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Ogoni pollution: Delayed release of UNEP report is suspicious?

Press Release

July 21, 2011

Ogoni pollution: Delayed release of UNEP report is suspicious, says ERA

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and other civil society groups have cautioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) from further prevarication on the planned release of its two-year assessment of the environmental and public health impacts of oil spills in Ogoniland.

In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN said the people of Ogoniland and the entire Niger Delta are becoming worried over UNEP’s continued delay in releasing the report after failing to honour a pledge to do same earlier in the year.

Other groups that have joined in the call include the Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Social Action and Dutch environmental group, Milieudefensie

In early July 2011, UNEP had again informed the Federal Government that the report will be ready for publication by last week of July, and proposed that the launch take place in Abuja. However, there are speculations there may be another shift in its release.

Following the uproar over a statement ascribed to one of its staff which blamed most of the incidence of oil spills on locals and a negligible fraction on negligence on the part of Shell, the UN agency had said no report had been made public and that its findings will be out early 2011.

“What we hear now is that UNEP will not apportion blame over who caused the spills. We believe that everyone knows who is responsible for the spills. It is hoped that the report will clearly set out the enormity of the environmental pollution in Ogoni and ginger government to hold polluters accountable and enforce actions to clean up Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta. Any further delay in the release of the report might raise avoidable apprehension among the Ogoni people who have borne and continue to bear the brunt of the reckless pollution visited on their environment,” said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey.

In the disowned but infamous statement by the UNEP official, Mike Cowing August last year, it was claimed that 90 per cent of the spills in Ogoniland were acts of sabotage by locals and only a fraction could thus be linked to equipment failure or Shell’s poorly managed facilities.

The global outrage and condemnation that trailed the leaked document compelled the UN agency to reveal that the report in question took data from the Nigerian government and the oil industry, thus seeking to distance itself from the alleged exoneration of Shell.

Evert Hassink from the Dutch environmental group, Milieudefensie, says all this messing about has been bad for the region.

“No one likes the idea of the UN exonerating Shell and this has damaged UNEP’s reputation of independence and led to the report not being taken seriously. But it’s really difficult to get all the Niger Delta’s ethnic groups and local and provincial administrations to sing from the same song sheet. This report should have played an important part in establishing a basis for cleaning up the delta. There shouldn’t be all sorts of rows and squabbling over things that aren’t even in the report.”

Previous reports suggested the UN would hold local Ogoni people and not Shell responsible for the large-scale oil leaks. It is believed that this controversial conclusion had resulted in more than a year’s delay in publishing the report.

The Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF) and Social Action have said they will resist any report that twists the facts and put the blame on the Ogoni people.

“We have always said that in carrying out the so-called environmental audit, UNEP excluded community people who have painfully lived with the polluted environment. UNEP only relied on information supplied by Shell and weak regulatory agencies of government. We will reject any attempt to exonerate the polluter,” said Celestine Akpobari, spokesperson of OSF.

Isaac Asume of the Social Action insists: “Our position remains unchanged. UNEP definitely consulted Shell and other weak agencies of government in coming up with that report but it did not consult with the real people that have been assaulted. We will not accept any report that did not take our views into account.”

Philip Jakpor
Head of Media

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