After almost five years of inaction on the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on Ogoniland clean-up, the federal government last week commenced its implementation aimed at restoring the heavily polluted environment. Ejiofor Alike reports
President Muhammadu Buhari recently demonstrated his administration’s commitment to implementing the recommendation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) by delegating Vice President YemiOsinbajo to kick off the clean-up of Ogoniland in Rivers State.
Shortly after assumption of office, Buhari had demonstrated his administration’s commitment to implement the report by approving the compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) and also amended the Official Gazette that established HYPREP to reflect a new governance framework on the project.
The setting up of the Governing Council was to boost the efforts of Shell and other stakeholders towards the implementation of the remaining part of the 76 actions recommended by the world body.
The progress made byBuhari’s administration came after four years of lacklustre efforts by the past administration to implement the report.
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 said the Ogoniland might require the world’s biggest-ever clean-up that would likely take up to 30 years and recommended that both the federalgovernment 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 did nothing towards the implementation of the report.
Major highlights 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.
The federal government was among other things, required 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
Shell was required to review procedures for clean-up and remediation.
The world body also tasked Shell to develop asset integrity management and decommissioning plans for Ogonilandand also 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.
Past administration’s slow motion
When the report was published, the people of the affected community and other stakeholders had expected huge efforts from the past administration towards the speedy implementation of the recommendations, especially as both the President and the Minister of Petroleum Resources were from the oil-producing Niger Delta, which is heavily impacted by oil spill.
But 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.
After the report was released almost four years were wasted, holding meetings and conferences on the report, without any tangible actions to implement the report.
In fact, HYPREP was set up only in 2012 exactly 12 months after UNEP presented its report, thus demonstrating government’s slow motion in the implementation of the report.
Even 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 BukolaSaraki in July 2014.
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 past administration 19 months to grant the approval in February 2014.
One of UNEP’s recommendations was 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.
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.
Buhari’s audacious effort
President Buhari recently took the bull by the horns when he delegated the Vice President to kick off the clean-up of the area at an event, which took place at Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State.
In an address read on his behalf by the Vice President, Buhari warned that his administration would no longer condone crude theft and illegal refining in the Niger Delta.
The President also charged the regulators in the oil and gas industry to live up to their responsibility by discharging their duties effectively.
“The current oil theft and illegal refining will not be tolerated. The regulators in the oil industry must live up to expectations. They must ensure that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal best practices,” he explained.
Buhari said his administration was laying a foundation for change to ensure the safety of the people and promote the rule of law.
He noted that the cleanup of Ogoniland would have sustainable development components that would benefit the people in the areas of diversifying the country’s economy and creating jobs and wealth for the people.
“The methodology of the cleanup will ensure job creation for young people. The agro-allied industries required for processing of agricultural produce will also be put in place,” he added.
In an apparent reference to the approval of the compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), the president said approval had been given for the setting up of the necessary institutional framework to drive the implementation of the UNEP report.
In his address, the Governor of Rivers State, Mr. NyesomWike congratulated the President for taking the bold step by launching the implementation of the report and promised that the state government would provide the necessary platform for all the stakeholders for the smooth implementation of the report.
Wike recalled that the environmental pollution had adversely affected the ecosystem in the Niger Delta.
Also speaking at the event, the Minister for Environment, Ms. Amina Mohammed said the government had taken stock of the work done in the past to commence the restoration of the environment.
According to her, the implementation of the UNEP report would require accountability, genuine partnership and proper representation of the people at the grassroots.
In a remark at the event, the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner said the UN would support Nigeria to ensure full implementation of the report.