An Amnesty International mission delegate's fingers covered in oil from an oil spill near Ikarama. This photograph was taken eight months after the spill. Experts who studied video footage of the two spills in Ogoniland say they could together be as large as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. Photograph: Amnesty International UK
Oil company Royal Dutch Shell accepts responsibility for two oil spills in Nigeria’s niger delta between 2008 and 2009 about the same time a UN report reveals (PDF) that decades of oil spills and flagrant disregard for environmental safety in oil-rich Ogoniland region may require at least $1 billion cleanup cost.
The clean-up exercise would be the the world’s largest and costliest, lasting up to 30 years. The report, released by the U.N.’s environmental program, said that drinking water supplies within the oil-rich Niger Delta have been damaged by 50 years of crude oil spills. In some areas drinking water is contaminated so severely it needs immediate action.
“I am hearing that the United Nations will indeed release Nigerian born Ibrahim Gambari to head the special Niger Delta Summit Steering Committee. This should further convince all necessary parties to the issues of the Niger Delta that this administration plans to address the problems decisively.”
I retorted as follows:
“…I see another clever use of power.
What is the advantage of bring a man who is not familiar with the issues and terrain over someone who is local and can relate to the problems beyond just reading the briefs?
We have Utomi, Soyinka, etc if the feds wants a neutral person. Gambari has spent the bulk of his diplomatic carrier outside Nigeria, he is an establishment man. He is not going to make any difference. He has no moral capital to deal with locals.”
While one is not an expert in conflict resolution, there are ample historical precedence and anecdotal evidence available when making calls on Nigerian matters such as Gambari’s.
The suitability of Gambari is a concern shared by several other parties, including the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), which expressed its position succinctly and unequivocally via these words:
“We believe that the Summit will not be a success if the person who chairs it is a subject of controversy, especially amongst key stakeholders. Having made offensive comments in relation to the self-determination struggle of the people of the Niger Delta in the past, Prof. Gambari’s suitability is questionable…”
The take-home message following the resignation of Gambari should be clear to the government: It must snap out of its state of delusion and listen to the grassroots clearly. After all, this is the premise on which conflict resolution is based.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua calls for international help on Niger Delta to solve the military crisis in the region.
Nigerian Economist Chudi Chukwuani retorts on VOA:
“The reaction here is that we are at a lost. The call is a clear failure on the part of the government to properly secure our national asset, to protect our sovereignty and our territorial waters. All of us know that the origin of the so-called Niger Delta militancy started from political thuggery.”
The attack on the Bonga facility, located some 65 miles from land, marks a new era of Niger Delta militancy: It is the first offshore location attacked.
The attacks fields precedes the government plans for the Niger-Delta summit, an exercise designed to find lasting solution to a crisis that has become tougher and more complicated.
Whatever plans president Yar’Adua has for the Niger-Delta, now is the time to fast-track such and ensure it works. The days for mouthing empty policy statements are over, likewise is the era of scoring quick ceasefires and cash settlements.
President Yar’Adua has his job cut out for him, and his administration will now be judged on one yardstick: His ability to not only contain the insurgency, but build an environment in the Niger-Delta that makes militant violence unnecessary and unprofitable.
Yar’Adua and advisers must be focused on one end point: A fail-proof workable solution that addresses the root causes of the problems in the Niger Delta once and for all. This is the only solution.