15 September 2015, Lagos – After four years of lacklustre efforts by the immediate past administration to implement the report of the United Nations Environmental Programme on Ogoniland, President Muhammadu Buhari has set up a governance structure to implement the outstanding actions recommended by the world body. Ejiofor Alike reports
The new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent efforts to speed up the process of cleaning up Ogoniland in Rivers State in line with the recommendation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) have rekindled the hopes of all the stakeholders on the restoration of the environment of the affected area.
Buhari recently approved the compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), facilitated by the recommendations of the Executive Director of UNEP; UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland; Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources; and other stakeholders, including the amendment of the Official Gazette that established HYPREP to reflect a new governance framework on the project.
The federal government had in 2006 commissioned UNEP to conduct an independent assessment of the environment and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland and make recommendations for remediation.
The UNEP’s report, which was released in August 2011, revealed that crude oil contamination in Ogoniland was widespread and severely impacting many components of the environment.
According to the report ,“The Ogoni people live with this pollution every minute of every day, 365 days a year. Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives”.
“Children born in Ogoniland soon sense oil pollution as the odour of hydrocarbons pervades the air day in, day out. Oil continues to spill from periodic pipeline fractures and the illegal practice of artisanal refining, contaminating creeks and soil, staining and killing vegetation and seeping metres deep into ground, polluting water tables.
“Smoke from artisanal refining is a daily presence and fire close to inhabited areas is a constant threat from pools of oil which gather after a spill due to corrosion or bunkering or where artisanal refining of crude oil takes place,” the report said.
The UNEP report noted the Ogoniland might require the world’s biggest-ever clean-up that would likely take up to 30 years and recommended that both the Federal Government and the oil industry should contribute $1billion.
The report, which made far-reaching recommendations, also raised local and international concerns on the environmental tragedy in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
But despite the local and international outcry that greeted the UNEP report, the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan only did little, which eventually amounted to nothing towards the implementation of the report.
UNEP had recommended that a total of 76 actions be implemented by the Federal Government, Shell Petroleum Development Company-operated joint venture and the Ogoni Community.
While the federal government was given 50 actions to implement; Shell and its partners – NNPC, Total and Agip were required to implement 22 actions.
Federal government was among other things, asked to establish restoration authority; establish clean-up fund; coordinate multi-stakeholders efforts; carry out emergency measures to reduce community exposure and initiate institutional and regulatory reforms
SPDC was mandated by UNEP to review procedures for clean-up and remediation; develop asset integrity management and decommissioning plans for Ogoniland and contribute to an Ogoni clean-up fund established by government, among others.
UNEP also required the Ogoni community to implement four out of the 76 recommendations.
The two major ones among the four include that the community should take a pro-active stand against theft and refining and also allow access to clean up spills.
However, some of SPDC’s 22 actions and Federal Government’s 50 would require collaboration of all the stakeholders.
For instance, UNEP advocated that a campaign to bring to an end illegal oil-related activities – tapping into oil wells/pipelines,transportation of crude, artisanal refining should be conducted across Ogoniland.
According to the global body, the campaign should be a joint initiative between the federal government, the oil companies, Rivers State and local community authorities.
The report noted that while a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan exists in Ogoniland, with NOSDRA having a clear legislative role, the situation on-the-ground indicates that spills are not being dealt with in an adequate or timely manner.
Jonathan’s lack-lustre efforts
When the report was published, the people of the affected community and other stakeholders had expected huge efforts from former President Jonathan and his Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke towards the speedy implementation of the recommendations, especially as they are from the oil-producing Niger Delta, which is heavily impacted by oil spill.
Apart from the establishment of the moribund Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), which ought to have been the vehicle for the implementation of 76 actionable recommendations, no major step was taken towards the implementation of the report by the former administration.
The former administration wasted almost four years after the report was released, holding meetings and conferences on the report, without any tangible actions to implement the report.
As the 2015 general elections approached, the former minister had stated in one of her latest visits to Geneva, Switzerland that the restoration of Ogoniland would commence in the first quarter of 2015.
Though the life of the former administration extended beyond the first quarter of 2015, this promise was never fulfilled before it handed over power on May 29, 2015.
For nearly four years, the former Minister could only cite the establishment of HYPREP, a supposedly private sector-driven with funding from major oil companies operating in Nigeria, as the only achievement of government towards the implementation.
In fact, HYPREP was set up only in 2012 exactly 12 months after UNEP presented its report, raising concerns on government’s sluggishness and lip service in the implementation of the report.
The federal government’s lack of commitment to the implementation of the report was further manifested when the 140 staff members of HYPREP were owed 18 months’ salary arrears just barely two years after the agency was established, prompting the intervention of the then Senate Committee on Environment headed by the current Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki in July 2014.
