Revisiting Ogoni Cleanup Exercise

Muhammadu Buhari

Ugo Aliogo in this report examines the commitment of the federal government to the Ogoni clean up exercise

When the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, flagged-off the Ogoniland cleanup exercise in June 2016, he said the project would be vigorously pursued and would have sustainable development components which would benefit the people.

But more than two years after that ceremony, civil society organisations (CSOs) have criticised the commitment of the government in the exercise, stating that there is no sustainable funding framework to drive the project implementation. Moreover, they argued that the implementation was at variance with the recommendations of the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) in its 2011 report.

The UNEP report states that it would take 25-30 years to clean-up the polluted areas in Ogoni land because of the various stages that would be involved.

To understand properly the clean-up exercise especially the nitty-gritty issues, THISDAY spoke to the Head, Environment and Conservation Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development, (CEHRD), Dr. Kabari Sam, one of those playing active role in the area of advocacy and sensitisation in the Ogoni clean-up exercise.

He noted that in line with the recommendations of UNEP, the federal government has derailed. Sam, explained that UNEP recommended that whatever government was doing in Ogoni land must be in line with global best practice, adding that UNEP recommended emergency and clean up measures.

He observed that the report should have been in two parts, but in the wisdom of UNEP, they knew that there were things that were paramount and needed urgent attention.

Therefore, they called one aspect of the report emergency measures.
The CEHRD Head further noted that presently, government has not implemented tangible recommendation of the emergency measures, stating that a few contractors have been mobilised to go site to start cleaning; meanwhile, simple issues such as health audit and provision of potable water that were highlighted by UNEP on the emergency measures have not been implemented, “so even if we are doing a home grown approach, we are not doing what UNEP recommended in the report.”

According to him, “We have delay issues, and the effectiveness of our home grown approach is another issues. As long as Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) operates as an agency under the federal Ministry of Environment, HYPREP will continue to be slow in the implementation of the report.

“The federal Ministry of Environment is still incharge of HYPREP’s money and if HYPREP has to do anything, they have to seek the approval of the Ministry. Issues that relates to environmental pollutions particularly hydro-carbon, they pose significant health threats to public health and the environment. Government must react to issues concerning spills very promptly and effectively.

“You don’t have to wait through the process of applying for money, the moment you are waiting, and applying for money to curtail spills, it might have migrated to better aspects of the environment and cause damage.

“What is applicable in other parts of the world is that there is a trust fund from where money can be collected immediately there is pollution crisis. But here, even we had the oil companies paying money into the trust fund; you still need to go through the federal Ministry of Environment to get the money.

“Our home grown approach is very faulty. For instance, HYPREP requested contractors to bid for three months, you cannot bid for three months when you want to clean up what is known as a legacy site, a legacy site is a site that has been polluted a long time ago, they are not current spills.

“The implication is that those spills have migrated from the top soil to the water table. What they are going to do in Ogoni land is restoration and remediation, you cannot do remediation in three months.

“Our fear is that some of the companies were not given sufficient time to do an efficient and effective work in terms of remediating polluted areas in Ogoni land that is a fundamental issue in HYPREP approach and another factor is that the waste generated, there is no place to treat those waste.

“We are supposed to have an integrated contaminated soil management centre, but presently we don’t have that centre anywhere. We don’t even have a waste management centre that even if it was not integrated, we will be able to manage the waste that will be coming from the site that is handed over to contractors.”

Role of CSOs
The Senior Project Officer Environment, Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) Jesse Manyfor stated that before HYPREP started the clean-up, a couple of CSOs did some sensitisation and advocacy to ensure the exercise was sustainable.
Manyfor also said with the setting of HYREP and its structures, that role of sensitisation was left off, and it was carried out by HYREP and the CSOs were no longer involved.

He further noted that HYREP have people who were doing the sensitisation, advocacy and meeting the communities, noting that presently, the CSOs have passed the stage of sensitisation, and what is required is to sustain the efforts within the communities.

Manyfor said HYPREP organises its advocacy and they have their own communication consultants as part of their team.
He added that from the angle of the CSOs, their new point of focus is in terms of monitoring and evaluation is to ensure that whatever cleanup that is being done meets the standard recommended in the UNEP report.

