The third anniversary of the UNEP report on environmental damage in Ogoni has brought an acknowledgement that the HYPREP intervention has been a comprehensive failure. There have been poorly followed up attempts to provide alternative water supplies to the most devastated communities but so little action in other areas that it seems only a matter of time before more embarrassing lawsuits follow. The lack of action in a region where government pledged to demonstrate how environmental restoration would take place across the Niger Delta should be a severe embarrassment. For communities in Ogoni there is the burden of continuing number of communities where ongoing exposure to oil pollution has shortened lives both directly and indirectly.
It is no longer enough for government to promise “a new approach” as it did on the anniversary this year. The credibility of such pledges has already been destroyed by two years of inaction. Instead government should specify the steps that it will take and immediately ring fence the resources to act – whether through a fund with external participation [which could help raise additional resources] or through direct government management with the level of urgency that is normally applied to natural catastrophies. That said, it is important to officially declare HYPREP dead, so that we can actually start with a clean slate on how to identify new solutions and fresh ideas on the implementation of the recommendations of the UNEP report.
Should the government fail to act there might be significant political consequences. The present campaign for an Ogoni governor is rooted in a deeply felt sense of injustice. With possibly as many as 500,000 voters amongst an adult population of around 2 million there could be a significant electoral punishment if the government is judged likely to perpetuate its inaction over environmental restoration in Ogoni. With the ongoing environmental degradation worsening by the day across the region, a lack of robust action by a President from the Niger Delta region will be incomprehensible to supporters in the region and could be considered unacceptable to civil society, international observers and ordinary folks in the communities.
There is a dual role for civil society and external actors. There is a moral obligation to press for action over what is unarguably a huge cluster amongst the largest collection of unaddressed oil spills in the world. The second role is to press both of the major political parties that are aspiring to administer both the state and Federal Government for 2015 for evidence of their plans to address the damage in Ogoni from day one of their administration. Since opposing parties control the federal and state administrations there is also the unusual opportunity to ask both sides for actions that provide evidence of progress over the coming 6 months before elections in February.