by Yemi Osinbajo
I am especially pleased to be here in Rivers State, the treasure base of the Nation.
I am here as an emissary of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari who after the visit of leadership of The PAN DELTA FORUM in November 2016, decided that we must undertake visits to engage with the leadership and people of our oil producing communities, to hear them, to seek to better understand their problems and concerns first hand and to offer to these communities in the Niger Delta, a new vision and a new compact.
I have a strong personal affinity for the Niger Delta having served my NYSC in the former Bendel State, now Edo and Delta, which are very much an integral part of this zone.
National service was a time of great memories as it provided an insight into the potentials, opportunities and the challenges that people in this part of the country face on a daily basis. It was the time that I realised that given the resources of the area there was a lot that could be done in a deliberate and determined manner to improve the lives of the Niger Delta people. The experience also provided a rude awakening to the dangers that the exploitation of oil and gas resources posed to the environment and livelihoods of the people of the region.
The experience that I am describing was almost 38 years ago. It is therefore extremely discomfiting to know that we are still confronted with the very same situation. An unedifying lack of development and access to basic amenities in the abundance of plenty. A situation typified by continued environmental degradation and a disturbing lack of opportunities for those who can no longer carry out traditional occupations like fishing and farming.
What we now have is an unhappy cycle of discontent sometimes expressed by a resort to violence and vandalism and drawing in response a strengthening of security arrangements and a gamut of palliative measures. This vicious cycle cannot continue as it builds needless tensions and frayed nerves. We just have to take meaningful steps to bring about permanent peace and prosperity to the Niger Delta.
Rivers State is unarguably our oil and gas capital hosting as it does many of our onshore oil and gas fields, two of our domestic refineries, the Nigerian LNG plant, the Oil and Gas Free Zone at Onne amongst other things. It has of course hosted several oil companies and associated firms just as it is home to the international airport intended to serve this part of the country as well as the second largest port outside Lagos.
It is of course also home to the Ogoni people who symbolise in many eyes, domestically and internationally, the previous neglect of the Niger Delta and the environmental damage that has been done to the area as we have exploited oil and gas to grow the rest of the economy. This is indeed why the Buhari Administration prioritised the ‘Ogoni Clean-up’ and with working with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and other partners to undertake this important task.
Let me briefly update you on the progress made on that project in the time since the Presidential flag off in 2016.
The Federal Ministry of Environment has set about establishing the governance framework with strong systems and controls that are required to carry the Project through its 25 year life cycle.
A key component of that infrastructure is a robust governance structure, comprising mainly a Governing Council, a Board of Trustees and a Project Coordination Office (PCO). The Governing Council and Board of Trustees were inaugurated by the President on 4 August 2016 and have since had 2 meetings.
The parameters outlined in the UNEP Report within which the Program must operate was approved by the Federal Executive Council before being officially gazetted on the 12th December 2016.
On 12th January 2017, the Governing Council approved the appointment of Dr. Marvin Dekil, an indigene of Ogoniland, as the Project Coordinator after an international competitive process that saw applications received from other well qualified candidates from around the world.
The Project office will be staffed by an initial 30 staff from both federal and state levels. Additional contracted experts from outside the system will be supported by Project Management Consultants, Monitoring & Evaluation Consultants and Communication Company.
FUNDING FOR THE PROGRAM
The clean-up project is to be funded by SPDC with an initial $1bn disbursed at $200m per annum over 5 years. A $10m takeoff grant has been provided.
Following the flag off, a Technical Committee was set up in the Ministry, and has been working on the project-related activities that must be addressed immediately. Some of these projects in preparation include;
1. Provision of clean drinking water to the impacted communities.
2. Conducting a health impact assessment study being planned, in order to begin to better understand the level of the human health issues referred to in your letter.
3. Demonstration of remediation technology, which will allow for the testing of the different approaches that are being proffered from around the world, and to ensure that only the best is ultimately applied.
4. Groundbreaking for the construction of an integrated contaminated soil management centre which will be critical to the clean-up process.
5. Groundbreaking for the construction of a Centre of Excellence.
These are the activities that the UNEP Report recommended for start-up.
On 16th February, the Governing Council will be performing a ground breaking ceremony for the construction of an integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, provided for in the UNEP Report.
On the same day, the project for demonstrating technologies for the clean-up, will be launched at selected sites in the four local government areas of Ogoniland.
An important part of the planned work is skills and livelihood training, which will be essential in ensuring the long term sustainability of the result of the clean-up.
