Monday 24 July 2017

Ogoniland Clean-up Still a Mirage

On 2nd June last year, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, stormed the city of Port Harcourt, precisely Bodo community in Gokana Local Government. He was welcomed with a rising ovation, but why? Because he had come to inaugurate the long-abandoned Ogoniland clean-up project. This was widely celebrated and described as ground-breaking.
The clean-up is a 30-year long project that ought to commence almost immediately but till today not a single drop of oil has been cleaned.
Osinbajo, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari, was firm to restate assurances of the federal government to cleaning the oil polluted Niger Delta region starting from Ogoni-land. He even went as far as issuing stern warnings to the multinationals to comply with international best practices. “The current oil theft and illegal refining will not be tolerated. The regulators in the oil industries must live up to expectations. They must ensure that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal best services…..”
However, no one ever imagined that more than a year after the much publicised inauguration, rural dwellers in Ogoni land will still be subjected to lavish in pains and despair. Fish farmers turned commercial motorcycle riders will rather stay glued to their new profession while infections of all degrees persist due to the high-grade contaminations.
One would have wondered that real action on the clean-up will be at par with the huge resources expended on publicity. The news spread from live telecast on popular broadcasts to billboards, radio jingles, social media platforms, interviews, including small handbills distributed at the inauguration site.
All these efforts, though, affirmed that the project execution was a deliberate, planned and conscious effort but weak at implementation.
But prior to the inaugural ceremony, the former Environment Minister, who is the current United Nations Deputy Secretary General,  Amina Mohammed, engaged every important personality in order to make the project holistic. She held series of meetings with relevant stakeholders solely to ensure everyone was being carried along and emphasised the meetings were to ensure the host communities took ownership of the project and most importantly stay clean, thereafter the project implementation.
From January – February 2016, the minister held meetings with core groups in Lagos. This was followed by stakeholders meeting in Tai (Korokoro), Bori and Yenagoa from 3rd March – 5th March, 2016. On 24th March, 2016, the ministers met with oil companies and later a consultative meeting with all stakeholders in Port Harcourt.
Despite these consultations, till date residents and host communities still drink from polluted water and contaminated wells filled with cancer-causing benzene that is 900 times beyond acceptable standard. The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and some prominent Ogoni people repeatedly lamented the delay asking the federal government through Hydro Carbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to back their words with action and commence real work.
The leaders from the region repeatedly expressed worries questioning the sincerity of the federal government on the project. Some even wondered, perhaps the environment ministry is confused over the right approach to the real clean-up exercise. The Ogoni people, according to MOSOP, had envisaged a speedy cleanup and remediation process but the project appeared to be crippled with so much bureaucracy and poor funding.
In an interview with The Nation, the Executive Director, Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Dr. Godwin Ojo, condemned inactions of the federal government. To him, it is a sad development that one year after the much celebrated inauguration, not a drop of oil has been cleaned.
“There is need for an environmental emergency for the whole of Niger Delta…..This is long overdue. As we speak, the Ogoni clean-up, a year after flag-off, is yet to commence. We have for long recommended to the federal government to set up a $100 billion clean-up fund for the region. That has not been done.
“We are very certain that with the way government is moving, very little or nothing will be achieved. The government is on the way to fail if they don’t change because as we speak, not a drop of oil has been cleaned in Ogoniland.”
As a result, farmlands are still being destroyed due to slow implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report. Livelihood of the host communities are also at a standstill as their hopes had been dashed.
Parents, who had earlier believed their children are free drinking from contaminated wells, are still very much disappointed. The optimism that their farmlands will no longer become waste-land such that will bear good harvests is long gone. Obviously, they will continue to spend more on medicals. Those who vacated their natural abode due to the pollution will hold on to the fact that it will be a worthless decision to return home as the natural ecosystem remained contaminated.
The Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, agreed to this claim when he recently described in an interview that “….the pollution in Ogoni is alarming. The creek waters are seriously polluted; the mangroves are destroyed along with the marine lives that inhabit them. Bore holes cannot yield good water and so on and so forth. All these have serious consequences.”
President of MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, during a visit of the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington, to some crude oil-impacted sites in Ogoniland, appealed to the US government to prevail on Shell, as well as the federal government to provide adequate funding for the speedy commencement of clean up.
“Whilst we appreciate that the federal government had taken steps to put some structures in place, particularly governance frameworks, we are deeply concerned that the process had been immorally too slow. The emergency measures on water and health that needed to be addressed immediately are not yet on ground. We appeal to you to use your good officers to call on the joint venture partners led by SPDC and the Nigerian government to provide adequate funding for this project to take off effectively.”
The MOSOP leader called for a sustainable development for the Ogoni people in order to ensure a successful clean up. “As you are aware, without addressing the issue of poverty, the move to stop environmental degradation will also not be effective and successful. In order to ensure a successful clean up programme, we will be appealing for a concomitant economic rejuvenation programme for our people.”
Symington said empowerment of the host communities remains a vital implementation component necessary for the project. “We are here to learn about your country and to hear directly from people in different places of this wonderful land, and I have learnt a lot.
“The most important thing I have learnt is that as we clean up the polluted sites which the government is working to do with the people of this place, it is important to lift up the people themselves, so that they can be part of the solution, because that will bring a lasting security and prosperity that will truly make a difference.” 

