Since the kick-off of the Ogoniland clean-up last year by the federal government, an initiative led by the former Minister of Environment, Aisha Mohammed, nothing seems to be going on again, writes Ernest Chinwo
Last Monday, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, lashed out at the federal government, because it was not taking the issue of the clean-up of Ogoniland seriously despite the media hype about the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.
The governor spoke, when he received the Senate Committee on Environment led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, which was on a courtesy call on the governor en route Ogoniland for an oversight function. He maintained that for now, the Ogoni clean-up programme remains a political project by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government aimed at attaining political mileage.
Wike said the people of Rivers State were tired of procrastination in relation to the execution of the clean-up.
His words: â€œThe federal government is not serious about the clean-up of Ogoniland. We are tired of telling our people that the project will start next year. Let it not be a political project. Look at the North East, a commission was established and $1 billion released.â€
But as it is, the governor has definitely spoken out the frustration of the people of the state, especially the people of Ogoniland, who were full of joy, when the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, commissioned the clean-up last year.
The people had heaved a sigh of relief following the kick-off after the non-implementation of the report by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. The expectations of the people appear to be turning to another frustration because there seems to be nothing on the ground after more than one year of the commencement of the project.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, lent credence to the governorâ€™s comment, when she said her committee was on an oversight visit to ascertain the level of environmental degradation in Ogoniland, noting that the committee would draw attention to the environmental challenges facing the Ogoni people.
â€œWe are concerned about these issues. We will use face masks when we get to the location. Face masks will draw attention to the message to the world on the essence of the clean-up.â€
Many analysts believed the Senate Committee was on ground to truly draw world attention to environmental issues facing Ogoniland after years of pollution and degradation. If after more than a year of the kick-off of the clean-up, the Senate Committee was still assessing the extent of degradation and implementation of the clean-up exercise, then something must definitely be wrong, others reckoned.
But Tinubu has assured the people that the clean-up was captured in the 2018 budget.
While visiting some oil impacted sites in Ogoni as part of its oversight functions, the Senate Committee promised that it would monitor the remediation process to its logical end. The committee also promised that on resumption of plenary, the senate would commence scrutiny of the 2018 budget to ensure that what is appropriated for the project was sufficient.
The committee visited contaminated sites where Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is carrying out demonstration at Nsisioken Ogale, Eleme and B-Dere in Gokana Local Government Areas of the state.
Tinubu lauded the federal government for including the multi-million naira project in the 2018 appropriation bill, adding that the Senate committee would ensure the success of the project.
The Lagos Central senator noted that the federal government was still very much committed to the $1 billion cost of the project, adding that the fund would only be released when everything needed for the project were in place.
Speaking at the Palace of the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, Mene Godwin Gininwa, Tinubu said: â€œWe are in Ogoni, Rivers State, for an oversight and investigative function. Agitations have been on in respect of the clean-up, but today the project has been captured in the 2018 budget.
â€œWe have seen the extent of damage and it is clear that they need clean-up. We are here to see the demonstration and solicit support for the success of the project. The people must help because if the federal government has come up with clean-up, the people need to stop vandalising pipelines, because they are the ones facing the brunt of the disaster.
â€œThe federal government is still committed to the $1 billion, but they have to make sure that everything is in place. So, the HYPREP is working to ensure that everything is in place before the government will pump in money because nobody will put in money in a place you are not sure of.â€
As a result, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, Mene Godwin Gininwa, the Gbene-Mene Tai, has charged the people of Ogoni to shun violence and killings.
Gininwa added that the time for agitations and war were over in order to allow for the successful implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland, noting that the period was meant for peace and development.
Also, while speaking at his home town of Korokoro, when the committee paid him a courtesy call, Gininwa stated that the clean-up was the baby of the Ogoni people, stating that they had protested a lot to achieve the project, even as he urged his people to maintain peace.
However, while the monarch was preaching peace, a non-governmental organisation in the area, The Ogoni Community Development Network, has raised the alarm that some segments of the Ogoni society were being left out of the exercise and warned that it could spell doom for the achievement of the overall objective of the programme.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt earlier this year, the President, Ogoni Community Development Network, Johnson Kuele, noted, â€œOn Saturday July 1, 2017, HYPREP organised a non-representative stakeholder meeting in Port Harcourt, where over 80 per cent of the participants were drawn from a particular political party with the exclusion of members of other political groups and civil society organisations including The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a situation that is already creating strong divisions in MOSOP and could lead to civil protest against HYPREP.
â€œIt is appalling that what HYPREP claims to be a stakeholder meeting did not have a single member of the Executive Committee of MOSOP in attendance. We are further disturbed that the key resolution of the so-called stakeholder meeting was a call for the release of funds for HYPREP.
