Justice Delayed and Denied: A Review of ‘No Clean Up, No Justice’

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Title: No Clean Up, No Justice
Author: Godwin Uyi Ojo, ERA executive director
Number of Pages: 39
Publisher: Environmental Rights Action, ERA
Reviewer: Bob MajiriOghene Communications, Nigeria.

Serious discussion concerning abstract concepts as ‘justice;’ either as an art or a scientific precept were perfunctorily considered around the mid-1950s. Of course, there were concepts of justice ascribed to epochs Platonic and Socratic. But these lost any relevance in the pre and post-modernist socio-economic milieu. Therefore, the mid 50s was an epoch where a roadmap on what is just needed to be charted: existing models like Sartre’s existentialism held sway, and the world was seen then as a boundless ocean irredeemably violent and irresolute; a world only just recovered from the wars induced by populist and nationalistic interests. 

But deep within the healing wounds that the World Wars inflicted on the consciousness of the prevailing elite of that epoch, a solid foundation of humanity based on justice was yet to be established. To John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant, justice was to be based, ‘on a conduciveness to the happiness of mankind’, a kind of utilitarian ethos. 

But it was not until the publication of John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice (1971) that the fog was lifted. For Rawls, justice is the foundation of social structure and the first virtue of social institutions. Contemporary political philosophers who latched on to  Rawls theory have said that the primary domain on which justice stands is the equitable distribution of goods, where ‘goods’ mean just about those things that we all might want to have: wealth, position, opportunity, liberty, skill and some self-respect. 

But justice, in this wise, has been delayed, denied the Ogoni, and indeed the Niger Delta of Nigeria for several years. They (the Ogoni, including the people of Uzere) are the archetypal victims of years of oil pollution in Nigeria. For their region, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, has borne the brunt of polluted rivers and lakes from years of oil exploration and exploitation by multinational oil companies like BP, Shell & co.  Environmental and human rights abuses arise from years of the neglect of cleaning up of the very many polluted sites in the Niger Delta, an occurrence highlighted by the late activist, Ken Saro Wiwa. 

To understand the human rights abuses within that environment, the Environmental Rights Action, ERA, has come up with a 39-page report titled NO CLEAN UP NO JUSTICE, presented to the public in June 2020 at several locations in Nigeria. Authors highlight the plight of Ogoniland through a United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, Report which says that: 

‘The Ogoni people have lived with this pollution every minute of every day, 365 days a year. Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is fair assumption that most members of the Ogoni land community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives. Children born in Ogoniland soon sense oil pollution as the odour of hydrocarbons pervades the air day in day out’ a UNEP report had said.

Through three chapters, ERA establishes several themes running right through efforts being put in place by the Nigerian government at cleaning up polluted sites in Ogoniland. In chapter 1 of the ERA report – The Ogoni Struggle for Justice – there is a historical narrative detailing the struggle of Ken Saro Wiwa for justice in Ogoniland, leading to his extra-judicial killing by Nigerian dictator, Sanni Abacha in 1995. After a UNEP report in 2011, ‘the then Federal government established the Hydrocarbons Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, pledging to fully implement its recommendations’, (page 13) but ‘the progress is very slow and HYPREP’s operations are failing to deliver’, (executive summary page 6).

Subsequent chapters highlight the litany of failures arising from HYPREP’s inability to carry out UNEP recommendations – the creation of a centre of excellence, adequate monitoring of remediation work, a monitoring of public health and community engagement and a failure to take steps to prevent future occurrences of pollution in Ogoniland.  As cited in the ERA report, UNEP in 2019 had said that HYPREP is ‘not designed, nor structured, to implement a project as complex and sizable as the Ogoniland Clean-Up’, page 6.

But why is HYPREP ‘not designed, nor structured, to implement a project as complex and sizable as the Ogoniland Clean-up’? ERA again citing a February 2019 UNEP Report in chapter 3 that:

‘There is no overall strategy for HYPREP to achieve its mission of implementing the UNEP Report. As a result, it is not possible for the various elements of HYPREP (both written, as well as the consultants) to formulate their respective strategies and action plans’.

believes that Institutional Weaknesses and lack of Transparency, (Chapter 3) such as ‘unreliable laboratories, expertise among consultants and contractors, and a potential conflict of interest’, in the constitution of the governing board of HYPREP, are responsible for the languidness in HYPREP.   

The ERA Report, NO CLEAN UP NO JUSTICE concludes with a series of recommendations to the Nigerian and Rivers State governments (22-points), to Shell (9-points), to UNEP (3-points) and to the International Community (in three paragraphs).  

NO CLEAN UP NO JUSTICE has elicited reactions, chief of which was that by HYPREP itself. On June 26th, the Federal Ministry of Environment took a four-page advertorial with the Guardian newspaper of Nigeria, wherein it reacted rather quarrelsomely with authors of NO CLEAN UP NO JUSTICE but basically to justify the languidness of its operation as put forward by ERA.  

The ERA Report, like Rawls A Theory of Justice, came at a time, (nine years after the UNEP Report of 2011) when it is important to put issues relating to the clean-up of the Niger Delta in greater perspective. In April 2010, Deepwater Gulf of Mexico oil spill resulted in 4,900,000 barrels of oil leaking into the gulf. Claims by several research groups that subsurface plumes of dispersed hydrocarbons had been detected were initially dismissed by BP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But BP owned up eventually, and in three years undertook the clean-up of one of the most massive spills in the history of mankind. No media wars, no strutting, no verbiage.  According to the effort to clean up after the Gulf Oil Spill of April 2010 Encyclopedia Britannica says that

the various cleanup efforts were coordinated by the National Response Team, a group of government agencies headed by the US Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. BP, Transocean, and several other companies held liable for the billions of dollars in costs accrued.  Coast Guard cleanup patrols ultimately drew to a close in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi in June 2013 and in Louisiana in April 2014’.

If an incident like the Gulf Oil Spill which appears significant in scale and magnitude to the Ogoniland oil spill can be handled in three years, there are valid concerns as expressed in the ERA report why HYPREP, with nearly a $30million and tons of political goodwill wants to implement a 5-year budget in 100 years.  

Laced with maps, photos and tables, the ERA report NO CLEAN UP NO JUSTICE is a big statement on the travails of the Niger Delta, and which the Federal government of Nigeria and indeed the international community must look at very seriously. And this is because a region whose land produces 90% of the national wealthbeing cannot be left to suffer lack of drinking water, subject to human rights abuses and deprivation of wealth, position, opportunity, liberty, skill and some self-respect which accrues from oil wealth to Nigeria. 

Minor issues relating to legibility of nearly all the letters in the report, a few typos (pages 22 Paragraphs 1 and 6 and some blurry photos), the report is a strong voice in favour of the empowerment of HYPREP for the quick remediation of hydrocarbons in a polluted Niger Delta lands like Uzere, Ogoni et all. And because of the significance of reports such as this, ERA would do well to up the ante of its future publications by publishing nonglossy instead of gloss and hiring the services of infographics experts to make more explicit its theme and meme.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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