*18 months after flag off, exercise yet to commence *Indigenes accuse FG of insincerity *IOCs waiting on govt, HYPREP for action
15 December 2017, Sweetcrude, Port Harcourt – Eighteen months after the official flag off of the clean-up of oil-polluted communities in Ogoniland, Rivers State, as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, action is yet to commence in that regard.
The thinking among observers and concerned stakeholders was that the Federal Government would hit the group running after the fanfare and peasantry of the June 2, 2016 flag off, which was performed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
But that has not been the case, leading Ogoni people and the likes of Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, to accuse the Federal Government of insincerity over the matter.
Meanwhile, the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project, HYPREP, which is the body charged with the responsibility of coordinating the clean-up process, says it is on top of the situation and that actual clean-up would soon commence. But, the people do not appear to be impressed.
No one really understands the rationale behind the delay in commencement of the clean-up, but industry players say the onus is on HYPREP to present a project while the Federal Government and the international oil companies, IOCs, in line with the project’s joint venture formula, provide funds. Some stakeholders, however, blame the situation on lack of sincerity by the current administration since, according to them, HYPREP is a Federal Government establishment.
From Ogale, Ebubu communities in Eleme Local Government Area, to Korokoro community in Tai Local Government Area, stretching to K-Dere, B-Dere, Goi and Bodo in Gokana LGA as well as Gio, Buan, Kpean and Kwawa in Khana Local Government Area, the whole of Ogoniland is polluted.
Not only is the land and rivers polluted with crude oil, even the mangroves and underground source of drinking water are highly contaminated, according to the environmental impact assessment conducted by UNEP in 2011. The pollution and contamination in the land have deprived the locals of their livelihoods from farming and fishing.
Specifically, the contamination of the underground source of water with benzene is so severe that even a newly-drilled borehole or well dug in the area is contaminated with benzene, which made UNEP recommend provision of potable drinking water for the people as part of emergency measures ahead of the commencement of clean-up.
Life generally has not been easy for the rural dwellers of Ogoniland. Constant inhalation of hydrocarbon-polluted air has brought about a decline in life expectancy of rural dwellers in the area, according to the UNEP Report, which also recommended the provision of a specialist hospital in the area to address the health concern of the people.
The Ogoni see themselves as one of the most marginalised people in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Despite having produced a minimum of 50,000 barrels per day, bdp, from the 1960s when oil production began in the area to 1994 when oil production was stopped due to the outcry of the people and the international attention it garnered, there is allegedly no infrastructural development from the Federal Government in the area till date.
Even the Eleme-Ogoni portion of the East-West Federal Highway which connects Ogoni to other states in the Niger Delta region is currently in shambles, cutting off, according to a recent report by the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, OGFZA, not less than $50 million investment from the free trade zone and the federal ocean terminal.
His Royal Highness, King Suanu Baridam, who is the Chairman, Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, disclosed to SweetcrudeReports in Nyokana that Ogoni people are still drinking polluted water which the World Health Organisation, WHO, declared unsafe for consumption.
King Baridam explained that the development was a result of the delay in the implementation of the UNEP report on ogoniland.
“I have not seen anything on the ground as regards the emergency measures recommended by UNEP and I don’t think that there is even any process on to bring the emergency measures to reality.
“It has not taken place in any part of Ogoni. No provision of water or medical facilities. They (Federal Government, HYPREP) only go on the television and other media houses to say that things are happening when actually they have not done anything. The Federal Gverrnment should stop politics.
“The Ogoni people are still taking that polluted water. We are living in Ogoni and noting is happening here. Today, the highest celebration in Ogoni is burial. People are dying everyday because of the environment,” the monarch said.
Disappointment and doubts
Many Ogoni leaders are full of disappointment over the inability of the government to have commenced the clean-up 18 months after its official flag off. As far as they are concerned, the clean-up is not real, but, a media hype. For some other Ogoni leaders, the Federal Government is not just sincere since, according to them, only a presidential directive could see to the commencement of the exercise.