â€œClearly, HYPREPâ€™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/mismanagement 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.â€
He accused HYPREP of attempting to jettison standards and recommended procedures to hurriedly move into the phase where contracts could be awarded to politicians seeking avenues to raise funds ahead of the 2019 elections.â€
Although Kuele might not be entirely correct in his assessment of the situation, one thing that is clear is that MOSOP is divided on the issue of the clean-up. While one group lauds HYPREP for doing a great job, the other faction sees the activities on-going as a farce.
However the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the HYPREP in Ogoniland, Mr. Wale Edun, has stated that the federal government has properly funded both the governing council and BoT of HYPREP, the two key elements of the governance structures required for the clean-up of Ogoniland and other impacted sites. The two structures were set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in line with his promise to implement the UNEP Report, which recommended the setting up of $1 billion fund to clean up the oil pollution and ensure the environmental remediation of Ogoniland.
Edun, who spoke on a programme on ARISE News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY, stated that the HYPREP BoT was working with all the relevant stakeholders to develop a world-class framework to measure the achievements of the agency.
â€œWe have an escrow account, we have investment advisers, fund managers are in place, we have technical advisers so that when we are given a list of what else has been done, we can check it properly. In fact, from the perspectives of the board of trustees, we have funded the governing council, we have funded the budget office and they are yet to apply those funds fully and come back for more,â€ he said.
â€œBut in the meantime, one thing I like to point out is that the idea is not just that the government or just the joint venture oil companies should fund this clean-up, we expect it to last for years and we expect it to cost huge amounts and so we are putting in place a structure that allows other people, other philanthropists, other institutions â€“ national and international â€“ to also put money in that fund.
â€œSo it is not a project-based organisation that we are handling; it is a fund that can take money at any time and is committed to applying it properly; to applying it prudentially to the job of cleaning up Ogoniland,â€ Edun explained.
On whether the $1 billion was meant only for the clean-up of oil pollution or could also be deployed to other initiatives such as providing health services and other amenities, Edun said the fund would also be used to intervene in the health sector and also in the provision of drinking water for the people of Ogoniland, whose environment was devastated by oil pollution.
â€œIt is holistic, it is comprehensive. So, it is for the clean-up of the land by remediation, clean-up of the water, provision of drinking water, restoration of the health of the people of Ogoniland, health intervention, restoration of the means of livelihood of the people as well. â€œSo, for the young people, we have training programmes; there are empowerment programmes, as well as standards of restoring agriculture and restoring the fishing industry in Ogoniland. It is a comprehensive attempt to really restore the lives of the people,â€ Edun explained.
The Project Coordinator of HYPREP, Dr. Marvin Dekil, has also explained that the establishment had to lay the necessary foundation for the full implementation of the clean-up. He said on assumption of office in March this year that the project embarked on emergency measures preparatory to the full take-off of the exercise.
The measures, he said, included setting up a four-man committee on water to identify and evaluate existing water facilities in the four local government areas of Ogoni.
â€œThis was done in line with the recommendation of the UNEP report that before any clean-up of the oil impact environment of Ogoni is done, the people must be provided with potable water as their source of drinking water is contaminated 900 times above what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers pollution. Other areas he listed included update of baseline data of UNEP Report, health impact assessment study, demonstration of remediation technologies, training and sensitization.
He said the update of baseline data of UNEP report had become necessary, because the report was submitted to the federal government in 2011 and between then and now there have been changes in the nature and characteristics of the impacted sites that were studied in the report and in addition there have been other impacted sites that were not captured in the UNEP report. â€œTo have an accurate and up-to-date data on these sites, we have collected new samples (soil, water-surface and underground) at various demonstration sites at Kwawa, K-Dere, Korokoro and Ogale communities,â€ he said.
On training, Dekil said, â€œWe also trained about 15 Ogoni sons and daughters who studied Environmental Sciences to be our Technical Assistants in remediation. The training was done between 5th and 8th June, 2017. It has two parts: a classroom discussion and a field visit for practical.
â€œThe training was done in collaboration with the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). The field visit was witnessed by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, His Excellency, Edward Kallou.â€ He also said HYPREP has visited some impacted communities like Kwawa in Khana Local Government Area, Bodo, Kpor and K-Dere in Gokana Local Government Area, Ogale, Ebubu in Eleme Local Government Area, and Korokoro and Ueken in Tai Local Government Area. While HYPREP may have been doing the ground work for full take-off of the clean-up exercise, to the average person in Rivers State, especially in Ogoniland, there is nothing yet to celebrate as far as the implementation of the UNEP Report on Ogoniland is concerned.