The Ogoni clean-up exercise is on course, writes Saviour Oscar Imeabe

After decades of struggles, government’s attention was drawn to the plight of the people of Ogoni.  The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was invited to undertake an assessment of oil pollution in Ogoniland with a view to finding a solution that will bring an end to the sufferings of Ogoni people.

 In 2011, UNEP submitted a report to the federal government on Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland. Today, that document is popularly referred to as the “UNEP Report” among stakeholders.  The report contains detailed information on the assessment which covered contaminated land, ground water, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, industry practice and institutional issues as well as recommendations and steps to be followed in carrying out the clean-up exercise.

On 2nd June 2016, the federal government flagged-off the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) with the mandate to remediate the environment and restore the livelihood of the people

A Project Coordination Office (PCO) for HYPREP was set up to execute the clean-up project in Ogoniland headed by the project coordinator, Dr. Marvin Barinem Dekil.  HYPREP being a federal government project is fully guided by the rules and regulations that apply in public service.  To ensure full accountability and adherence to extant rules, staff from relevant federal ministries have been deployed to the project.  However, the project takes into consideration the integration of local content in every aspect of the process.  In this wise, the project has engaged, at various levels, manpower of different skills drawn from all the impacted communities.

The UNEP Report of 2011 which serves as a blueprint for the implementation of the clean-up of Ogoniland specifies some emergency measures that should be carried out prior to the remediation exercise to provide temporary relief to a people that have suffered years of no access to potable water and possible health challenges due to oil pollution.  In implementing the UNEP Report, HYPREP commenced activities to update the baseline data of the UNEP Report which was written since 2011. To ensure accuracy, HYPREP had to carry out the exercise of collecting soil, surface and underground water samples in order to have the current status of the level of impact of oil spillage on the communities prior to the provision of potable water which is one of the emergency measures recommended in the UNEP Report.

HYPREP also carried out medical outreach that covered Gokana, Tai, Khana and Eleme Local government areas where patients with various medical conditions were attended to including surgeries. The medical outreach was to enable HYPREP collect primary data on the health status of people as part of activities towards the implementation of the health impact study in the communities of Ogoni to ascertain whether there is a link between some ailments in the land and oil pollution.  As part of the process of carrying out the health impact studies, the Rivers State Ministry of Health is collaborating with HYPREP to carry assessment of all health facilities in the impacted communities.

The recommendations in the UNEP report is that potable water be provided for oil impacted communities.  The processes for the provision of water to impacted communities had commenced with the collection of samples of ground and surface water and the installation of monitoring boreholes.  HYPREP is collaborating with Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources to rehabilitated moribund water facilities in Ogoni to extend the provision of water to non-impacted communities. 

HYPREP has followed due process to ensure that qualified companies were engaged to carry out assessment and rehabilitation of existing water facilities; designing and construction of comprehensive water schemes. 

HYPREP has through its Communication and Community Engagement Unit carried out sensitization exercise to the 21 impacted communities while successfully engaging the traditional rulers, faith-based organizations, women groups, youths, Ogoni elected representatives, pressure groups, civil societies, members of the press and stakeholders.

The Project Coordination Office has engaged series of processes in the preparation for remediation works.  HYPREP has carried out assessment, characterization, delineation and scoping on all the sites identified in the UNEP Report to establish their current contamination status as well as establish the appropriate remediation technology to be adopted.  All identified sites were successfully mapped out for remediation with data indication the vertical and lateral contamination levels.

It is surprising to hear some youths allege that HYPREP is not carrying youths along or that youths are excluded in HYPREP activities.  I am aware that HYPREP has employed young scientists and others with relevant professional qualification from Ogoni.  I am also aware that there are young Ogoni men and women working on each remediation site. HYPREP has provided a platform for Ogoni to be trained; recently, 21 scientific officers from Ogoni were in Switzerland on an intensive training on Management of Contaminated Site Assessment, Cleanup & Assessment and Cleanup of Contaminated Sites including Fieldwork Techniques in addition to several other trainings in Nigeria by Shell and UNEP.

The livelihood programme is also being implemented as collection of data is continuous.  Fifteen youths have been trained in the fabrication of garri processing machines through a tripartite agreement between HYPREP, Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Onne, a programme that lasted for three months.  All arrangements for the training of 1,200 women in batches of 400 by United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in agricultural enterprise are almost concluded. The Rivers State Government through the Ministry of Employment Generation and Economic Empowerment has also expressed readiness to collaborate and partner with HYPREP to train women and youths of Ogoni under the Sustainable Livelihood Programme. The best part of it is that several Ogoni youths that could have been in the labour market have been trained and employed by HYPREP, while others have been trained and are ready to be engaged by the contractors.

