The House of Representatives Wednesday mandated its Committees on Environment, Emergency and Disaster Preparedness to investigate the continued non-implementation of the United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland.
The joint committee is expected to summon the managers of the the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) set up by the federal government in the wake of the UNEP report.
This came just as lawmakers took different positions on the late submission of the 2013 Appropriation Bill of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The probe of the UN report came through a motion moved by Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP/Rivers), who expressed concern at the delay in the implementation of the report.
Chinda decried the despoliation of the Ogoni environment and other Niger Delta communities due to decades of oil exploration activities in the region.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) conducted an independent assessment on the environment and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoni land and proffered options for remediation on the request of the federal government.
The UNEP field observation and scientific investigation found out that oil contamination in Ogoni land was widespread and had severely impacted many components of the environment.
The report said even though the oil industry was no longer active in Ogoni land, oil spills have continued to occur with alarming regularity while the Ogoni people live with the pollution daily.
According to him, the soil and ground water have been contaminated; the mangrove vegetation and aquatic life destroyed due to hydro-carbon emissions.
Consequently, the lawmaker said the local fishing industry has been destroyed and fishermen have lost a lot of income and their source of livelihood.
Accorsding to him, the situation had resulted in public health concerns as people are exposed to hydro-carbon emissions in the air and drinking water.
The lawmaker argued that given the UNEP study and its numerous recommendations, the proper thing to do was to implement the report. Chinda argued that once implemented, the report would have an immediate and positive impact on Ogoniland, including the restoration of the land, remediation of the contaminated creeks.
UNEP had presented its report to President Goodluck Jonathan on August 4, 2011.
The report confirmed the claims of the Ogoni people “that neglect of environmental pollution laws and sub-standard inspection techniques of the federal authorities have led to the complete degradation of the Ogoni environment, turning the environment into an ecological disaster.”
Two years after the report, the federal government is yet to act on it besides setting up the HYPREP, a project supervised by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“The only sign of HYPREP’s intervention is the placing of signposts at strategic places in Port Harcourt and Ogoni land informing people that their environment has indeed been contaminated and that people should keep off the affected areas.
“On the other hand and as a consequence, the Ogoni people continue to drink contaminated water and seafood is being scrounged from the polluted water and the community people still process their food in crude coated creeks. It is disturbing that the situation is already generating ill feelings and despondency amongst the Ogoni people and unless the UNEP report is fully implemented, they would continue to suffer pain and feel alienated in their land, a situation which could further lead to tension in the area,” Chinda said.
Meanwhile, there was bickering among lawmakers yesterday over the 2013 Appropriation Bill of the NDDC currently before the National Assembly.
N315.8 billion budget estimate passed second reading two weeks ago and was referred to the House Committee on NDDC for further legislative work.
However, when the committee submitted its report yesterday, Hon. Khamil Akinlabi (ACN/Oyo), raised an objection to it.
The lawmaker who came under a constitutional order said that NDDC had been in the habit of presenting its budgets late and wondered why a budget for 2013 was still in the making less than two months to the end of the fiscal year.
Akinlabi described the practice as criminal and a negation of Section 80(4) of the 1999 Constitution.
This triggered several comments from other lawmakers.
Deputy Speaker of the House who presided at the session pleaded with Akinlabi to drop his protest since the House had just received the report and had not reached the stage for its consideration.
Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (ACN/Lagos) rose in defence of Akinlabi, insisting that what the NDDC had done amounted to spending funds without appropriation. Gbajabiamila argued that if a budget meant to commence April 1st and terminate on December 31st 2013 was still in the works, the NDDC should be made to explain where it got the funds it has been spending since the beginning of the year.
Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. John Enoh who intervened to save the situation advised that since the report had already been presented to the House, anyone who had issues with it should wait until it was time for its consideration at the committee of the whole.