Ogoni Cleanup: Still on Rhetoric without Action

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‎The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the environmental cleanup of Ogoni-land in June 2016. More than one year after, it looks like another white elephant project with plenty of rhetoric and no actions. Adedayo Akinwale writes

Following the inauguration of the cleanup of Ogoniland on‎ June 2, 2016 by the federal government, more than one year after, the actual cleanup is yet to kick-start due to little or lack of activities being carried out on the polluted area.

The slow pace of work has seemingly forced the federal government to rely on one type of rhetoric or the other in spite of the fanfare that greeted the inauguration.

Sedate Response

The federal government’s response to the cleanup of Ogoniland was in response to the ‎assessment survey carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to help the country determine the exact quantum of damage that was done to the environment, and subsequently to the health of the people.

The assessment report, which took about four or five years to compile, was submitted to the federal government‎ in 2007. Nevertheless, after the report was received by the immediate previous administration, it decided to request the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to implement the report, and subsequently the Hydro-carbon Pollution Restoration Project was set up under the purview of the ministry.

‎It was based on this move that a coordinator was appointed for the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to stop further pollution of Ogoniland as the cleanup of the already impacted land takes off.

Ministerial Intervention

The Minister of Environment, Usman Jibril said when the present administration came into office in 2015, it had to look at what was on ground and it was discovered that there was a bill of about N6 billion incurred by way of salaries and wages alone. He said the problem has remained unresolved till date because the ministry had to involve the Ministry of Labour and Employment to jointly look at the viability of this debt.

He said though he was not unaware that people complain that the federal government is too slow about the cleanup of Ogoniland, but then asserted that government was not in a hurry to fail, saying he hoped that at the end of the day, it would be a success story.

‎Recently, Jibril stated that, “Ogoni is not the only place that was polluted in the Niger Delta. There are some parts ‎that are heavily or more seriously polluted in some parts of the Niger Delta, like Delta, Bayelsa and many other places. But Ogoni happened to be the only place that there is a comprehensive report detailing all the problems associated with oil pollution that took place in the last 20-30 years.

“Because there is a blueprint already in place, we had to pick it, dust it and look at the HYPREB gazette. ‎There were many areas of friction and we had to do a wild consultation with all the stakeholders; the pressure groups, Civil Society Organisations, States and local governments among others, along with the Ministry of Petroleum.

“At the end, the files were handed over to the Ministry of Environment where it originally ought to be. And after taking over, we consulted further and did a launch in August at which the president was represented by the vice president (now Acting President). Thereafter, we got the president to approve the list of the governing council and a Board of Trustees (BoT) was formed.

“After the HYPREB Gazette was approved, we did a vacancy advert and about 300 persons applied. We selected 30 of them. At the end, we were able to take one who incidentally turned out to be an Ogoni man. So, we had no friction getting the governing council to approve his appointment. He resumed office in March this year”, he added.

‎The minister stressed that it is expected that when the cleanup of Ogoniland is successful, it would be a template that would be replicated with some modifications if the need arises to other parts ‎of the Niger Delta that are equally or even worse polluted.

The minister, in a recent interview with a newspaper, said a lot of activities have been going on with regards to the Ogoni cleanup, adding that the deployment of staff members to the HYPREB office have started. He said some people are already on site in the area doing demonstration.

The idea, according to him, is to know the type of technology that could be used to do the work effectively. “Don’t forget 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. Boreholes cannot yield good water and so on and so forth. All these have serious consequences”, he said.

Action Plan

The initial plan for the cleanup was a five-year project, with the federal government applying the pollute-paying method in line with international practice for the multinational companies, which notes that those who pollute the environment must be made to pay for the cleanup.

This is because it has been established that the pollution there took place as a result of mechanical failure and based on that, the UN Environmental Programme decided to recommend an initial amount of $1bn to be spread across the five-year period, which is $200 million a year, to be funded by the oil companies including the NNPC.

According to the minister, “We picked 12 locations, three from each of the local governments in Ogoni where demonstration, like I said, is being carried out now. We are almost done with that stage. At the same time, the project coordinating office is running a parallel base study because the report submitted in 2011 cannot be said to be currently adequately again.

“Following the outcome of these two exercises, we will be able to know what is to be done and the companies to be involved. It is going to be an international activity because it is highly technical. You need to free the soil from the harmful hydro-carbons that are embedded in it and look at the creeks the same way. This is how far we have gone.

“We are done with the planning stage. Another aspect is the angle of livelihood for the people. We have a training programme in collaboration with the UN trading organisation. We are looking at training 1,200 women of the area in different endeavours of their choice, including fishery, snail farming, oil palm production, hairdressing, among others.

“I am not unaware that people complain that we are too slow. But we are not in a hurry to fail. We hope that at the end of the day, it will be a success story,” Jibril noted.

Yawning Gaps

‎While the federal government claimed to be working out plans to make the oil companies release money as soon as possible, the multi-national companies involved are yet to be determined. The actual date the cleanup would commence in Ogoni and when the companies would start is still unknown, while the payment has not been decided yet.

There is no gainsaying that more than a year after the inauguration of the cleanup of Ogoni land, the rhetoric continue while the actual cleanup by the federal government is still being awaited.‎ Whether the cleanup will commence this year or not still remains to be seen.