President Muhammadu Buhari has called on Niger Delta communities, especially the youth, to support government’s efforts at cleaning Ogonoland.
Buhari made the call in Abuja on Thursday while inaugurating the Board of Trustees and Governing Council of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) at the Presidential Villa.
The President appealed to the communities to safeguard the lives of the persons implementing the project.
According to him, the inauguration of the board and council is in line with his administration’s commitment to ensuring the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland and other affected sites.
“Today marks another milestone in the commitment that this administration has made in ensuring the implementation of the UNEP Report in Ogoniland and other affected sites.
“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the project remains on course, as we face the challenges of high expectations and the current conflict in the Niger Delta.
“I use this opportunity, through you, to call upon the local communities, especially our youths, who will be the direct beneficiaries of this effort, to work with us in ensuring the security of the projects and persons implementing them.
“Even more so, that we prevent the recontamination of the polluted sites in Ogoniland.”
Buhari stated that although the UNEP Report was released five years ago, it has taken his administration only two months to inaugurate the clean-up project in Ogoniland.
According to him, since the inauguration of the project, considerable effort has been made to create a robust mechanism for implementing the clean-up both in the short and long terms.
“It is exactly five years today, on Aug. 4, 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme submitted an extensive report on the environmental assessment of Ogoniland.
“That report, which was commissioned by the Administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, did not only document the problems that existed, but also contained recommendations on how they can be addressed, both in the short term and in the long term.
“Five years on, the project is yet to properly take off.
“It would appear to have experienced series of false starts, while the local communities continue to suffer from the problem, which has existed long before the report.
“This all adds to the picture described in the UNEP Report as `a landscape characterised by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame’.”
Buhari, who said that the clean-up required extensive planning, scientific analysis, community involvement, and genuine partnerships, assured that the funds devoted for the project would only be used for that purpose.
He expressed gratitude to members of the council and board for accepting the assignment.
He reminded them that the task required patience and understanding of the key stakeholders.
The President expressed optimism that the project would impact the lives and livelihoods of local communities, whose environments had been severely degraded by years of unchecked pollution from oil exploration activities.
He said the clean-up is expected last two decades.
He stated that the first five years will address emergency response measures and remediation, while the subsequent years will witness efforts at restoring the ecosystems in the region.
“The governance framework we lay today, following extensive consultations, will form the bedrock for sustainability for years to come.
“Together we will be able to transform what is today a tragic tale of desolation and destruction to one of restoration and opportunity for the coming generations.
“The expertise and technology to make this a reality exist.
“In the end, this project will serve as the “gold standard” for the clean-up of similar pollution sites in other parts of the Niger Delta, and the world at large,’’ he said.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of HYPREP, Mr Olawale Edun, expressed appreciation to Buhari for giving them the opportunity to serve as members of the HYPREP council and board.
He pledged that the board would ensure efficient and judicious management of funds set aside for the clean-up project.
“By the inauguration of this Board of Trustees, we have the singular opportunity, working as a team, working in conjunction with others to intervene decisively within the context of the UNEP 2011 Report on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.
“This is a rear privilege and opportunity that we intend to seize boldly with initiative and with great determination.
“We are entrusted and we recognize the very great responsibility we have to manage the funds that have been contributed now, and are going to be contributed in the future.
“These are significant funds and we recognize the responsibility to manage them efficiently, to manage them transparently and that is exactly what we intend to do.’’
The Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, who is also the Chairperson of the Governing Council of HYPREP, assured the President that the council would be guided by the principles of accountability, transparency and true representation.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that already about 1 billion dollars have been committed to HYPREP for the next 5 years.
The bulk of the funding is coming from the Shell Petroleum Development Company Joint Venture.
The programme is a fallout from the UNEP Report.
The Federal Government had in 2009 commissioned UNEP to carry out an assessment of the devastation in the area as a result of oil spill and come up with a report.
In the report, which was released on Aug. 4, 2011, UNEP recommended the clean-up of the area, an exercise, which it said would span between 25 and 30 years and which would require one billion dollars. (NAN)