HYPREP has in keeping to the laid down procedure, followed due process in handling the award of contracts for the clean-up project in line with the Procurement Act of 2007.  Advertisements were placed on 30th March 2018 in Federal Tenders Journal, local and foreign media for expression of interest by contractors for remediation works, these are verifiable. The technical and financial bid opening exercise were conducted transparently, and all public procurement regulations were strictly followed as contained in the public procurement manual.

On the other hand, all companies bidding for contracts in any government agency are expected to possess stipulated documents and undergo pre-qualification processes as contained in the Public Procurement Act and this also applies to HYPREP.

At the end of the rigorous procurement process, 21 contractors who qualified were invited to a kick-off meeting to enlighten them on how the project will be managed, what is expected of them, engagement of local content, relationship with the host community and other issues that will enhance the smooth running of the project. It is shocking to say the least, that after these processes, some individuals are alleging that contracts were awarded to incompetent companies.

HYPREP carried out community by community engagement to sensitize them of the engagement of contractors for the first phase of the clean-up project and what they should expect from the contractors.  They were also sensitized on the role of the traditional council, youths, women groups, interest groups and the community in general to the success of the project first as watch dogs to ensure the contractors delivered quality work and also to ensure security and peace during and after the clean-up.

To show and further confirm to the people of Ogoni the commitment of the federal government and the importance it places on the project, the former Minister of Environment,  Suleiman Hassan Zarma performed the ceremony of presenting the contractors to the communities and site handover in Alode and Obolo-Ebubu communities in Eleme Local Government Area and Buemene-Korokoro in Tai Local Government Area while the project coordinator of HYPREP, Dr. Marvin Dekil led the delegation for the site handover ceremony in Khana and Gokana Local Government Areas. A total of 21 sites have so far been handed over to contractors by HYPREP in Eleme, Tai, Khana and Gokana Local Government areas of Ogoni.  HYPREP has again successfully concluded the Technical Bid Opening of Phase one Batch two of the clean-up project.  The site handover took place and remediation works are currently on-going on various sites across Ogoniland despite doubts and series of propaganda to discredit HYPREP and undermine the intentions of the federal government for the Ogoni clean-up.

The Federal Government with good intent has re-engaged the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) – (the same UNEP that did the study that provided the basis for the report and recommendations) to work with HYPREP for the next 12 months to provide technical support and build the capacity of staff to empower them for optimum and effective performance. Yet people still say that HYPREP is a scam.

I am aware of growing concerns about the implementation of the emergency measures. As an observer I have been privileged to listen to the presentation by the Project Coordinator of HYPREP stating that the process for the implementation of emergency measures was at its final stage.  Presently, the list of pre-qualified companies for the provision of potable water has been released on HYPREP website and official social media platforms.  He has constantly assured all Ogonis and Nigerians that shortly contractors will also be introduced to site for the provision of potable water.

Some disgruntled youths have alleged that HYPREP is not following the recommendations in the UNEP Report because the provision of Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre (ICSMC) is yet to be established. The Project Coordinator Dr. Marvin Dekil, who was also one of the technical personnel that worked with the UNEP Team that carried out the assessment has constantly assured that the ICSMC will be established at the right time.  He repeatedly explained that the remediation works were classified into two categories – the less complex sites and the complex sites.  He said the 21 lots that have been handed over to contractors where clean-up is currently taking place were classified under the less complex sites where only the soil was found to be contaminated. HYPREP, with approval from UNEP is adopting the use of bio-cell for the treatment of contaminated soil in the less complex sites.  The Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre (ICSMC) he explained is for the treatment of complex sites which involves soil and ground water contamination.  In the same vein, Dekil has confirmed that the assessment for the establishment of the Centre of Excellence had commenced.

Since its inception till date, HYPREP has recorded several milestones in coordinating the processes for the commencement of the remediation work in Ogoniland. The elected representatives of Ogoni have taken a tour of some of the remediation sites and have confirmed to all Ogonis, Nigerians and the International community that indeed HYPREP is working and that they are happy with the progress and pace of works.  They cast a vote of confidence on Dr Dekil and HYPREP.

While I am not holding brief for HYPREP, I speak from the point of an informed Ogoni youth, it will be unfair for me not to speak out. In my opinion, rather than sponsor negative propaganda against HYPREP and the federal government, people that feel things should be done differently should approach HYPREP to iron things out.  I use this medium to urge my Ogoni brothers and sisters to get authentic information on all HYPREP activities and programmes on the website and all HYPREP official social media platforms rather than speculate or listen to made up stories.

The Ogoni clean-up is the best thing that has happened to the people of Ogoni after four decades of struggles and indeed the Niger Delta.  The great people of Ogoni should all form a united front and support HYPREP.  The Youths should secure their territory and ensure the environment is peaceful for the contractors to operate successfully.

The energy and resources used in sponsoring propaganda to bring down HYPREP should be channelled into supporting activities that will add value to the people of Ogoni.  Let every true Ogoni and all Nigerians support HYPREP and the Ogoni clean-up project.

 Comrade Imeabe is President, Ogoni Youth Development Initiatives