However, shortly after HYPREP representatives met with the Senate Committee, the National Coordinator, Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, Mr. Gani Topha passed a vote of no confidence in the Acting National Coordinator of HYPREP- Mrs. Joy Nunieh-Okunnu.
Topha had on behalf of the Ogoni community, alleged that after her emergence as the National Coordinator of HYPREP, Okunnu went around the world soliciting for funds/donations for the purposes of implementing the UNEP recommended clean-up of Ogoniland, thereby turning the government structure into a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).
The Ogoni community, through the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) had earlier called for the scrapping of HYPREP, alleging that it was extraneous to the recommendations of the UNEP report.
The President of MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, said HYPREP “has proven to be grossly ineffective in carrying out the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland.
“The only visible act of implementation of the UNEP report by HYPREP was the placing of billboards at strategic places in Port Harcourt and Ogoniland and the placing of notices around oil spill sites. Is this what is expected of the agency?”
The people of Ogoniland, who will be the greatest beneficiaries of the implementation of the report, also gave the federal government their conditions for the implementation of the report.
The demands included that a steering committee be set up to draw up an implementation programme; that HYPREP be scrapped; that indigenes of Ogoni be involved in all stages of the implementation process; that the federal government should embark on confidence-building measures; and that the federal government should specify a timeframe for the implementation of the report.
So, the controversy that trailed the setting up of HYPREP, persisted until Jonathan’s administration relinquished power in May, 2015, without any tangible action towards the implementation of the 50 actionable plans recommended for the government in UNEP report.
The lack-lustre efforts of Jonathan’s administration on UNEP report had prompted the Amnesty International and other groups in the Niger Delta to allege that only little action had been taken by the federal government to implement the report.
In a report published three years after UNEP released the report, Amnesty International, Friends of The Earth Europe, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Environmental Rights Action, and Platform, alleged that crude oil production had contaminated the drinking water of at least 10 communities in the Ogoni area.
“The failure to fully implement any of the non-emergency measures after three years has resulted in a loss of confidence among many stakeholders. Even the emergency measures have only been partially implemented,” the groups said.
Though water supplies were brought to the affected communities as part of the implementation of the emergency measures, the communities said these supplies are “erratic,” often insufficient and the water sometimes “smelled bad and was unpleasant to drink,” said the group’s report.
The world body had recommended that Shell and its partners – NNPC, Total and Agip should implement 22 out of the 76 recommendations submitted to the Federal Government.
UNEP recommended that “Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) should conduct a comprehensive review of its assets in Ogoniland, including a thorough test of the integrity of current oilfield infrastructure” with a view to developing an “Asset Integrity Management Plan for Ogoniland.”
It also required the oil giant to map out a comprehensive decommissioning plan and also specify risk levels, inspection routines and maintenance schedules for assets it wants to retain and communicate same to the Ogoni people.
Shell was also asked to carry out an environmental due diligence assessment of the plan, prior to the decommissioning plan.
UNEP also called on SPDC to discontinue the then approach of cleaning-up contaminated sites through remediation by enhanced natural attenuation (RENA).
According to UNEP, even SPDCs revised Remediation Management System did not address the issues observed in its assessment.
To address the 22 actions recommended for it in the UNEP report, Shell had in July 2012 requested approval from the federal government to decommission its assets in Ogoniland but it took the Jonathan’s administration 19 months to grant the approval in February 2014.
One of UNEP’s recommendations is for the Federal Government to secure the environment to ensure easy access for Shell and also end illegal oil-related activities that cause fresh spills.
But four years after the report was released, the federal government has not been able to provide adequate security in Ogoniland to ensure that Shell and other stakeholders carry out effective environmental restoration actions as recommended by UNEP.
The Ogoni people are also required by the UNEP report in one of the four recommendations to provide safe access to Shell and its partners to implement tasks that will clean the environment but denial of access to impacted sites has remained one of the greatest challenges that hamper the implementation of the report.
Head of Project and Technical Services, Ogoni Restoration Project, SPDC, Port Harcourt, Prof. Philip D. Shekwolo said granting Shell and partners access to the impacted sites by the government and the Ogoni community was a key recommendation of UNEP report.
Despite the challenges, SPDC-operated joint venture has been able to close out 16 out of the 22 actionable plans recommended by UNEP on Ogoniland and is currently working on the remaining six recommendations.
Investigation showed that of the 22 actions recommended for SPDC, 16 actions have been completed, while five actions are currently ongoing.
Some of the ongoing actions include the relocation of Right of Way (RoW) encroachers; and decommissioning plan.
THISDAY gathered that one action is pending, which is SPDC’s contribution to the $1 billion Ogoni Restoration Fund, while an independent verification of the 16 closed items is also yet to be carried out.
On the $1 billion fund, Shell’s General Manager in charge of External Relations, Mr. Igo Weli has consistently maintained that the company would contribute if the government puts the structures in place.
