At the meeting, which started by 7: 30 pm, the artisanal refiners openly informed the Federal Government that they would not leave illegal refining except they see commitment on the side of the government to empower them.
They disclosed that after some of them were delisted from pipelines surveillance by government agencies, illegal refining became the only source to earn a living, adding that it was from the illegal business that they carter for their families.
The artisanal refiners in Ogoni who were led by Mr. Elvis Ikoma and Domka Humphrey told Jibrin who represented the Federal Government on the consultative meeting that they can only leave illegal refining when federal government shows commitment on their livelihood.
Though, they also told the minister that if they were not committed to support Ogoni cleanup none of them would honour his invitation, stressing that some of them have already left the illegal refining after Dekil approached them to stop.
Humphrey said: “Sir, I will tell you our minds, if you don’t empower us we will not stop illegal refining, because this is what we use to feed our family and relatives. We don’t have anything doing after government takes away the pipeline surveillance from us.
“So, we need to be carried along, some of us are graduates, many people are still in the bush refining, if you empower us, we will talk to them and they will leave the bush. But where we are not seeing anything it would be very difficult for us to leave the illegal refining.”
Dekil said: “As you are well aware, the United Nations Environment programme, UNEP report on Ogoni environment among other things recommended that efforts be made to draw those involved in artisanal refining away from such dangerous activities through awareness campaigns on the hazards they pose to the environment and human health.
“The report also recommends alternative employment opportunities to be put in place for youths who had hitherto preoccupied themselves with artisanal refining. In keeping with these recommendations, we had earlier on 30th May, 2017 held a meeting with your leaders. At that meeting we explained to them the mandate of, HYPREP, the determination of the Federal Government in ensuring the mandate of HYPREP is realised and the health impact of artisanal refining of your health and the environment.
“At the end of the meeting we tasked your leaders to liaise with you to identify the skills you would want HYPREP to train you in as alternative means of livelihood for you. We want to believe that assignment has been completed and the list of skills handy. In this second meeting with you, we are glad that the Honorable Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jubrin Usman is present and his presence is a confirmation of the fact that the federal Government means well for you and we would not also expect less from you as regards the Ogoni cleanup project. We could not stop from appealing to you to cease from all sorts of artisanal refining both in your own interest, that of the environment and the overall economy of the nation.
“The ogoni environment is already polluted and what we need now is remediation and not re-pollution. The process of remediation is rigorous and time consuming and in the Ogoni case, it will take some years to restore the environment. The implication of that is that a re-pollution is a further elongation of the time. We must therefore not sacrifice our present and the future of the next generation on the altar of instant gratification.
Jibrin said he was happy that ex-artisanal refiners opened up their minds, adding that illegal refining is not only dangerous to the environment but to those who are engaging in it.”
The minister promised that the Federal Government in partnership with the Ministry of Petroleum and the office of the HYPREP Coordinator will ensure that they are trained with the aim to secure their livelihood
Jibrin said: “I have heard all of you, I’m assuring you that the issue will get to the Acting President, but remember that you have fishes of all kinds, animals, we cannot get them if you contaminate the water with hydrocarbon pollution. We need the mangrove, because we use it for firewood, but it is in our own interest to keep our environment clean, it is in our own interest to ensure that in whatever we must do we have to take care of our environment.
“That is why the federal government has taken the issue of Modular refinery serious, it is community base, and it is authority. It is going to be regulated. There is need for us to organise ourselves into responsible cooperatives. Whether they are community or local government base but there is need to have something that would regulate us. And with your support I am assuring you that the Federal government is determine through HYPREP to support your training and empowerment. But you must be at the front to drive the process.
“We are out to make a difference, the life we live is for the living, and we can only live a good life if we are healthy, if we have something doing that can touch our lives. We cannot do anything outside our environment, we want Ogoni to be cleaned, this is our intention and this is what we are going to do. Government cannot create job for everybody but can create a conducive environment for people to earn a living.
“The acting President had showed his commitment when he hosted the leadership of PANDAF headed by Chief Edwin Clark, all their demand were listed, you are aware that the Acting President had visited the Niger Delta. Many people talk about economy but I talk about environment because it is the responsibility of my office and my team to ensure that we have conducive, friendly and livable environment. But we cannot do that if we are doing certain practices that may not be healthy on the environment.
“We will not be tired of talking with you, you will be the one to carry out the gospel, I saw spills and I have repeated this that I use to see fish fried with red and vegetable oil but I saw fish in Ogoni fried with crude oil. When you see this kind of thing, no matter how inhuman you are, it must touch your mind, the first thing I remember was our woman, daughters who have certain responsibilities going to the farm fetching water and firewood on the contaminated environment but how long are we going to continue with this.”