Buhari launches Ogoni clean-up project amid 3 years of unpaid staff salaries

23 May 2016, Port Harcourt – President Muhammadu Buhari will on June 2 flag off the Ogoni clean-up project in Ogoni, Rivers State.

*Ogoni oil spill.

*Ogoni oil spill.

The project is a cornerstone of the Buhari administration’s environmental policy.

But indications emerged at the weekend that the clean-up project, might be threatened by the failure of the federal government to pay the staff of Hydro Carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), the specialised agency created during the last administration to carry out the exercise.

The Minister of Environment, Hajiya Amina Mohammed, had confirmed the project will last for 25 years.

HYPREP staff have blamed the non-payment of salaries on the previous leadership of the Ministry of Petroleum under Jonathan which, despite so many meetings and promises, failed to deliver.

However, despite a stronger commitment to the project by the present administration, there’s still no clarity regarding the payment of the salaries, a situation which could have negative implications for the commencement and sustainability of the project-and even demoralise staff from putting in their best.

Mohammed had reportedly held a meeting with representatives of HYPREP staff a few weeks ago but a concrete feedback was still being awaited.

Expectedly, non-payment to affected staff has resulted in untold sufferings and inconvenience for HYPREP employees during the three-year period they’ve been denied entitlements.

On May 1, 2013, while on a field visit, three members of staff, Dr. Zaaki Labbo, Dr. Aloy Agunwa & Mr. David), lost their lives to a fatal vehicle accident. The then National coordinator who was the lone survivor of the accident, sustained severe injuries and spent several months in hospital.

THISDAY further learnt that members of staff had lost their homes and had their children kicked out of school, as well as subjected to untold hardship.

A particular member of Staff endured the death of his wife and baby during childbirth because he could not afford the N25,000 hospital bill, it was learnt.

However, the project has now been moved from the Ministry of Petroleum to the Ministry of Environment, a move which had been welcomed by experts who have stated that the project should have been overseen by the Ministry of Environment in the first place.

HYPREP was anchored on a 2012 report by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on the clean-up of Ogoni land following decades of environmental degradation.

This report recommended the establishment of an organisation or unit to oversee and facilitate the remediation process.

HYPREP was set up under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources with over 100’members of staff recruited, from within and outside the country.

These included engineers, chemists, lawyers, accountants among others.

The project started on a good footing with a lot of work done in order to prepare for the pilot phase of the remediation. Emergency measures were completed, a budget was prepared, work plans were put in place, and units created for efficiency and division of labour.

In January 2014, the then Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Andrew Yakubu had approved the sum of N2.5 billion for the outstanding salaries to be paid. However, the previous administration did not implement the approval before it left office.

Again in 2014, some members of the HYPREP staff also went to the 7th Senate and the House Committee on Environment to convey their plight.

Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, who was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology at the time, waded in and appealed for these salaries to be paid.

With the advent of the Project being moved to the Ministry of Environment, it is hoped that the competence and technocratic attributes of Hajiya Aisha Mohammed would bring an end to this sordid tale.

Experts believe the remediation of Ogoni land and the restoration of its communities deserve urgent attention without any encumbrances of outstanding salary issues. Though the present government has shown the sincerity of purpose to actualize the recommendations of the UNEP Report, this could only be substantiated by payment of outstanding entitlements to staff.

The son of Chief Albert Badey, one of the four prominent Ogoni indigenes killed 22 years ago, Mr. Suage Badey, has expressed regret that both the people of the area and government have failed to recognise the role played by the “Ogoni Four” decades after they were brutally murdered while searching for peace.

He recalled that on May 21, 1994, Badey, who was former Secretary to Rivers Government; Chief Edward Kobani, Chief Theophilus Kobani, and Chief Samuel Orage were killed at Giokoo, Gokana Local Government.

The young Badey, former chairman of defunct Action Congress in Rivers State, spoke with journalists in Port Harcourt on issues surrounding the death of the “Ogoni Four” and violence in Ogoniland.

“On the day they were killed, they were suing for peace, reconcile all parties and adopt peaceful approach, but unfortunately, the process consumed their lives,” he said.

He expressed regret that while the four sacrificed their live while searching for peace, a section of the people still referred to them as “vultures”.

He said there was need to put the records right and encourage the people to embrace peace instead of violence.

“Ogoni needs to come back to the drawing board and ensure peace.  We need to adopt peaceful approach. Let this day be a memorable one for us to embrace peace,” he said.

He said Ogonis should embrace peace saying that the violent approach to issues affecting the area would not help matters.

He said the four prominent Ogonis deserved to be remembered because they contributed to the development of the area.

He said for instance, his father, assisted in the establishment of the state polytechnic (now Kenule Sarowiwa polytechnic) at Bori, creation of new local government areas in Ogoni while the other three elders assisted in developing the area.

He said his the family had set up a body known as “Albert Badey Centre for Development” to address peace locally and internationally.

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