From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Angered by delay of government to implement the emergency measures recommended by the 2011 United Nation’s report, tagged, “Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland,” protesters stormed HYPREP’s office in Port Harcourt recently to protest to the federal agency on salient grievances around the pollution of Ogoniland and the government mandate to clean-up the area.
The protest was facilitated by the Society for Women and Youths affairs (SWAYA).
The protesters complained that benzene (chemical) content of ground water in Ogoniland was over 900 times the World Health Organization’s recommendation, and that the carcinogenic benzene property causes leukemia (a form of cancer) to which members of Ogoni communities are exposed.
According to Stella Amanie, president of SWAYA, she said Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) should implement the “Emergency Measures as recommended in the UNEP Report after nine years” to date.
The protesters expressed alarm at the delay in carrying out the recommended measures “despite the alarming level of contamination reported in the report on Ogoniland,” as published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“It is on this note that we are mobilizing the Women and Youths to take non-violent and constructive action for environmental justice and call on the international community to prevail on your Agency, HYPREP, to implement the Emergency Measures in Ogoniland,” the SWAYA president told officials of HYPREP during the protest.
The protest was targeted to register Ogoni communities’ grievances about the long delay of implementation of the emergency measures, in order to demand for a comprehensive implementation without any further delay.
The protesters were supported by members of civil society groups and the media to press the demand through the protest. Women and youths protesters were from impacted communities of the Ogoniland.
Expressing further concern on the plight of Ogoni people under impacts of record hydrocarbon pollution, the SWAYA president stated that the people of Ogoni are “dying of strange diseases and cancer.” She pointed out that the UNEP recommended establishment of health registry in the Ogoni area is yet to be implemented.
Stella frowned on the unacceptable way by which HYPREP has conduct medical outreach where malaria parasites, blood sugar, Retrovirus (HIV), eye and Blood Pressure tests are focused on, pointing out “these have no correlation with hydrocarbon related diseases as currently experienced across Ogoni communities”.
A spokeswoman, Dr Patience Osaroejiji, from Alode community in Eleme local government area protested to the HYPREP management that Eleme women are “still drinking from hydrocarbon polluted sources and are suffering, and dying of cancer, miscarriages and other strange diseases.”
She also showed her hands where skin cancer has eaten up parts of the flesh, demanding that “emergency should be treated as emergency” as recommended by the UNEP report. She threatened that Eleme women will “be left with no other option but take legal action against HYPRP and the federal government.”
Also, TomBari Dumka, spokesman of the Indigenous NGOs and Civil Society Network, said that it is disappointing and unaccepted that HYPREP is yet to provide portable running water for Ogoni communities.
He further said that a period of Covid-19 pandemic that washing of hands under running water is recommended, and there is no running water, portends serious health dangers for the Ogoni communities. He called on the authorities to address this gap as a matter of urgency under the implementation of UNEP recommended emergency measures.
The protesters carried banners and placards with different inscription such as: ”Four years after the commencement of Ogoni clean-up exercise, Ogoni women still drink from polluted water;” “Ogoni women are suffering and dying of strange diseases;“ “HYPREP, treat emergency as emergency;” “Resumption of oil exploration in Ogoni is a call for anarchy,” among others.
Addressing the protesting women and youths, Mr Isa Wasa, Head, Community and Community Engagement of HYPREP, thanked them for their peaceful and nonviolence protest to register their grievances.
Speaking further, he told them of HYPREP’s commitment to implement the emergency measures and that as a matter of fact; the intervention agency in partnership with the ministry of water resources have gone round Ogoni communities and have been able to collect polluted water samples to do an assessment of abandoned water facilities across the Ogoni four-local government areas.
According to him, facility procurement processes are on to give water to Ogoni communities soon.
On the establishment of center of excellence, Isa said that HYPREP is carrying out discussions with Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, to partner in starting the training centre.
He again thanked the protesting women and youths, and assured that their demands will be looked into.
Also, the HYPREP official in charge of livelihood programme, Mrs Josephine Nziidee said that her agency is in partnership with the United Nations agency, UNITAR, and other organizations to train Ogoni women on fishery, poultry, and other agro-based fields. She said that women will be put into cooperative unions where they will access soft loan for agriculture and enterprising ventures.
The major demands of the protesting women and youths include: Provision of portable drinking water for Ogoni people without delay. Conducting of a proper health impact study in the impacted communities of Ogoni to ascertain whether there is a link between strange disease patterns and oil pollution. 30 percent of women and youth inclusion in any planning and decision-making process during implementation of cleanup projects in order to encourage ownership, Including a public participation process, aimed at reaching the communities most impacted by pollution; and Strengthening and increasing existing partnership for strategic popular participation.
Meanwhile, Society for Women and Youths Affairs reaffirmed her commitment to work for communities to ensure that there is an urgent and a successful implementation of emergency measures as recommended in the UNEP report for addressing the current difficult situation experienced across Ogoni communities.