In what ways will the clean up positively impact on the Ogoni local economy?
Ogoni is a predominately fishing and farming community; so, when oil activities destroy their land and rivers, it meant the economy of the people have been completely destroyed. It is money from fishing and farming that our people used in time past to train their children in school. You have observed that throughout this period when there was no active fishing and farming in Ogoni the level of illiterate people have been on the increase because people cannot afford to send their children to school. You cannot quantify the extent of the damage on the environment, but I can tell you that with this clean up, there is hope that people can go back to their fishing and their soil will once again support rich harvest. In addition to the fishing and farming, the centre for excellence that will be built in Ogoni will develop skill and there will be some other things that will be added to the fishing and farming business. People will be trained to acquire skills, which they will use to take care of themselves and their families. There is no doubt that the Ogoni economy will be boosted.
Are you concerned about the huge amount involved in the clean up programme?
Shell has said they are going to fund 30 per cent of the whole project, the other fund will come from the joint venture and that is why you have three persons on the board representing three major oil companies (Shell, Agip and Total). Since they will all be contributing the money with Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), it is better we put them on the board so that they will supervise what the money is being used for. I don’t think funding will be a problem because Shell has said their contribution of the money is already in a verifiable account. I know that Nigeria is going through hard times, but that will not affect the money in the joint venture account. We are not banking on the income of Federal Government of Nigeria, but on that of the joint venture partners. We are not going to spend all the money in one day. We have short term, mid term and long term expenditure. $10 million has been released to set up the governance structure. In phase two, maybe they will request for $200 million and they will release that. All the $1billion requested for the take off will not be made available in one day. I don’t have any doubt about the process considering the support and enthusiasm we are getting from Federal Government.
Would political interest groups hijack the clean up contracts?
That will not happen because from the negotiation we did not allow the political actors to hijack the process. If they had hijacked the negotiation process, then they would have been able to hijack the award of contracts for the clean up. We didn’t allow them. We only allowed the activists that have been in the forefront of this agitation, community heads and Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni (MOSOP) to lead the discussion process and having gone this far, without the political elites, we will not allow them hijack the process at this stage. There is no more room for them. In fact, the only political participation is the person the Rivers State government has to bring on the 11-man board. So, what will that one person do? We know the clean up will not be for the Ogoni people alone. The clean up jobs will be by bid. There will be transparency and they will follow strict procedures. There will be no shortcuts because we are aiming to get best international standard in this clean up and that is why you have the United Nations slot on the board. We will have the best hands that will handle all the processes and so the logistical process will not be done through the backdoor just as the former Minister of Petroleum was trying to do. This will be a thing that will be handled by experts and there will be no shortcuts and there will be no patronage here. I think we have conquered.
What is being done in Ogoni to check incidents of oil theft?
The only fear I have is the lack of maintenance culture on the part of the oil companies and lack of routine check on their equipment, because there is no guarantee that when you clean up Ogoni that the pollution from Bonny, Andoni or Okrika will not come to Ogoni river. That is the fear I have. But to talk about internal sabotage, it does not just happen. Oil is not like chewing gum you get off the shelf of a supermarket. Illegal oil bunkering is done by a cartel. It is done between persons in the oil companies and their outside collaborators. Now, we have new government that has shown commitment to stop all the rot of the past. The oil companies have the capacity to protect their pipelines and we expect that they will live up to that responsibility.
Is Ogoni finally on the verge of attaining environmental justice?
There are different strands of our legitimate demands as enshrined in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, but environmentally, we are getting it right. I was fortunate to be in the meetings with Federal Government during Jonathan and Buhari administrations and I can tell there is a difference today. The Head of Service, Mr. Daladi, who is the head of Federal Government team and all the heads of the oil companies are serious. The reputation and integrity of the oil companies are at stake; if there is any left in Ogoni. The Ogoni people are ready for the clean up and we are fortunate to have a MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara, who is not ready to mortgage the future of Ogoni for money. That is why I told all of us that partook in this negotiation not to look for contract.
Was there any gap in the UNEP report that needs to be addressed?
UNEP did not recommend anything for the welfare of the communities. It was while we were in Geneva that we insisted that the clean up will be for human being, hence, there is need to make adequate preparation in getting something for the community. It was not easy to allow them set up the committee for livelihood and sustainable development, even at the meeting during this Buhari administration, they were arguing that because UNEP did not recommend that, that there is no need to talk about it; but we insisted that the sustainable development and livelihood working group must be put in place. That is the committee that will make sure that every Ogoni community is connected to electricity. It is the committee that will look at putting potable drinking water, not borehole in every community. It is the committee that will at local level provide support for farmers, skill development for the youths and many other things that will put food on the table while the clean up is going on. We know that during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that the $20 billion that was released was to service those who were doing business around the Gulf. But in this Ogoni case they only talked about the clean up and not the welfare of the people whose livelihood has been destroyed. They did not talk about how to address health hazards that is killing our people. So, we think that the sustainable and livelihood committee that we belong will be able to fill all the gaps the UNEP did not address.