One of such leaders is the former Chairman of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, National Stakeholders Working Group, Mr. Ledum Mitee. Mitee, who is also an environmentalist and human rights activist, lamented in an exclusive interview with our correspondent in Port Harcourt that nothing has been done about the clean-up “apart from incessant media hype”.
Maintaining that the Federal Government has the primary responsibility to drive the process while the IOCs have the secondary responsibility of providing counterpart funding for the clean-up, he said: “As far as I am concerned, the UNEP clean-up of Ogoniland is on the pages of newspapers and on television screens. There is hardly anything on ground to say any action is on ground, which is very sad because if you look at what UNEP said in the report, it is an emergency situation that has cost people’s lives and is costing people lives and something should be done about it.
“But more than one year after the vice president launched the clean-up in Bodo, nothing has happened; the whole thing was just a sham and it’s a shame that we have played this level of deceit on the people”.
He continued: “As far as I am concerned, if the high office of the president represented by the vice president come to a place to flag off an action, a flag off means you have actually commenced something, but more than one year nothing has happened, except that launching ceremony.
“What other evidence do you need to say the whole thing is not real? The buck stops on the president’s desk and it is that presidential directive that is required.
“My advice is that the government should get real, they should not think that Ogoni clean-up is something that should be accomplished on the pages of newspapers and television screens because lives have been lost and lives are being lost.”
Mitee, who is the immediate-past president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, and a legal practitioner by profession, also lamented that the initial $1 billion recommended by UNEP for the clean-up to take off was yet to be released by the Federal Government.
He wondered why the same political will used in the reconstruction of the North East cannot be used in the Ogoni clean-up, adding that it is injustice to treat people unequally.
“Even the money that was approved, the initial $10 million has not yet even been released to the office here (HYPREP). What we see is people holding meetings everyday in Transcorp Hilton (in Abuja) and no money has been released. We heard it is domiciled in the Ministry of Environment, yet nothing is happening.
“Yet, when you look at it, the UNEP Report said an initial $1 billion was supposed to be the starting point for the clean-up, but, what I am hearing now is that only $10 million has been approved. $10 million for a people that have been devastated for years?”
“Just last week the news broke that NAPIMS has directed IOCs to remit $100 million each for the reconstruction and building of accommodation for displaced people in the North East.
“If you put that in context, then you will know that there is no seriousness in the issue of UNEP report implementation when it comes to Ogoni area and by extension, the Niger Delta region, because the Ogoni clean-up was supposed to set the pace for the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta region.”
Clean-up a political gimmick – Wike
For Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, the clean-up programme remains a political project aimed at achieving political mileage. Even at that he said it is a gimmick on the part of the Action Congress of Nigeria, APC, controlled Federal Government.
“The Federal Government is not serious about the clean-up of Ogoniland. We are tired of telling our people that the project will soon start,” he told the Senate Committee on Environment on investigative visit to Ogoniland. He added: “Let it not be a political project. Look at the North East, a commission was established and $1 billion released”.
The governor explained that the devastation of Ogoniland has impoverished the people by destroying their farmlands and fishing waters.
Speaking on another occasion, Wike had described the flag off of the Ogoni clean-up as politically-motivated due to the rerun elections in the state at the time. “The Ogoni clean-up was flagged off to boost the political chances of APC politicians from Ogoni extraction during the Rivers rerun election. We must be sincere to our people, we must help our people,” he said as he welcomed the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr William Symington, at the Government House, Port Harcourt.
MOSOP threatens nationwide protest
The Ogoni socio-cultural group, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, have severally expressed disappointment in the delay of the clean-up, saying the “process was immorally too slow.”
The group has now issued the Federal Government an ultimatum to commence the exercise or face the wrath of the people. MOSOP said if no meaningful activity commenced in Ogoni by December 31, the people would embark on a nationwide protest.
President of MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, expressed concern that if the government does not commence the clean-up as a matter of urgency, the lives of the people in the area would be more endangered than reported.
