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Depoliticizing environmental degradation: revisiting the UNEP environmental assessment

Based on the pedigree of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a credible international organization with proven track records of coordinating challenging environmental assessments and providing scientific and empirical evidence for policymaking and implementation, the Nigerian government invited it to carry out an environmental assessment study of Ogoniland, an oil-bearing community in the country’s Niger Delta region. After 2 years of study, the UNEP project team submitted its report which contained science-backed evidence of massive environmental pollution and degradation with serious consequences for biodiversity conservation. The paper examines UNEP’s report and recommendations within the context of state commitment to processing the remediation and restoration of Ogoniland. Instructively, over 7 years after the submission of the UNEP report, the various expected actions necessary to facilitate the commencement of the clean-up and remediation programme are still at the preparatory stages thus raising doubts about the commitment of stakeholders to the project, their serial assurances notwithstanding. Using data generated from key informant interviews and secondary sources which are analysed within the context of ecological modernization theoretical milieu, the paper underscores the interconnection between the restoration of the polluted Ogoniland, the boosting of people’s livelihood and sustainable development, all of which would reverse the pressures of conflicts and violence in the Niger Delta region.