Good morning everyone. I would like to thank the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People for inviting me to give a short goodwill address to mark the 26th anniversary of Ogoni Day.
My name is Harriet Thompson, and I am the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria. I am delighted to be here with you to open this 3-day event to “highlight the importance of building better communities in critical times: social movement’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies”. In this day and age it is clear that violent protest is not the answer and I commend the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People for its longstanding promotion of non-violent advocacy. In the last year we have seen oil production levels rise as Federal Government and militant groups have engaged in dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the issues in the Niger Delta. Although progress has been slow and we would all like to see more achieved in 2018, this is a good example of how non-violent methods can achieve better, more sustainable solutions.
Driving through part of Ogoniland as I approached the Birabi Memorial Grammar School I have been appalled at the level of degradation and environmental damage caused by oil pollution. The cost of pollution is enormous affecting health, livelihoods, the economy and therefore driving conflict. More needs to be done to ensure the devastating effects on clean air, water, farming and agriculture are combated. It is imperative that there is quicker progress on the Ogoniland clean-up this year, nearly 7 years after the UNEP report was published. As we move closer to the elections of 2019, we must do all that we can to ensure there is stability and to bring peace in this important region of Nigeria.
In 2016, the UK’s then Minister for Africa visited Ogoniland and saw first-hand the devastating impact of pollution from the oil industry on local communities. We are pleased that one billion US dollars has been committed by the Federal Government and international oil companies for the Ogoniland cleanup. We hope that recent meetings on the issue will result in a concerted push to deliver a safe environment for the people living in Ogoniland now facing very difficult circumstances. We hope that efforts can be made to secure safe water to drink, cleaner air to breathe and better job opportunities. And we hope for better solutions to combat the damaging effects of oil bunkering and illegal refineries.
In November last year the British High Commissioner and Heads of Mission from other Embassies met with the Minister for Environment and we were encouraged to be told that work on the cleanup is progressing. The mechanisms are now in place to ensure that when the cleanup does begin it has the maximum positive impact and that resources are used efficiently and effectively. The UK along with our partners look forward to work on the cleanup starting in the next few months, as promised by the Minister for Environment at our meeting. The UK stands ready to support in whatever way we can including providing technical support and supporting activity which can help reduce conflict and improve job creation.
Sustaining and protecting the environment will require small as well as large scale action from all of us – from major industry working to minimise the pollution, to international organisations, national and state governments setting goals and frameworks, funding initiatives and driving forward programmes. It also needs individual citizens to take responsibility for the local environment where they live.
I thank the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People for their continued peaceful efforts to push for the protection of human rights for all its Ogoni people. And the Federal Government of Nigeria, International Oil Companies and International Community for working together to ensure peaceful advocacy is rewarded and that these efforts are not in vain.