By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria on Thursday launched a multimillion dollar cleanup of the Ogoniland, a community in the country's delta region which a United Nations report warns is seriously polluted following oil exploration dating back to the 1950s.
The project is being ushered in by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in place of President Muhammadu Buhari who was originally scheduled to visit the community on Thursday. No reason has been given for Buhari calling off his visit.
The cleanup follows recommendations by the United Nations Environment Programme which undertook an assessment of Ogoniland between 2009 and 2011.
The report said the massive oil spills in the community, if left unchecked, could lead to “irreversible loss of mangrove habitat” in the area, noting that wells sampled have hydrocarbon contamination 1,000 times higher than the Nigerian standard.
It said local communities are aware of the pollution and its dangers but are forced to use the water there for drinking, bathing, washing and cooking.
“The Ogoni community is exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes at elevated concentrations. They are also exposed through dermal contacts from contaminated soil, sediments and surface water,” the report states.
“Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives,” it adds.
Government records show the effort will initially cost at least $1 billion and would be funded “on the basis of a ‘polluter pays’ principle”.
Oil giant Shell had operated in the community until 1993 when environment activists led by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa expelled it from the area, alleging widespread pollution and failure of the company to take responsibility. Shell denies the charges.
While much of the pollution is blamed on ‘legacy spills’ from oil explorations before 1993, the report said continuous illegal oil-dredging activities, resulting in recent spills, have also contributed to the destruction of the environment.