“If by the end of December this year, we did not see any meaningful activities as regards the clean-up of Ogoniland, or anything that convinces us that the government is ready to commence the clean-up, we will go back to the trench and embark on peaceful campaign against the Federal Government, until government matches its words with action,” he said.
HYPREP says it’ll name selected firms for clean-up soon
But despite all the doubts about the exercise, HYPREP, which is the body charged with the responsibility of coordinating the clean up process, says it is on top of the situation and is making progress towards actualising the project. It said it is currently in the process of selecting companies with the right technology for the exercise. It said the companies would soon begin to demonstrate their technology for the cleaning up of oil-impacted sites in Ogoniland.
HYPREP, which is headed by an Ogoni son, Dr. Marvin Dekil, disclosed that the demonstration by the companies is to aid the body in the process of selecting companies that would be involved in the clean-up.
Speaking while sensitising the people of oil-impacted Kpean and Buan communities in Khana Local Government Area, Dekil also said the body will soon embark on emergency measures recommended by UNEP such as provision of potable water, training of women and youths as well as restoration of livelihoods of the people.
Dekil said: “Just few days ago, Mr. President, while presenting the 2018 budget made mention of this project, that is to tell you that the President is committed to the project.”
He called for cooperation among the communities to allow for a hitch-free test-running of the clean-up of the impacted areas. He explained that the mandate of HYPREP was to clean up Ogoniland and anywhere there is oil spill in the country, but starting from Ogoniland.
He said: “We seek your understanding, cooperation and support to achieve this mandate, we cannot succeed alone without your cooperation.
“Very soon and in no distant time you will begin to see some companies coming into your communities. These companies are not contractors yet, they are here to demonstrate the technology they have for the clean-up.
“That is why we are giving some of these companies sites to come and demonstrate the technology for clean-up. They are going to demonstrate at no cost to the government and to the HYPREP, it’s going to be voluntary. So, we solicit once again, when these companies come, please give them access to the sites.”
For their part, the leaders of Kpean and Buan communities, who spoke at the event, Augustine Wikinaka and Jacob Labeeni, in a separate speeches, emphasised the need for HYPREP to embark on visible projects to confirm the sincerity of the cleanup.
Groups accuse HYPREP of dishonesty, manipulation
But, some groups have accused HYPREP of dishonesty and manipulation by politicians of Ogoni extraction to raise funds ahead of the 2019 elections.
The groups, the Ogoni Community Development Network and the Save Our Ogoni Project, have separately accused HYPREP of what they described as the continuous exclusion of the larger Ogoni society in discussions related to the implementation of UNEP report.
President of Ogoni Community Development Network, Mr. Johnson Kuele, accused HYPREP of attempting to jettison standards and recommended procedures to hurriedly move into the phase where contracts can be awarded to politicians seeking avenues to raise funds ahead of the next elections.
Kuele also accused HYPREP of organising a stakeholders’ meeting and excluding critical stakeholders in the Ogoni project, such as MOSOP.
Similarly, the Save Our Ogoni Project accused HYPREP of attempting to psychologically manipulate the Ogoni nation to accept a clean-up process that is bereft of transparency and using the media to hoodwink the people.
Co-ordinator of Project, Mr. Anthony Aalo, said Ogoni clean-up must be organised, transparent and devoid of dishonest manipulation from political gladiators.
Kuele explained that the group was particularly disturbed that the key resolution of the “so-called stakeholders’ meeting was a call for the release of funds for HYPREP”.
According to him, “HYPREP organised a non-representative stakeholder meeting in Port Harcourt where over 80 percent of the participants were drawn from a particular political party with the exclusion of members of other political groups and civil society organisations, including MOSOP, a situation that is already creating strong divisions in MOSOP and could lead to civil protest against HYPREP”.
“Clearly, HYPREP’s desperation for Ogoni clean-up funds would most likely have engendered the exclusion of active stakeholders who should ask critical questions about the management of about $210 million already approved for HYPREP, and raise questions about how HYPREP intends to conduct its clean-up without first putting in place critical structures like the Integrated Soil Management Centre, the Centre for Excellence and the provision of water for all Ogoni communities whose sources of water supply will be affected by the remediation work,” he said.
