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Rights activist decries massive deaths in Ogoni over polluted water

Blessing Okorite Port Harcourt

An Environmental Rights Activist, Comrade Celestine Akpobari, has criticised the Federal Government’s slowness in the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on provision of drinkable water for impacted oil spill communities in Ogoniland, Rivers State.

Akpobari spoke at a Bi Annual CSOs -communities technical engagement to review the progress of the cleanup of Ogoni organised by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), in Port Harcourt.

The rights activist, who lamented on the rate of death in Ogoni following the inability of government at all level to provide clean water to impacted communities, said Ogoni people recently have no other festival, at the weekend, than burial ceremony.

He noted that the cleanup exercise is slow but added that Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP) has no much action if not ordered by the federal government that set up the agency.

He said, “The cleanup is slow but I think HYPREP is on track because it is better slow than not on track.

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“Comparing what we have now and what we have from 2011 when the UNEP report was released, you will say that we are beginning to achieve the desire result.

“Although the expectations of the people are very high but for those of us who are very close to the system, we know that the level of pollution we have in that report when it was submitted in 2011 is not the same level of pollution we had in 2016 when they commenced this project.

“Twenty-one sites currently now have been awarded, they are about to award another 30 to the lesser polluted sites.

Fielding questing from journalists on impact of the polluted water on the people of Ogoni Akpobari lamented “There has never been any alternative, Ogoni people have never had any portable drinkable water for a long time.

“People had to drink what they have and this bad water kills more than HIV and malaria. Is the main cause of several deaths we have in Ogoni land.

“Go to Ogoni at the weekend the only festival they have is burial, you will  see several ambulances, people missing their ways until they get to the exact community where they have come to burial.

“Almost all the traditional rulers in Ogoni are young boys because people don’t last long, death is the only commonest thing you hear ii Ogoni, is so sad.

“HYPREP is just a small tiny project in the Ministry of Environment and is a product of people’s struggle.

“So what is the role of the government at the federal, state and local level from a place you have so much oil that has empowered the economy of this country.

“Why can’t government provide water and the basic amenities for Ogoni people? My anger goes to the government that receives allocation every month in the federation account.

“What is the money used for because I can’t see any community even in the state capital, Port Harcourt where people can turn on tap for drinkable water”.

Programme Manager for CISLAC, Salaudeem Hashim, said immediate executive order by the presidency on the cleanup exercise will salvage the endemic problems face in the area.

“HYPREP is operating within a very tough time and environment and the processes they follow to get things being done might not be understood to the external stakeholders and may not provide some assessment that is justifiable.

“Some of the issues that bother around the emergency major and the integrated soil management system that was recommended also require some level of urgency and strategic direction from the organisation themselves.

“Immediate executive order should be issued to ease the cleanup process and I think if it can be done to business registration, to Airport users and operator and in other sectors I think this sector (HYPREP) requires an Executive Order from the Presidency to ensure that the process and everything that bothers around the implementation  is also very easy and properly coordinated”.

Also in an interview with The Nigerian Xpress at the meeting, Dr Sampson Ebimaro, Head of Monitoring and Evaluation, HYPREP, said “I think that those who are saying that HYPREP has not done enough don’t have enough information about HYPREP activities. Some of them are very far from what HYPREP is doing and the doing so far. Some of them do not also know our milestones.

“We have work schedules and timeline and that is what we have been following meticulously and we have adopted the strategy of planning forward and planning backward so that we can harvest adequate input from members of the public.

“UNEP Report on Ogoniland is just a report and a policy document it has no implementation plan. So when we came we wrote the implementation plan the project design and started doing a map out of impacted communities”.

Ebimaro however, commended CISLAC for the meeting, saying that “I think it is timely and we hope that in future we will continue to have this kind of meeting”.