collective responsibility”.
Mohammed continued that the process would require the trust that “we have lost over the decades; it will require transparency and accountability and it will require proper representation of the people in what we are doing in investing in their future. It will also require that we do things differently. That is why this administration called for change”.
The Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner noted that the task was a great risk taken by the UNEP team but thanked former President Olusegun Obasanjo for taking the initiative to start the process of cleaning up the devastated Ogoni environment.
Steiner said UNEP was however deeply committed to standing by the Federal Government and the people of Ogoniland to ensure the cleaning up process, adding that the UN agency had done its job.
The Executive Director said that his job and link with the Ogoni clean-up ended with the flag off as he announced that his tenure as the UNEP Executive Director would come to an end in some few days.
THE Minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi disclosed that he made efforts to persuade former President Goodluck Jonathan to start the process of implementing the UNEP Report, and lamented out that the efforts didn’t come to fruition.
“Today, we have gathered here in keeping with the promise by President Muhammadu Buhari, knowing that the economy of the Ogoni people will improve. In keeping with that promise, we know that there is no how you spend $1 billion here and we shall not create employment”, Amaechi pointed out.
The President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Pyagbara said “we are here to appreciate the immense contributions of different people; of our friends; of our supporters and of those who stood with us when some people found it difficult to stand with us. We want to thank those who helped us to get to where we are today; without their support, this story would have been different.
Pyagbara underlined that “Environmental restoration of our land remains the central plan of the Ogoni struggle. To the Ogoni people therefore, this day is a historic moment. It is the beginning of our victory; our journey for justice has been recognised. Our strategy of non-violence has been vindicated with the flag-off of the clean-up initiative by the president today.
“The history of UNEP Report and its implementation did not just come; it has its origin in the Ogoni struggle. Sometime on August 26, 1990, the Ogoni people launched the Ogoni Bill of Rights which, among others, demanded from the Federal Government to protect the rights of the Ogoni people to a safe and clean environment. We believed that, that singular action, that non-violent approach by the Ogoni people is today being rewarded by the action that will be taking place here today”.
Pyagbara called for steady and successful clean up. “The government, as a matter of urgency, should also place a limiting framework that would ensure that the oil companies adopt best practices to keep a sustainable environment and avoid those practices that created environmental devastation that we are trying to address today”.