FG, groups tango over Ogoniland cleanup assessment

Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Dr. Ojo

Spiritedly picking holes in the cleanup of Ogoniland in River State, four international organisations have expressed displeasure over the exercise in a report released recently.

Consequently, the groups namely Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth Europe and MilieuDefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) in the document “No Clean Up, No Justice,” said the project is failing and lagging behind.

They noted that the project managers – Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) lack the capacity to conduct a proper clean up. The groups advised the government to urgently restructure, reorganise and completely overhaul HYPREP in its entirety and remove all administrative, financial and political obstacles, stalling the progress of the clean-up process.

The report investigates to what extent Nigeria’s government has implemented UNEP’s recommendations to support the people and communities in Ogoniland with ‘emergency measures’, cleanup the pollution, prevent re-pollution and ensure alternative livelihoods.

“UNEP recommended for the first five years an initial fund of $1 billion, to be paid by the oil companies that operate in Ogoniland. But nearly nine years after, millions of US dollars spent and many broken promises, the people of Ogoniland still wait for a thorough cleanup of their environment,” according to Dr. Godwin Ojo, ERA/FoEN, Executive Director.

The findings of the report show that 11 of 16 companies contracted for the clean-up are reported to have no registered expertise in oil pollution remediation or related areas.

Besides, they alleged that progress has been very slow and HYPREP’s operation is failing to deliver on simple things like creating awareness about polluted areas and placing warning signs to dissuade communities from continuing to farm, fish and drink from polluted areas.

Dr. Ojo said: “Unfortunately, about one and half years after contracts for these sites were awarded with the expectation that they would be concluded within six months, none has been completed. The 21 sites currently being cleaned up by HYPREP covers only a fraction, about 11 per cent of the total area identified by UNEP. No site has been entirely cleaned up.”

The groups further claim that an assessment of HYPREP’s performance by UNEP recently engaged as technical advisor, the UN agency stated that HYPREP has been beset by “serious structural flaws.”

UNEP concluded that “HYPREP is not designed, nor structured, to implement a project as complex and sizable as the Ogoniland cleanup. It warned of “the absence of a work/implementation plan,” “severe financial and administrative bottlenecks”, “a lack of relevant project experience at the level of unit managers” and “cumbersome federal government administrative and financial procedures.”

Further, UNEP stated that flaws in HYPREP’s procurement process meant that at the rate it was disbursing funds, “it will take HYPREP 100 years to utilize its five-year budget.” As we speak, HYPREP is yet to make the requisition for the US$200 million due for 2020. From US$360million received by HYPREP only US$31 has been spent.

The civil society groups urged government to strengthen HYPREP, introduce legislation to make the agency truly independent, transparent and accountable. They also kick against oil companies having role in the oversight bodies, management and implementation of the process.

They further called for a global binding treaty to hold corporations accountable for their human rights violations and environmental harm.

Ojo continued: “After nine years of promises without proper action and decades of pollution, the people of Ogoniland are not only sick of dirty drinking water, oil-contaminated fish and toxic fumes, they are sick of waiting for justice.

“They are dying by the day. The Nigerian government should acknowledge this project has been a failure and reinvigorate HYPREP with technical skills and strategic thinking, fully involving the community.”

An official of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said: “The discovery of oil in Ogoniland has brought huge suffering for its people. Over many years we have documented how Shell has failed to clean up contamination from spills and it’s a scandal that this has not yet happened.

“The pollution is leading to serious human rights impacts – on people’s health and ability to access food and clean water. Shell must not get away with this – we will continue to fight until every last trace of oil is removed from Ogoniland.”

In reaction, the Federal Ministry of Environment said the report is flawed, adding that “the present administration is committed to the overall cleanup of the Niger Delta and other parts of the country where there is oil spill, beginning with Ogoniland for reason of an available scientific report on the environment assessment.

“The clean-up of Ogoniland is flagship project that has never been carried out anywhere and there is no existing template to adopt, rather the HYPREP is inventing the wheel and making history.

“The management of the project ably led by the Minister of Environment, Dr. Mahood Abubakar being open to constructive criticism had written and got the approval of the Federal Executive Council to effect some administrative and technical energization and reinvigoration of the processes for better performance and project delivery.”

The ministry stated that the 943 hectares assessed by UNEP in 2009/2010 do not translate to the area impacted by hydrocarbon pollution but represents the size of the area covered by UNEP investigation. The actual area contaminated and scoped for remediation is determined by delineation process within the assessed area.

The delineation exercise is an ongoing process by HYPREP. Therefore, the 11 per cent coverage of area undergoing remediation is not correct account of the actual hydrocarbon contaminated area or remediation.

On funding, the ministry also revealed that “a take-off grant of $10 million was released to the Federal Ministry of Environment in 2017, the governing council in 2018 approved a budget of $130 million (N41billion) and N10.2 billion was released by the board of trustees (BOT) in the first quarter of 2019. As of today, the total amount released by BOT is $30.8 million.”

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