Magazine article New African

'Oil Has Been Destructive to Nigeria's Economy': Nnimmo Bassey, Winner of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, Is the Head of the Nigerian NGO, Environmental Rights Action, and International Chair of Friends of the Earth. A Well-Respected Expert on the Ecological Problems Facing Nigeria's Oil-Producing Communities, Bassey Tells New African That the Problems of Ogoniland Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg in the Niger Delta

Magazine article New African

'Oil Has Been Destructive to Nigeria's Economy': Nnimmo Bassey, Winner of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, Is the Head of the Nigerian NGO, Environmental Rights Action, and International Chair of Friends of the Earth. A Well-Respected Expert on the Ecological Problems Facing Nigeria's Oil-Producing Communities, Bassey Tells New African That the Problems of Ogoniland Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg in the Niger Delta

Article excerpt

Q Did the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) do a thorough job of assessing the state of affairs in Ogoniland?

A: One of the gaps I observed in the report includes the fact that the Goi community, whose inhabitants have all been affected by pollution, was not examined in the study. The UNEP team was also not able to reach a tentative conclusion on the health impact of Shells pollution in Ogoniland, after examining over 5,000 medical records.

Q Is there any chance that the Nigerian government will act on the recommendations of the report, considering the fact that 30 years, at the minimum, will be needed to restore the ecosystem in Ogoniland?

A: Several months have passed since UNEP submitted the reporr to the federal government of Nigeria and not a whimper has been heard from it. It is even speculated that the committee which was set up to advise the government on how to respond to the report, has not even met! That is outrageous. With the severity of the pollution, one would have expected President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately declare Ogoni a disaster zone and order emergency actions, including a provision for an alternative water supply.

Q Would it be fair to say the situation in Ogoniland accurately reflects the ecological situation in the rest of oil-producing Nigeria?

A: It is pertinent to observe that oil extraction was halted in Ogoniland in 1993, after Shell was sent packing by the people. So if the ecological footprint of Shell and its joint venture partners remains so dastardly after so many years, we can safely say that this report is a tip of the iceberg when talking about the entire Niger Delta. Other parts of the Delta have very regular incidents of oil spills, with roaring toxic gas flares.

As scary as the findings of the Ogoni assessment are, more horrors continue in other places. Gas flaring, officially outlawed in 1984, occurs across oil-producing Nigeria, spewing greenhouse gases and toxic elements into the atmosphere. They cause breathing diseases, blood disorders, and cancers.

Q What is your opinion on the quality of the government bodies charged with policing the Nigerian environment and the working practices of the oil companies?

A: There is a huge problem with the entire environmental governance set-up in Nigeria. The body charged with this responsibility, the National Environmental Standards Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), docs not regulate the oil and gas sector. The Direcrorate of Petroleum Resources, which deals with the issues, often depends on the offending oil company's equipment and facilities in its monitoring exercises. …

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