Statement by Mr Ibrahim Thiaw
Director, Division for Environmental Policy Implementation
United Nations Environment Programme

Formal handover of the
Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland
State House, Abuja


4 August 2011 -- Your Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
Honourable Ministers
Chairman of the PIC, Bishop Matthew Kukah
His Royal Majesty King Gininwa
Members of the Presidential Implementation Committee
The UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria;
Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen;
All protocol duly observed:

On behalf of my colleagues at the United Nations family, including the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, it is an honor and a privilege for me to be part of this important event and to make the formal presentation of the results of UNEP’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland to Your Excellency at this august gathering.

I would like to take this opportunity to convey our appreciation to Your Excellency, Mr President, for not only your leadership but also for the significant recognition your efforts have received in initiating peaceful and sustainable solutions in Ogoniland.

Let me also thank the members of the Presidential Committee under the Chairmanship of the Most Reverend Matthew Kukah, Bishop for the Diocese of Sokoto; the former Minister of the Environment, the Honourable John Odey; the current Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Mrs Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafiya and her entire team; the traditional rulers of Ogoniland, in particular the Paramount Ruler, His Majesty King Godwin N.K Gininwa; and the Executive Governor of Rivers State, the Right Honourable Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.

We also thank the Vice Chancellor of Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Professor Barineme Beke Fakae, along with the university’s faculty and students.

Of course, this report would not have been possible without the local knowledge, support and cooperation of the people of Ogoniland. Our heartfelt thanks to them.


The Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland I am presenting today, is the most comprehensive and complex assessment ever undertaken by UNEP.

This assessment encompasses contaminated land, water, sediment, vegetation, air quality, public health, industry practices and institutional issues. And, it represents the best available understanding of what has happened to the environment of Ogoniland following 50 years of oil industry operations. It also provides operational recommendations on how that legacy can be addressed, including priorities for action such as clean-up and remediation.

The UNEP project team surveyed 122 kms of pipeline rights of way and visited oil spill sites, oil wells and other oil-related facilities in Ogoniland. These included decommissioned and abandoned facilities based on information provided by the Government regulators, Shell Petroleum Development Company and community members in and around Ogoniland.

UNEP also used aerial reconnaissance to observe oil pollution not readily visible from the ground, including artisanal refining sites.

Following its initial investigations, UNEP identified 69 sites for detailed soil and groundwater investigations.

In addition, samples of community drinking water, sediments from creeks, surface water, rainwater, fish and air were collected throughout Ogoniland.

More than 4,000 samples were analyzed, including water drawn from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.

Medical records exceeding 5,000 were examined.

Two hundred and sixty four formal community meetings were organized in Ogoniland which were attended by over 23,000 people.

The samples were collected following internationally-accepted sample management procedures and dispatched for analysis to accredited laboratories in Europe.

This fieldwork was complemented by extensive remote sensing analyses.

Reviews of legislation, institutions, oil industry practices and available remediation technologies were undertaken by experts to complete this study.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The report underlines and confirms a wide suite of health and livelihood challenges facing the people of Ogoniland.

Even though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoniland, oil spills continue to occur with unacceptable frequency. And at one site, Ejama-Ebubu in Eleme LGA, the study found heavy contamination after an oil spill that occurred 40 years ago, despite repeated clean-ups.

In 49 cases, the study observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5 metres. At 41 sites, the hydrocarbon pollution has reached the groundwater levels. Clearly, this exposure to hydrocarbons is putting the health of community members at serious risk.

Oil pollution in many inter-tidal creeks has left mangroves denuded of leaves and stems. When an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out, killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land, making remediation difficult. Fish tend to leave polluted areas in search of cleaner water, and fishermen must therefore also move to less contaminated areas in search of fish.

The Ogoni community is exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes at concentrations at highly elevated levels. Hydrocarbon contamination was found in water taken from 28 wells in 10 communities adjacent to contaminated sites. In seven wells, the samples were at least 1,000 times higher than the Nigerian drinking water standards.

The practice of artisanal refining, whereby crude oil is illegally distilled locally, has proliferated rapidly in the area since 2009 and is causing locally-significant environmental damage. We also found evidence of illegal disposal of oil field waste within Ogoniland.

The conclusion of the report is that the clean-up efforts undertaken to date are inadequate and have not resulted in environmental restoration. Clearly, overlapping authorities and responsibilities between ministries and lack of resources within key agencies has had serious implications for environmental management on-the-ground, including enforcement.

Mr. President,

According to the report, full environmental restoration of Ogoniland will take an estimated 25 to 30 years. This will be possible through a combination of modern technology to clean up contaminated land and waterways, backed up by practical action at the regulatory, operational and monitoring levels.

The happy news is that with a more focused approach it will be possible to attain major improvements in just five years.

I would like to point out that there is not one single clean-up technique appropriate for the entire area. A combination of approaches will need to be considered. These will range from active intervention for cleaning up the top soil and replanting mangrove to passive monitoring of natural regeneration.

The report identifies eight emergency measures to address public health issues and clean up the most severely contaminated areas. One case which warrants urgent action is the contamination of groundwater at Nsisioken-Ogale, in Eleme local government area. People in Nsisioken-Ogale have been consuming water with benzene over 900 times the set WHO guidelines.

All sources of ongoing contamination, including the artisanal refining, must be brought to a swift end as a first step.

The study recommends the establishment of three new institutions in Nigeria which would carry forward the planning and management of a comprehensive environmental restoration process for Ogoniland:

  • 1) an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority which would be the government body overseeing implementation of the study’s recommendations;
  • 2) an Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre which would be a major industrial enterprise in Ogoniland employing hundreds of people and a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration to provide training and promote shared learning in environmental monitoring and restoration;
  • 3) an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland with an initial capital injection of USD 1 billion contributed by the oil industry and the Government.

Mr President,

Restoring the livelihoods of future Ogoni generations is within reach but the timing of these efforts is of the essence. What is required is the swift commencement of clean-up before the pollution footprint spreads any further.

A Transition Phase is recommended to maintain the momentum and begin detailed planning. For this we recommend the setting up of five technical working groups to carry forward the task until the creation of the Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This assessment report adheres to the highest standards of independence, integrity and transparency. The United Nations Environment Programme hopes that its findings can catalyze significant environmental improvements in the region. It should also lead to the formulation of a strategic policy on the manner in which the oil industry should function to benefit communities in Ogoniland – now and in the future.

The positive effects of improved regulation, new clean-up approaches and increased surveillance recommended in this report will benefit not only the communities in Ogoniland but all communities living in oil-producing areas in the Niger Delta and beyond.

If implemented, we believe the report’s recommendations could bring important new investment and employment opportunities to the Ogoni community.

Mr. President,

We in the United Nations Environment Programme have always believed that environmental security can be improved by reducing the distance between the decision makers and the people who should benefit from their decisions. The challenge before us all is to design enabling mechanisms to increase participation in development. And it has to maintain an effective two-way information link between the national governments, international partners and local communities and to ensure that the benefits of sustainable development reach the marginalized and the politically invisible masses.

UNEP and the UN Family stand ready to assist the Nigerian authorities and the people of Ogoniland as they address the environmental challenges ahead, should we be requested to do so.

Indeed the entire UN system in Nigeria, as discussed with the UN Resident Coordinator, will be pleased to assist, including in the necessary socio-economic and accompanying measures.

* * *

Your Excellency, it is my singular honour to present you with the Report on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.

Thank you for the opportunity.