On his part, the Chief Executive Director, Citizens Resources Services (CRS), Erabanabari Kobah, explained that what the CSOs did was to sensitise the local communities towards their expectations, the complaints that they should raise or questions they should ask if any group or agency visit the communities to do clean-up exercise.
“What the CSOs have been doing is to bring to government attention that the approach is wrong and the procedures will not yield the desired results and they should be some improvement on it,” he added.

Current State of the Clean-up
Manyfor stated that the clean-up has started in 16 communities with 16 contractors on sites, and they have been mobilised and introduced to those communities.

He explained that HYPREP mobilises the contractors in terms of funds and resources, stating that two weeks ago they moved to site, and the coordinator was also on ground to ensure that work had started in earnest.

He further noted that from the communities’ angle, they would expect that since the clean-up has started, there would be employment opportunities for their youths who would be involved in the exercise.

“I recently learnt from HYREP that they are trying to provide water for the communities; I also know that some contractors have been selected to provide water for the communities.”

According to him, “Government should ensure they implement the clean-up based on the UNEP report. They should ensure that qualified contractors are those who are given the job of the clean-up.
“The contractors have to do the clean-up and do an assessment of the sites they are working on. Remediation can take between six months to two years. What is important is to start work and continue the pace and ensure that the funds for the clean-up are reserved.

“Also, there is need for the new government to ensure that the money for the clean-up is set aside, therefore there will not any issue of inadequate funds and the work will continue. This is the first phase for the 16 contractors. I know that they have started doing the site scooping for the second phase. They are doing the clean-up in phases for the 16 sites.”

Kobah, was however displeased with the clean-up because what of he described as federal government’s failure to match efforts with action, consequently making the exercise fall below expectation, saying “I see the whole thing as something aimed at scoring political goals.”

He stated that there was a delay in the clean-up exercise because there was no deliberate effort to achieve the desired goal, adding that the governing council which he noted is the decision making body, have some members who don’t have an understanding of what is being.

Kobah, who questioned the procedure for selecting the members of the governing council, noted that the entire procedure for setting up those structures was not transparent.

According to Kobah, “The members of the governing council and board of trustees are all involved in the selection procedures for contractors which should not be. They either have their own contractors or their contractors are represented among the contractors that have been shortlisted with the Minister of Environment taking the greater share.

“It should not be so, you find a crop of people that have been put in place as the structure to drive the process and they go and share the opportunities that are there. “They are after sharing the money among the contractors which eventually is their front. From the UNEP report, the result that was obtained in 2011 cannot be the same in 2019.

“UNEP also declared some emergency measures that were supposed to be taken or put in place in addressing certain things. In enforcing an investigation that was carried out in 2011, you restrict yourself to a particular area or affairs in 2019. So what has been done is that they identified sites which were according to UNEP factsheet and investigation. Therefore, they decided to go and clean-up the area.

“The clean-up will not be effective because pollution has migrated beyond what UNEP saw. In the respective factsheets UNEP said oil has spread beyond the areas investigated. UNEP has been a passive participant they have no contribution on that board of the governing council.

“It is not proper. The governing council is made up of representation from federal government, the International Oil Companies (IOCs), representation from the communities which is championed by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).”

In his recommendation, Sam called for the development of a sustainable funding strategy for HYPREP, to prevent the agency from experiencing financial challenges and have enough funding for the 25-30years that was recommended for the remediation of Ogoni Land.

He also explained that if HYPREP argued that there is no money to build an Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, and then they should build mini-waste centres, to prevent contractors from digging wastes from polluted sites to clean areas.

Sam added: “It is going to be a major problem that will face and might be a number of litigation that HYREP will impact on the progress of HYPREP. So if we have to avoid that, then HYPREP should take steps to build mini-waste management steps.

“The third point is that HYPREP must understand that they are not doing clean-up, but they are doing remediation and there is a difference between clean-up and remediation. You cannot do remediation in three months or within a short period of time. So HYREP should allow contractors to extend what they are doing between 6-12 months.”