President Buhari’s recent approval of the compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of HYPREP will no doubt provide the structure for Shell and other stakeholders to contribute to the fund.
Presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina had stated in a statement that “a contribution deposit of 10 million United States dollars will be made by stakeholders within 30 days of the appointment of members of the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund who will be responsible for collecting and managing funds from contributors and donors.”
Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mr. Osagie Okunbor said Buhari’s action represented significant progress in the efforts to put in place the appropriate governance conditions for the speedy implementation of the report.
“SPDC welcomes the leadership shown by President Buhari in setting up governance structures for implementation of the UNEP report and is greatly encouraged by the positive and constructive response from representatives of the community, Niger Delta NGOs and civil society. This is an important step forward and SPDC is determined to play its part in maintaining the momentum. SPDC has always been committed to contributing its share of the environmental restoration fund recommended by UNEP once the appropriate governance conditions are in place. The President’s recent announcement represents significant progress in that respect,” Okunbor explained.
On the issue of remediation, SPDC said in one of its recent reports on the implementation of the UNEP report that 470 incidents were documented along SPDC Right of Way in Ogoni land.
Of these 470 incidents, SPDC has remediated 368 sites, while 32 are at various stages of remediation.
Out of the 70 outstanding sites, 40 are in Bodo area of Ogoni community, where the company is said to be facing the greatest challenge of denial of access to sites.
Also in line with UNEP’s recommendations, SPDC has since completed the physical verification of assets in Ogoniland, covering delivery and flowlines, manifolds, flow stations, compressor stations, gas plants and burrow pits.
To address the issue of contaminated drinking water raised in the UNEP report, SPDC joint venture has also funded a regional water supply project at Eleme, which provides access to potable water for about 30,000 indigenes across five clans from 103 outlets.
THISDAY gathered that this project is currently being expanded by the Rivers State Government to include more outlets.
Primary healthcare outreach to the communities has also been provided through SPDC’s Health-In-Motion programme, with about 35,000 adults and 15,000 children reached.
To ensure the provision of alternative livelihood for the people, whose means of livelihood were destroyed by the environmental degradation, SPDC has also executed alternative livelihood programme (LiveWIRE) for 105 Ogoni youths.
The company has also provided start-up grants to the trainees most of whom have started businesses, while monitoring of the LiveWIRE beneficiaries is ongoing
On the issue of campaign to end illegal oil-related activities recommended by UNEP, Shell said it had championed grassroots environmental campaign in partnership with other stakeholders to deepen awareness on the ills of illegal bunkering and oil theft.
According to the company, 12 town-hall sessions are held across the four Local Government Areas of Ogoni yearly, with about 11,000 participants recorded from 2014 to date.
Shell has also listed its current efforts to curtail spills in Ogoni and other ongoing initiatives to include grassroots awareness campaign – continuous sensitisation; a Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU)- enabled surveillance strategy with community ownership; alternative Livelihood Programme (Livewire) to improve youth employment in legitimate enterprises and Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurial Scheme to encourage primary occupation.
Others include securing oil wells in Ogoni; daily helicopter surveillance and getting community to publicly stand against oil theft and illegal refining.
The major challenges include Shell’s inability to stop the sources of contamination due to the persistent oil theft and illegal refining activities in the area.
UNEP had recommended that government should provide security, while the Ogoni people should grant the oil operators access to site but these recommendations have not been implemented.
However, SPDC has attempted to address these problems using the GMoU-enabled surveillance of the Trans Niger Pipeline; alternative livelihood programme; sensitization/awareness campaign and frequent overflight on TNP corridor.
The high youth unemployment and poverty in Ogoniland have also been identified as major challenges facing stakeholders’ efforts in the clean-up of the area.
SPDC’s youth agricultural entrepreneurial scheme; and alternative livelihood programme are also targeted at addressing these problems.
Land disputes, leadership tussles, community factions and litigations in Ogoniland have fueled denial of access for remediation and SPDC is said to have so far deployed community engagement for freedom to operate and GMoUs to resolve these challenges.
So, while the past administration dragged its feet on the UNEP report, SPDC had initiated actions to address all the recommendations directed to it in the report as operator of the SPDC joint venture.
But further progress on some activities is dependent on outstanding actions to be taken by other stakeholders – federal government and Ogoni people.
This includes the establishment of satisfactory governance arrangements for the Environmental Restoration Fund by the government and stopping oil theft and granting oil and gas operators access by the affected community.
With these efforts by Shell and its partners, it is pertinent that UNEP report implementation is paramount to the company.
However, the federal government remains the leading body to orchestrate the clean up and unless the government and the community stops the ongoing oil theft and artisanal refining that are dangerous to the environment, it will be difficult for this restoration process to be fully successful.
- This Day