Nigeria: ‘No Reconciliation Without Justice’

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Matthew Hassan Kukah, 8 August 2011

Opinion

Today marks a historic date in the history of Nigeria in a very significant way. Today, is judgment day for our nation in more ways than one. It is judgment day for the successive governments of the federal republic of Nigeria which you lead today. Today is perhaps the beginning of judgment day for the Oil companies who have been doing business in Nigeria.

 

Today is judgment day for the Nigerian elite who have presided over the resources of our nation. Today, you will be presented with a comprehensive report of the conditions of the lives and the environment of the Ogoni people. The report you will receive is undiluted, pure scientific evidence of the footprints of Shell Petroleum Development Company which has been engaged in Oil exploration on behalf of the government of the Federal republic of Nigeria. The report is a metaphor for the degree of responsibility or lack of it which the successive federal governments have exhibited since oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Nigeria.

The report you are about to receive, Mr. President represents the best, most comprehensive, most scientifically acceptable and verifiable report of what has happened in Ogoniland. This report puts an end to innuendo, guesswork, name-calling, sorcery, bias or any other form of evaluation or explanation of the environmental situation in Ogoniland. This report is solid science at the highest international level. The report leaves absolutely no room for speculation, equivocation, doubt, politics or any other forms of discussions about Ogoniland, its people and environment. It can only be contradicted by other scientific data.

For the purpose of this work, Mr. President it is important to note that the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP which undertook this scientific assessment worked over a two-year period, visited the length and breathe of Ogoniland through a series of vehicular, physical, and aerial surveillance.In the course of this work, UNEP identified 69 sites across Ogoniland, took samples from community drinking water, sediments from creeks, surface water, rainwater and fish. Mr. President, as the report will show, over 4000 samples were gathered and analysed here and abroad. Water was extracted by UNEP scientists from 780 boreholes while 142 ground water monitoring wells were drilled in pursuit of this investigation. The UNEP team on the ground staged a total of 264 formal Town Hall community meetings attended by 23,000 Ogonis in the various communities. This was a strategy for feeding their input into the process as it went along.

The UNEP Team worked closely with local staff predominantly made up of Ogonis who were drawn from the various communities in Ogoniland. They worked with local scientists and other experts.

 

What you will soon receive by way of this report marks the final phase in the assignment which I was given when your predecessor, President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. We have come a long way and I am thankful to God, Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’adua of blessed and happy memories and your humble self retained strong support for this assignment. It has taken its toll on my Pastoral assignments but I am grateful to God that I have had a chance to serve my country through you and your predecessors. In the work for reconciliation, the world is our Parish and to that extent, I considered myself on a Pastoral assignment in the course of this work.

Although there may be another time and another place, but let me thank you and your predecessors again most sincerely. I also want to thank the Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili and his successor Mr. Rotimi Amaechi who kept all their doors open and offered me both encouragement and support, the good people of Ogoniland represented here by His Royal Highness, Chief Giniwa, Chairman of Ogoni Traditional Rulers’ Council, Professor Koinyan in particular, Mr. Ledum Mitee and his colleagues at MOSOP as well as many ordinary Ogoni people who never hid their appreciation for all the efforts we were making.

I want to thank all the members of the Presidential Implementation Committee especially former Ministers of the Ministry for Environment, Mrs. Esuene, Mr. John Odey and Mrs. Hadiza Mailafiya, the current Minister for Environment.

Like every journey, this has been a long, fairly difficult but rewarding one. Although a few cynics doubted our intentions, I was never in doubt about the necessity of this assignment, its urgency and its historic significance for our nation as a whole.

Beginning with Oputa Panel, I have spent the last six or so years on this assignment. In the course of our work, I managed to successfully build on the work that we did at Oputa Panel and proceeded to secure some token gesture of consolation to the families of the Ogoni 13, thus ensuring some levels of material succour for the families. We also successfully hosted the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to in Ogoniland on two different occasions in Ogoniland, thus making the Ogonis the only community to be directly visited by a President. By these processes, we were able to achieve some levels of internal reconciliation in Ogoniland.

 

The conclusion of this investigation and the submission of this report by UNEP marks the two phases of the work that I have undertaken. I am grateful to God that on balance, we have achieved some levels of success in the assignment we were given. I was simply asked by President Obasanjo to see how I could work towards reconciliation in Ogoniland. But I realised that there could be no reconciliation without Justice and that the best template for justice has to be a careful assessment of everything that had diminished sacred, God given life in Ogoniland. This was why I persuaded former President Obasanjo to invited UNEP to undertake this assignment. I had never heard of UNEP but I knew that I wanted the United Nations which had shown interest in Ogoniland to be part of this initiative. As the social conscience of a broken world in need of healing, I believed that the UN involvement would be the only way we could secure a transparent audit of the environment in Ogoniland, one that would be free from insinuations and doubt, a report whose integrity would be unquestionable.

I believe I have done my duty Sir. Now, the third and phase, which is the implementation of the results of these findings fall squarely on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have taken a sick child to the hospital. The doctors have referred us to the Laboratory. We have done a most comprehensive set of tests and analysis. The result will soon be in your hands. The cost of drugs is clearly indicated and I hope that treatment can commence soonest.

Mr. President Sir, commissioning this initiative was a brave decision and I commend your successors and your self for keeping with this dream. However, as we shall soon see, very little could have prepared us for the results that we are about to see. I hope and pray that the Federal Government of Nigeria will find it in its heart to do the right thing for its citizens, that it will come to terms with the fact that the first duty and responsibility of any government is the protection, safety, security and welfare of its citizens.

In the case of Ogoniland and other parts of Nigeria, the successful governments have woefully failed their citizens. You do have an opportunity, Mr. President to boldly take on the moral burden of bringing life back to the people of Ogoniland. You are on the threshold of history and I hope that the government that you lead will find the heart to appreciate that the life and security of a single citizen is more than all the oil wells in this country. Consequently, I call on you to patiently but very quickly move on to put in place the necessary human architecture recommended by the Report, to equip the relevant government agencies to take up the challenge of restoring Ogoniland. If you are looking for where to start your real transformation programme, it is here. If you are looking for when, the hour is now.

Now, it is my singular honour Mr. President to call on Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, the Director, Division for Environmental Policy Implementation to formally present the summary of contents of the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland Report, undertaken by UNEP to you, Sir.

Being a text of brief remarks by Msgr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, chairman, Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation Committee and chairman, Presidential Implementation Committee on the occasion of the presentation of the final report of the United Nations Environment Programme (unep), on the environmental assessment of Ogoniland to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on August 4, 2011.

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