This was against the popular expectation that the President would personally perform the ceremony to underscore the Federal Government’s determination to see through the clean-up.
A new militant group in the oil-rich region, the Niger Delta Avengers, had threatened to disrupt the ceremony, a development that had generated tension in the country.
It became clear on Thursday morning that Buhari had asked Osinbajo to represent him at the event.
At the ceremony, Buhari warned militants and oil thieves to stay away from the nation’s oil installations, saying his administration would not tolerate the ongoing oil theft and attacks on oil facilities.
The President also cautioned oil firms in the Niger Delta region to carry out their operations in line with international best practices by avoiding acts that would adversely affect the environment.
In his address, read by Osinbajo, Buhari stated, “Let me seize this opportunity to sound a note of warning that the current oil theft and illegal refining will not be tolerated. The regulators of the oil industry must live up to expectations.
“The report of oil pollution in the Nigerian environment shows that a significant percentage is lost due to sabotage and wilful vandalism of oil companies’ facilities. The recent upsurge in the blasting of pipelines in the operation areas of several of the oil companies is a case in point.
“These incidents have brought about drastic reduction in our daily oil production as well as the quantum of gas that keeps power plants for electricity generation. Inadequate power supply has consequential implication on the economy and wealth creation.
“Given the current situation in the Niger Delta, it must be borne in mind that destroying the Niger Delta environment by oil companies, by militants or oil thieves has the same end results.’’
The President noted that the ecosystem in the Niger Delta, particularly in Ogoniland had been damaged as a result of six decades of oil exploration and production.
He said, “Today marks another milestone in the life of our administration. I recall that as a military Head of State, when I visited Bodo Town in Ogoniland. During that visit, I inaugurated a large fish pond and planted a tree as a sign for that government’s concern for the environment.
“The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo engaged the United Nations Environment Programme to undertake a mission towards the clean-up of Ogoniland while recommendations were made for its (clean-up) implementation.
“The report was submitted to my predecessor in office in 2011, but the implementation was not accorded the necessary support it required. The people of Ogoniland continued to suffer from pollution of air, land and water.”
Earlier, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, lamented that Ogoniland and the Niger Delta in general had gone through pains as a result of years of environmental pollution, but commended Buhari for his efforts to restore the environment.
The governor described the UNEP Report as the best available document that would ensure the socio-economic transformation of Ogoniland.
The Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Muhammed, described the occasion as a promise that was being fulfilled by Buhari, noting that the exercise was a collective responsibility.
“It will require the trust that we have lost over the decades; it will require transparency and accountability and it will require proper representation of the people in what we are doing in investing in their future,” she stated.
Also, the UNEP Executive Director, Mr. Achim Steiner, expressed gratitude to Obasanjo for engaging the body, adding that the task was a great risk taken by the UNEP team.
Steiner pointed out that UNEP was committed to standing by the Federal Government and the people of Ogoniland on the clean-up process.
In his goodwill message, the former Governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who recalled that Jonathan did not yield to his persuasion on the UNEP report, expressed gratitude to Buhari for ensuring the commencement of the clean-up.
“With $1bn that would be injected into this project, the economy of Ogoniland will improve,” Amaechi said.
The President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, called on those involved in violent agitation in the region to embrace non-violent and peace advocacy in making their demands.
“We also urge our government to avoid acting in ways that tend to suggest that they listen only when there is violence,” Pyagbara said.
Meanwhile, no fewer than three soldiers and four civilian residents were reportedly killed on Wednesday evening in an attack on a houseboat around a creek close to Omadino/Idjere junction in the Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.
It was gathered that the incident occurred between 6.30pm and 7pm on Wednesday.
Investigations revealed that the militants struck when some of the soldiers deployed to safeguard oil facilities in the area had gone on a routine patrol.
A military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, said over 15 people were killed, including 10 soldiers, who claimed that some others jumped into the river for safety.
The gunmen, it was gathered, stormed the location in two speedboats and sank the houseboat after their operation.
Although no militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack, security sources believed it was carried out by the rampaging members of the Niger Delta Avengers.
One of the civilian casualties was identified as Tombra Iwoboibi, a caterer.
A relative of the victim, Richard Obiayaidou, who was at the Warri Central Hospital, where the corpses were deposited, lamented the incident.
Obiayaidou, who wailed profusely over the death of Iwoboibi, appealed to the Federal Government to expedite action towards ending the renewed militancy.
The Public Relations Officer, Warri Central Hospital, Mrs. Success Obere, confirmed that the hospital received seven corpses on Wednesday midnight after the attack.
She added that the corpses of three soldiers and four civilians, including two females, were brought to the hospital.
Confirming the attack, the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, Capt Jonah Unuakhalu, said two soldiers and four civilians died in the attack while a soldier was missing.
In a statement on Thursday, Unuakhalu stated, “The suspected militants approached the houseboat in five speedboats, mounted with 250 horse power engines, and disguised as normal commuters.
“During the deliberate attack, two soldiers were killed, one wounded, one soldier missing while four civilian staff, attached to the houseboat were shot dead. The attack occurred when other members of the troops were on pipeline patrol.’’
In the meantime, residents of Gbaramatu cried out to the Federal Government on Thursday to withdraw soldiers from the communities, insisting that their people were not behind the militant group, Niger Delta Avengers.
Spokesperson for the Gbaramatu Traditional Council, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, said many of the indigenes had become refugees in the upland city of Warri as they had no place to stay.
Gbenekama added, “I’m surprised that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who rode on the back of Gbaramatu people to power, is sleeping in Asaba, while soldiers are bullying those that voted him to power.”
The NDA also on Thursday claimed to have blown up another oil facility in Bayelsa State.
“At about 2.00am today (Thursday) @NDAvengers blew up the Ogboinbiri to Tebidaba and Clough Creek to Tebidaba crude oil pipelines in Bayelsa State,” the group said on its Twitter handle.
“This is in line with our promise to all international oil companies and indigenous oil companies that Nigeria’s oil production will be zero,” the group added.