Tony John, Port Harcourt
Rivers State governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has decried the neglect of the Niger Delta, despite the fact the region is suffering untold environmental hardship for keeping the country afloat.
Speaking during a courtesy visit by the Minister of Environment, Mr. Suleiman Hassan Zarma to the Government House, Port Harcourt, on Friday, Governor Wike said that environmental degradation caused by oil exploration is worse than insurgency.
He said: “While we support the fighting against insurgency, nothing is worse than environmental pollution. We suffer because we are allowing Nigeria to survive. We are suffering for Nigeria to survive. It is through our oil that Nigeria is surviving.
“We are dying because we are keeping the country alive. Nobody wants to give us the attention required. These people who are suffering because of the nation’s survival, why not give them priority to survive? “
He urged the Federal Government to withdraw funds from the Excess Crude Account to address the environmental challenges in Ogoni land. The governor said it should be done in the same manner that funds were withdrawn to tackle insurgency.
“They took $1 billion from the Excess Crude Accounts to fight insurgency. I say they should take $500 million from the Excess Crude Accounts for the Ogoni Clean-Up Exercise “.
He assured the Federal Ministry of Environment of Rivers State government’s support to achieve the goals of remediation of the Ogoni environment.
“If you had told me earlier that you were coming, I would have provided a helicopter for you to fly over Ogoni land. You will weep at the level of environmental damage “, the governor said.
The governor regretted that the Ogoni Clean up Exercise has been politicised, pointing out that the Ministry of Environment is handing over sites to contractors three years after Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the exercise. He said the two activities took place as elections approached.
“Three years ago, the President represented by the Vice President flagged off the clean up during the rerun elections. One month to the general elections, the Minister of Environment has come to hand over the sites.
“If I tell you I believe sincerely that you people want to clean up Ogoni land, I am telling you lies. Surprise me and prove me wrong “, he said.
He called on the Minister of Environment to investigate cases of deduction of funds from contracts awarded for the clean up exercise.
The governor urged the Federal Ministry of Environment to ensure that the benefiting communities are patronised during the clean up and all approved steps taken by Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).
In his remarks, the Minister of Environment, Mr. Suleiman Hassan Zarma assured that the Ministry working with HYPREP would ensure that the clean up of Ogoni land is carried out.
He said that the Ministry would take steps to address the concerns raised by the Rivers State governor.
He said: “We are here to set the tone to enable the foundation laying of a robust inter-governmental collaboration which you have been doing especially in the environmental sector”.
He informed the governor that he was in the state to commence the handover of sites for the commencement of the clean up exercise.
Also reacting to the governor’s allegation, Niger Delta minister, Mr. Usani Usani told Saturday Sun in a telephone interview that the region has never been given the kind of attention the Buhari administration has been giving it in terms of development in the last 20 years. He added that President Buhari has done more on infrastructure for the Niger Delta than when those from the area were in charge of various government agencies.