Nyesom Wike, the governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Rivers State, has asked the country’s central government, through its ministry of environment to pull out $0.5 billion from its excess crude account (ECA) to implement the impending Ogoni clean-up, just the same way the President Muhammadu Buhari administration withdrew $1 billion from the ECA for anti-insurgency campaign in Nigeria’s north-east.
For Wike, the move would serve much good to the harried Niger Delta oil communities, just in the same manner the Federal Government thought it did to the north-east people through the $1 billion the government poured into the anti-insurgency fight.
Governor Wike particularly told Suleiman Hassan Zarma, the environment minister, who was in the state to hand over sites to contractors that it was awesomely disheartening to witness what he descried as the “deliberate neglect of the Niger Delta, despite the fact the region is suffering untold environmental hardship for keeping the country afloat.”
Wike said to Zarma that “environmental degradation caused by oil production activity is worse than insurgency,” adding, “If you had told me earlier that you were coming, I would have provided a helicopter for you to fly over Ogoni land. You will weep at the level of environmental damage,” the governor said.
“While we support the fight against insurgency, nothing is worse than environmental pollution. We suffer because we are allowing Nigeria to survive. We are suffering for Nigeria to survive. It is through our oil that Nigeria is surviving. We are dying because we are keeping the country alive. Nobody wants to give us the attention required. These people who are suffering because of the nation’s survival, why not give them priority to survive,” the governor retorted.
He, therefore, urged the Federal Government to immediately withdraw funds from the Excess Crude Account to address the environmental challenges in Ogoni-land, adding that, “it should be done in same manner that funds were withdrawn to tackle insurgency.”
“They (Federal Government) took $1 billion from the Excess Crude Accounts to fight insurgency. I say they should take $500 million from the Excess Crude Accounts for the Ogoni Clean up exercise,” Wike said.
He assured the miinister of the state’s support to achieve the goals of remediation of the Ogoni environment.
Regrettably, Ogoni clean-up exercise has been mired in controversy. Most people in the Niger Delta believe it’s been politicised. For instance, three full years after Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president, flagged off the supposed clean-up exercise, the Ministry of Environment is just handing over sites to contractors. For Wike, the two activities took place as elections approached.
“Three years ago, the president represented by the vice president flagged off the clean-up during the rerun elections (in Rivers State). One month to the general elections, the minister of environment has come to hand over the sites. If I tell you I believe sincerely that you people want to clean-up Ogoni land, I am telling you lies. Surprise me and prove me wrong,” the governor challenged.
He called on the minister to investigate alleged cases of deduction of funds from contracts awarded for the clean-up exercise; urging further that the ministry should also ensure that the benefiting communities are patronized during the clean-up; and all approved steps taken by Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).
But Zarma assured that the ministry was working with HYPREP to ensure that the clean-up of Ogoni land was carried out. He said the ministry will take deliberate steps to address the concerns raised by the governor.
“We are here to set the tone to enable the foundation laying of a robust inter-governmental collaboration which you have been doing, especially in the environmental sector,” he said.