My name is Fyneface, Dumnamene Fyneface. I’m an environmental justice activist, human rights defender, and the Executive Director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria). As the world marks 2024 International Wetlands Day today, February 2, I call on the people of Nigeria, the people of the Niger Delta, the people of River State, and, of course, the people of Ogoniland to take the issue of wetland very seriously.

These are areas that are covered by water that surrounds us on the land. Wetland is very critical to human well-being. Like the theme of this year’s International Wetlands Day, “wetlands and human well-being,” without wetlands, we cannot really live our lives comfortably on earth. It talks about how wetland influences our lives and how we, in turn, influence the wetlands that are around us.

Wetlands support the lives of humans in the areas of providing places where we fetch water, providing places where we bathe in the natural environment, providing places where we fish, and providing places where we even have water for irrigation.

However, the issue of wetlands in the Niger Delta and Ogoniland is being threatened, just as we have it across Nigeria as well, as a result of human activities. Across Nigeria, we have had a system whereby wetlands are beginning to dry up as a result of human activities in relation to climate change. We talk about Lake Chad, which is drying up now as a result of climate change and other human activities.

In the Niger Delta, wetlands are being threatened by the activities of multinational oil companies that are extracting and mining oil in our environment and polluting the wetlands that surround us. We also have the activities of youth who are involved in artisanal crude oil refineries and contribute to the destruction of wetlands.

These wetlands are places where we fish and do other things that support our lives. But the hydrocarbon extraction in some of these areas is now threatening the wetlands in the environment in which we find ourselves. And I think that the same thing also applies in the areas where we have had the United Nations Environment Programme reports out in the Ogoni area, where the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is currently implementing the UNEP report on Ogoni land, 2011. So I think that from the Ogoni area, what we need to do is for HYPREP to take steps to remediate the various wetlands that have been polluted by hydrocarbons over the years, as captured in the UNEP report.

The restoration of these wetlands after thorough cleanup is going to provide opportunities for wetlands to support the lives of the Ogoni people. But if the environment is not properly remediated and you have a system that continues to threaten the lives of humans within the areas that you have the wetlands that have been polluted, then you are going to have a system that the wetlands, instead of supporting lives, are going to be threatening lives and contributing to the shortening of the lifespan of the lives of people that live within the wetlands.

Ogoni is very critical in terms of the fact that we have also called for the United Nations to declare Ogoni and, of course, parts of the Niger Delta as Ramsar sites that will be respected as a result of the wetlands that surround us.

So it is very important for HYPREP to take steps to address the issue of wetlands by cleaning and restoring them to support the lives of the Ogoni people. In River State, where we also have pollution, I call on the United Nations to pressure the Nigerian government to ensure that we carry out the audits of the environments of other sites and other communities in River State and across the Niger Delta so that we can have a report that points to the challenges that are faced by our wetlands so that we can be able to look for solutions to some of these issues to restore the wetlands and to continue to support life in the Ogoni area, in River State, and across the Niger Delta.

As we celebrate 2024 International Wetlands Day with the team, wetlands and human well-being, I call on all Rivers State people and all Niger Deltans to support the efforts of ensuring that our wetlands around us become areas that support lives and not areas that threaten lives as a result of pollution of the area as a result of human activities on the wetlands.