As part of our behavioral change strategy, we plan to train about 2000 women from the four local governments in different skills that will enable them to be financially independent. These skills include Snail Farming, Palm Oil Processing, Green Housing, Fishing – Shrimps, Agriculture Extension, and Pottery.
These skills were chosen from among the many that were suggested by a committee of representatives of Ogoniland who met back in August / September to agree on the first steps for the Project. In parallel with the planning and procurement of the services for training there will be a community based sensitization program in each LGA to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the clean-up and its mandate.
It will serve as an entry point to reinforce the change in service delivery that no longer ‘shares money’ but delivers results in the lives of the Ogoni people and lays the foundation for a clean-up that is sustainable and provides the standards for the whole of the Niger Delta.
All the steps we have taken so far have been in a consultative process, involving representatives of government, civil society, international organizations, international oil companies and local communities. Indeed, representatives of the Ogoni communities are present on the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees and have been involved in the decision-making process.
The next 6months will be critical to starting a long journey to realizing the fruits of a struggle that has cost many lives and loss of the ecosystem.
Of course, Ogoniland is just one, though important part of the Niger Delta. Environmental remediation is essential across the entire region in order to restore healthy living conditions, enable other productive activities to take-off or resume and improve the quality of lives in general.
This would of course require that we do not worsen the situation by acts which would further worsen the environmental damage that has already occurred.
It is now clear that Niger Delta needs a new vision. But not just a new vision but a fresh commitment and a renewed spirit by all stakeholders including the states, federal agencies and oil- bearing communities.
Let me lay this out for clarity:
The Federal Government will begin a partnership with the oil producing states, local governments, oil companies, private sector, and civil society organizations for the rapid development of these communities. An oil communities intervention meeting is to work out what can be done in the short to medium term and the long term possibilities. There is no way that this new vision will be aborted because it does not depend for execution on the Federal government alone. Every stakeholder has a part to play.
Oil exploitation by itself cannot suffice to assure our people of decent jobs and a decent income.
We must make our oil producing communities hubs for petro-chemical industries, small and large. We must make these communities hubs for refining and related activities.
The Ministry of Petroleum in collaboration with the oil companies is working on several initiatives for host communities including working with illegal refiners in oil bearing communities to participate in modular refineries to be established. There is no doubt that thermal power stations should be stationed here, it makes sense, the gas deposits are here.
The biggest benefit we can obtain is to attract more investment to the region. But investments have a choice. They will go where they find an enabling environment especially security. It is up to us as government and people to assure the necessary enabling circumstances for investment.
I must commend the oil producing communities for maintaining peace in their various communities. You have set the stage for progress.
I had stated at the start of my tours that there was no reason why the infrastructure in the Niger Delta should not look and feel like Dubai. This is a point that I continue to stress. However, we must admit to ourselves that damage to pipelines and export facilities are also damage to infrastructure.
Such damage also affects gas supply and if we are unable to generate electricity, all our demands for electrification may come to nought since there will be nothing to distribute.
One thing that this government is determined to do is to change Nigeria from being a country that merely exports crude oil to ensuring that other parts of the economy contribute their own share while at the same time ensuring that we add value to our oil and gas resources.
This is why we will be ensuring that our refineries are up and running while also encouraging the establishment of co-located refineries. Our petrochemical industries and fertiliser plants will similarly be boosted.
The intention of course is to create jobs and opportunities for small and medium scale enterprises along the value chain. However, people can only work and businesses thrive in an environment of peace.
This is why the Federal Government on its part is committed to continued implementation of the Amnesty Programme and to ensuring that its social investment interventions impact on lives in the Niger Delta. It was indeed a matter of some pleasure to find out that young graduates in Rivers State took advantage of the N-Power programme to the extent that this State has the second single largest number of participants in the scheme.
Your Excellencies and the good people of Rivers State, the future is here. There is no time to waste. We must all re-commit to working together to making the Niger Delta a vibrant and dynamic economic zone.
On its part, the Federal Government will use its forthcoming Economic Recovery and Growth Plan to restore growth, diversify the economy and promote social inclusion. We intend to do so through dedicated spending on capital and by paying particular attention to ensuring supply of power and petroleum products in addition to using small businesses to drive our push for industrialization.
As you have challenged the Federal Government to action, I challenge the State and communities too, to play their part faithfully. If we do, we will change the trajectory of the history of neglect and attain the glorious manifest destiny of the people of this State.
Thank you for your kind attention.