A synopsis of news in Ogoniland in 2018

January 20, 2019

Written by Bariton Cletus Lezabbey, Communications and Research Intern, Kiisi Trust Fund-TrustAfrica

It’s been over sixty years since oil was first discovered in Nigeria, approximately 25 years since oil operations were disrupted and halted in Ogoniland due to public unrest, and 24 years since human-rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and some of his Ogoni kinsmen were arrested, tried by a military tribunal and hanged by the Abacha regime on highly disputed allegations of complicity in the murder of four Ogoni chiefs. The oilfields and installations have since largely remained dormant, though major oil pipelines still cut cross Ogoniland and the environmental damage done to the land remains an issue of contention today. In a 15-year period from 1976 to 1991 there were reportedly 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell Company worldwide.

Ogoniland is made of up 6 kingdoms (BabbeGokanaKen-KhanaNyoKhanaEleme and Tai) and covers close to 1,000 square kilometers in Rivers state, Nigeria. Approximately 1 million people currently live in Ogoniland with close to 220 communities that extends across KhanaGokanaEleme and Tai local government areas.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report

In 2006, the Nigerian government commissioned UNEP to conduct an independent assessment of the environment and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland and to make recommendations for environmental remediation. After five years of study and research, the UNEP report was released in 2011 and revealed that the impacts of 50 years of oil production in the region extended deeper than previously thought. The impact on farming, the main source of livelihood for residents of Ogoniland, is no longer viable due to the damage to the alluvial soil, and high levels of hydrocarbons are at 900 levels above World Health Organization guidelines. The impact on health is even more damaging with many villages having experienced the infernal quaking of the wrath of gas flares which have been burning 24 hours a day for over 50 years.

UNEP estimated that it could take up to 30 years to rehabilitate Ogoniland to its full potential and that the first five years of rehabilitation would require funding of about US$1 billion. The clean-up of Ogoniland could be the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil cleanup exercise ever undertaken. Its success (and failure) goes beyond Ogoniland, the Niger Delta and even Nigeria. Beyond remediation and environmental restoration, one of the major recommendations from the UNEP report is to involve stakeholders to ensure long-term sustainability of any actions from the clean-up exercise.  

News Coverage in Ogoniland in 2018

With over 300 Ogoni-related news tracked from almost all the Nigerian national dailies and few international newspapers in 2018 during my tenure as the Communications and Research intern with the Kiisi Trust (February 2018 – January 2019), 51% percent of the news centered around the environmental devastation and the incessant call for the implementation of the much-celebrated “Ogoni clean-up” by the Federal Government of Nigeria.


  1. The Ogoni clean-up took the center stage of discourse on issues in Ogoniland. After the much celebrated Ogoni/UNEP clean up flagged-off by the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo in June 2016, the continuous delay began to create distrust amongst the Ogoni people, concerned civil society organizations and the international community, wondering if the Federal Government were really sincere in carrying out the clean-up according to the recommendations in the UNEP report. In 2018, the Ogoni News Tracker tracked over 150 Ogoni clean-up related news published by both national and international newspapers, making it the highest discussed topic currently in the Ogoniland.
  2. NGO/CSOs engagement came second on the cadre of tracked Ogoni news in the 2018 calendar year. Civil society organizations expressed deep concerns about the environmental degradation and livelihood destruction the activities of oil exploration has cost the people in the region. Their activities and advocacy campaigns contributed immensely to the resolution of the Federal Government to go ahead with the clean-up process and they serve as the watchdog to the whole process of the clean-up and other developmental issues in the region.
  3. Resumed Oil exploration became a major concern in Ogoniland. OML 11 was last operated in 1993 after the foremost Ogoni environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa, sued Shell Petroluem Oil Company of complicity and environmental destruction. This resulted to the withdrawal of the license to operate that oil field, as well as a sanction not to operate the field until the suit is vacated. Following the Ogoni clean-up saga, there was speculations that the Federal Government, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was planning to give authorization for the exploration of OML 11 to two indigenous oil companies alleged to be cronies of the Shell Petroleum Oil Company. This caused unrest in Ogoniland as stakeholders, civil socity organizatins and groups kicked against it, stating that before any resumption of oil exploraton can begin, the clean-up exerise of Ogoniland must commence in full force. After much persuasion and agitation, the Federal Government decided to pedal down any future oil exploration on OML 11.
  4. Insecurity remains a critical area of concern, not just in Ogoniland, but across the Niger Delta region. For that of the Ogoni people, the cases of insecurity recorded in 2018 ranges from issues of small-armed groups (cultism), chieftaincy power tussles, politically motivated crisis and most prominently, the issues surrounding the perceived marginalization of the region as regards the undue delay in the execution of the UNEP report that has cost untold economic hardship and incessant death in the region. Leading up to the elections in February 2019, across the region the electoral campaigns appear to be less intense and with fewer resources than in the same period in 2011 and 2015. Rivers State has experienced a drop-in campaign activity compared to earlier periods. The highest profile issue regionally is the Federal High Court in Rivers adding to the prior state court ruling on the ongoing case of the APC primaries, this time explicitly ruling that neither faction of the APC has candidates for the 2019 elections and issuing an injunction against INEC. The Electoral Commission now faces the difficult task of weighing rulings against ongoing appeals and publishing a final list of candidates for the elections on January 17, 2019. Even more difficult will be the task of explaining its decision to audiences who will assume bias whichever way they rule and this might heighten the insecurity in the region.
  5. Politics refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance—organized control over a human community, particularly a state. The political history of the Ogonis in Nigeria and Rivers State is one that can be classified as quite marginalizing, despite the caliber of individuals the Ogonis boast to have, none has ever risen to the level of Chief Judge, Speaker of State House Assembly, Deputy Governor or Governor in Rivers state. In the myriad of news tracked in 2018, a very disappointing number of less than 15 news articles was tracked. Assumably, this goes on to make bold the fact that the region is “not too concerned” about politics as they are about their environment.

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