By Amaechi Okonkwo
The Government of Nigeria has stated that it would soon carry out a health audit of Ogoni people as it continues to clean up of the Ogoni environment which has been heavily polluted by years of oil pollution.
A United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP report concluded in 2011 had recommended a health audit of the people as one of the recommendations in the clean up process, pointing out that the people have been exposed to water contaminated over 1000 times beyond the acceptable benzine content.
Several years after the clean up operations commenced, the Hydro Carbon Pollution Remediation Programme, HYPREP, the health audit which was recommended as one of the emergency measures were yet to be carried out.
The Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, during a one day stakeholder engagement programme on the clean-up of Ogoniland, held in Bori, Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State indicated that the government was ready to conduct the health audit.
She expressed optimism that the construction of the Integrated Soil Contamination Center and the Centre of Excellence, both of which would commence in 2022 adding that the she had directed the Coordinator of HYPREP to proceed with the advertisement for the projects.
The minister further said that the federal government will engage the youths of Ogoniland on environmental surveillance, of the clean-up sites in Ogoniland.
She assured that the Ministry of Environment would continue to engage the people of Ogoni and communities, while also appealing for collaboration with all stakeholders to make the clean-up project a success.
Ikeazor said; “You call it security but i call it environmental surveillance. So we are going to engage Ogoni youths on environmental surveillance, to protect all the sites we’re cleaning. No one can protect the sites more than the people. The more we have our young people securing theses sites, the better for us.
“For advertisements of contracts, i have made sure that due process will be followed. The bids will be open to all qualified Nigerians.
“We might have to look at other sites that are contaminated, so that ones we finished the clean-up, we know that we have finished every thing, not just cleaning the polluted sites that are under our scope while there are still other areas that are contaminated.
“My goal is to ensure that the clean-up project is owned by the Ogoni people and that more indigenous people acquire the required skills and ability to participate in this cleanup.
“I have given the go ahead to the Project Coordinator to ahead with the advertisement for setting up of the integrated soil contamination centre as well as the centre of excellence and I hope it will come up in the next one year.
Earlier, the Chairman of Ogoni Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers, HRM King Godwin Gininwa, called for the establishment of a University of Environment in Ogoniland to serve as the Centre of Excellence as recommended in the UNEP report.
King Giniwa also called for speed on the pace of the ongoing clean-up exercise.
“We will cooperate with you to make the project a success. However, our people have suffered enough, therefore they should be made to benefit from the project in terms of jobs, contracts. Ogoni people should be considered first when awarding contracts.
Ledum Mitee, former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People MOSOP and stakeholder at the meeting called for employment of youths in the project as well as training of Ogoni youths on skills for the project.
“Money spent on security should be channeled into youth employment. Ogoni youths should be employed to secure HYPREP project sites.”