Eleven award-winning experts from Africa and Switzerland have called on the governments of Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to take action on oil spills in Ogoniland in Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta and cancel oil exploration permits in the Virunga National Park in DRC
The Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, who met in Cairo, Egypt, for a three-day conference, signed a petition calling on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to implement the recommendations of a 2011 UN report on Ogoniland.
The report found that hydrocarbons had seriously contaminated the soil, and that carcinogens such as benzene were found in drinking water at levels 900 times above the acceptable standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It is therefore with shock that we received reports that almost three years after the release of the report of UNEP, of the environmental study of Ogoniland, your administration has not moved in quick response to deal with the horrendous environmental situation in Ogoniland,” PANA Friday quoted the signatories to have written.
The laureates want the Nigerian government to fully implement the recommendations of the UN report and to “ensure proper consultation and participation of the Ogoni people” at all stages of the process.
Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the military government in 1995, and the organisation he led, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), won the Right Livelihood Award in 1994.
“In Ogoniland, people are dying daily. People are still drinking polluted water. The clean-up has not been done,” said MOSOP President Legborsi Saro Pyagbara.
The Laureates also called on the Congolese government to cancel the exploration permit of a British oil company, Soco International, in the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to around a quarter of the world’s population of mountain gorillas.
Soco International recently announced that it would end its exploration work in the Virunga, but its withdrawal is not a total victory: the company will complete its seismic survey in Lake Edward.
Also, exploration licenses cover 80 per cent of the park and other companies may seek to develop resources in Virunga.
Laureates appealed to the Congolese government to cancel Soco’s permit, to respect national laws and regulations outlawing oil exploration and extraction in protected areas, and to remove armed groups inside the park.
They also called on Soco to unambiguously give up its permit to explore within the park boundaries and to honour its commitment to respect all areas designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Signatories to the petitions include recipients of the Right Livelihood Award from across Africa and Switzerland: MOSOP President Legborsi Pyagbara, renowned Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, President of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights Jacqueline Moudeina, Representative of the First People of the Kalahari Jumanda Gakelebone, and Executive Director of Federation Naam in Burkina Faso Joel Ouedraogo
Others are Dr Ibrahim Abouleish, founder of the biodynamic farm SEKEM in Egypt, Helmy Abouleish, SEKEM’s Managing Director, Hans R. Herren, agronomist and entomologist from Switzerland, Matron Sr. Tenadam Bekele Wolde, representative of Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, Guillaume Harushimana from Centre Jeunes Kamenge in Burundi, and environmental activist René Ngongo from the DRC.
The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to honour and support those “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”.
It has become widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’ and there are now 153 Laureates from 64 countries.
The annual Award Ceremony takes place in the Swedish Parliament Building in December, with support by parliamentarians from all established political parties.
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation is based in Stockholm, Sweden. The prize is financed by individual donors.