Shell commits $10million to HYPREP
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, SPDC, on its part, has reiterated its commitment to the cleaning of oil impacted sites in Ogoniland.
To this end, the Dutch multinational says it has made available the sum of $10 million as take-off fund for HYPREP, as parts of contributions towards the success of the cleanup.
SPDC’s General Manger, Internal Relations, Mr. Igo Weli, said funds for the clean-up will be provided according to the Joint Venture, JV, budgeting process with the federal government represented by NNPC providing 55 percent, Shell 30 percent, Total E&P 10 percent and Eni’s Agip 5 percent.
Weli, explained that the actual clean-up process has not started because of lack of funds, but HYPREP is expected to roll out plans for the clean up while the SPDC JV provide the funds.
He stated that SPDC was committed to support HYPREP achieve a successful clean-up, adding that the time and date for the actual commencement of the clean-up would be determined by HYPREP.
ERA gets youths ready for remediation monitoring
As Nigerians and the world await the commencement of the visible clean-up, an environmental pressure group, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth International, ERA/FoEI, has trained youths in Ogoniland on skills to monitor and assess the clean-up process of oil polluted-sites in the area.
The youths numbering over 50, drawn from the four local government areas that makes up Ogoniland – Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme – have been given skills needed to detect when a site is properly remediated and restored to normalcy.
Speaking at the end of the two-day training for the youths christened ‘Toxic Brigade for the Monitoring of the Clean-up of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta’, the programme manager of ERA, Mr. Mike Karikpor, said monitoring of the clean-up exercise was imperative in a bid to rule out a substandard job. Karikpor explained that the personnel trained would collect samples from remediated site and forward to a laboratory for examination.
According to him: “We are preparing to monitor the clean-up. It is the first clean-up in the Niger Delta and it has to be successful, this means that the communities need to be actively involved.
“The samples they (toxic brigade) will get would be taken to a laboratory for examination and verification.
“They would be mindful of the ethics and integrity and will do the work with all honesty,” he said.
Funds for Ogoni clean-up’ll be release soon – Senate Committee
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Environment has assured that funds for the implementation of the UNEP-recommended clean-up would be released soon when everything for the exercise must have been put in place. The Senate Committee has also pledged to effectively monitor the implementation process of the clean-up.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment, Sen. Oluremi Tinubu, made the pledge when she led members of the committee on an oversight visit to polluted sites where HYPREP was carrying out demonstration for the clean-up in B-Dere community, Gokana Local Government Area. Tinubu said the Federal Government was still committed to the $1 billion for the project, adding that the fund would only be released when everything needed for the project have been put in place.
Senator Abe calls for varsity in Ogoni
As for the Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, the Centre of Excellence in Ogoniland recommended in the UNEP report on Ogoni environment, should be converted into a university.
The Senator wants the Senate Committee on Environment to push for the establishment of a federal university in Ogoniland, in order to save funds for the country and sustain the dream behind the Centre for Excellence recommended by UNEP. Abe spoke during the Senate Committee on Environment’s visit to Ogoni, maintaining that the university to be established in the area should be a science and agriculture-based federal university.
According to him, “The UNEP report provides for a Centre of Excellence and we have looked at that Centre of Excellence, it is supposed to be a place where people can study, and the pursuit of excellence in the environment will be made, not only for the Ogoni area but for the entire country.
“Now, the way our country runs, if we don’t make such provisions for the sustenance of that centre, it will die. It may never achieve what it was intended to achieve.”
Abe said since the funds for the establishment of the centre of excellence has already been provided, converting the centre to a university would be to the benefit of the county.
“I want to appeal to my colleagues to make the centre a university. In the whole of this area, there is no federal university anywhere.
“If we make the centre a university, the money for the establishment is already provided, it will provide for the study of the environment, for science and for agriculture. In the long term, our country will benefit from it,” he said.