Need for Improvement
There are concerns that Shell Corporation which is allegedly responsible for the devastation of the Ogoni land may frustrate the cleanup. Some environmentalists wondered why Shell had to be included among the governing board of HYPREP, the implementing body.
According to an expert who does not want his name in print, the governing board is saddled with supervisory and regulatory function, thus Shell should not have been included.
In terms of funding, the federal government appeared to have faced serious debacle to accessing the $1 billion initial take-off fund. Though, Shell insisted that the federal government must setup needed structures before it releases the fund, which already has been done. The oil company is expected to also release the $1 billion in tranches of $200 million annually.
But investigation has shown that the federal government has so far gotten $10 million from the firm. This is far below what was expected annually. Aside, a look into the 2017 budget revealed that the HYPREP project was not captured. This could have possibly contributed to the setback.
Moreover, prior to the cleanup or while the cleanup is ongoing, the federal government as part of the UNEP report ought to have provided alternative water source for the rural dwellers but that also remains hazy.

Efforts So Far
After the inauguration, little or less effort seemed to have been achieved according to MOSOP and other concerned individuals in the region. Though no physical presence of machineries or real clean-up has commenced, needed structures meant to promote transparency in the project implementation such as board members of HYPREP is up. The governing council of the project has also been inaugurated while project coordinator for the clean-up has been engaged. From 300 entries, an indigene from the region, Dr. Marvin Dekil, was lucky to emerge as HYPREP national coordinator.
“Everything is on ground, but primarily, the role of NOSDRA as regulatory agency primarily is to ensure the project is well cleaned using our standard and international procedures,” Director General of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Sir. Peter Idabor, said when he spoke with The Nation.
He argued that even though the process was slow, he said government was putting in place needed structure to ensure the implementation is hitch-free. He said before the last quarter of the year, the real implementation will commence.
“NOSDRA has always been involved in clean-up of Ogoni-land. ?The former Environment Minister, Amina Mohammed, was able to make due consultations with civil society organisations, host communities, ministries of finance, petroleum and they were to fine tune the gazette that setup the HYPREP.”
He explained further that “The BOT was setup and members were carefully selected from the stakeholders even the oil companies themselves and the Ogoni people to have balanced judgment. The governing council was setup. It has a bigger selection of individuals. Chairman of the council is the Minister of Environment.”
The Nation further gathered that over 1,000 people will be engaged through empowerment programme component of the project.  Already, Shell has made a commitment to pay about $1 billion compensation for the project. However, there are concerns that the large sum may need further review considering the new dollar rate on the naira.
MOSOP argued that the compensation should reflect current economic trend. But in order to manage the initial commitment, the federal government is considering engaging relevant public servants from Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for the clean-up exercise.
The officials are expected to be drawn from the environment ministry, finance, petroleum resources among others to make-up support staffs for HYPREP, which is the implementing body. In addition to these, the environment ministry, through the HYREP office, according to the minister, had commenced on site demonstrations to ascertain the right technology to be deployed in order to achieve expected results.
A keen look into the HYREP official twitter handle @HYPREPNigeria revealed that the project office had commenced sensitization at the polluted communities. The office assured that in few weeks there will be “visible action on the project site.”
At Gokana local government, in Bodo and K-dere communities, HYPREP project coordinator, Mr. Marvin Dekil, commenced sensitisat├Čon campaign. He stressed the need to intimate residents of their activities. “The project is introduced by the federal government to clean up all Ogoni communities. We need to reach out to the communities. We need to inform them that FG is ready to clean up Ogoni. We are about to commence work. We will be visiting the entire site soon. We will be bringing in companies soon with their technology to test what they can do.”
These were his words during the maiden sensitisation programme. He gave assurances despite the late commencement of the programme. Like the minister, NOSDRA DG and other government officials involved, the assurances have been ‘soon’ commencement but the exact implementation on the field kick-off remains hazy. He was affirmative that the first stage of the project would include provision of good drinking water and healthcare for the areas.
The Environment Ministry’s Director of Information, Alh. Yusuf Isiaka, when contacted to determine reasons for the delay in actual implementation, said the ministry had offset the responsibility of the clean-up to HYPREP, thus the project office is responsible for the clean-up exercise.
“HYPREP is in control now. The ministry has handed over to HYPREP. They have moved to sites and even the consultants are there working with Hyprep. So work is ongoing.”
As the Ogoni land people awaits actual implementation, it is expected that the federal environment ministry which is the coordinating government arm will hasten full implementation, address funding issue, facilitate security to prevent likely renewal of agitations from the host communities. These remain important as the whole project still appears hazy over a year after inauguration.

Source: Nation Online
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