Even after funds have been made available by the federal government for the clean-up of the Niger Delta, there are still growing concerns over the implementation of the project, Maduabuchi Ubani writes
Residents in Ogoniland and communities across other Niger Delta regions in Nigeria are still hopeful about the cleanup exercise which is meant to restore the years of oil spillage and gas flaring epidemics that have ravaged their lands and aquatic life.
With contaminated water and their livelihood devastated due to six decades of commercial oil and gas production, chronic diseases and decreasing numbers of life expectancy among natives have significantly increased.
A recent study undertaken by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICRR) indicates that the impact of oil pollution on public health and the urgent need to commence public health monitoring in Ogoniland, Rivers State should not be taken for granted.
This is because blood samples of indigenes from Bodo, Goi, K-Dere and Mogho in different Ogoniland communities have revealed rising cases of reproductive defects, DNA mutations, leukaemia and cancer of the lungs, bladder, bone, brain and scrotum.
Sign of Victory
No wonder it came as a breath of fresh air that after years of endless demonstration, agitation and tussle with past administrations, the present administration paid attention to the cries of the region and commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to undertake an environmental assessment in Ogoniland.
A report from the Federal Government of Nigeria Gazette ( vol 106, no 176, 12 December 2016) shows that The UNEP released its seminal report in 2011 and suggested to the Nigerian government to immediately implement emergency measures and also undertake the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland and the wider Niger Delta. This paved the way for a new platform.
Rise of HYPREP
In response to the report of UNEP, the Nigerian government established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to implement the recommendation of the UNEP report in Ogoniland.
HYPREP has been in operation in Ogoniland for more than three years. A recent UNEP report shows that so far, HYPREP has undertaken surveys of water well in some Ogoniland communities. They have also set up administrative structures and have recorded measurable progress in the second phase of the UNEP recommendation-remedial work.
It should also be noted that HYPREP has established a trust fund and has also conducted preliminary processes including health outreaches, training of technical assistants and handover of sites to contractors.
Problems of HYPREP
Although HYPREP has recorded some milestones, different perceptions exist on the progress and success of the Ogoni remediation since its inception.
Some of the challenges of HYPREP include as noted in a document by Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth (FoEN) shows the inability of the 21 contractors in the phase one of remediation work to complete their allotted lots.
Another problem is the non availability of monitoring tools to be used by stakeholders to assess the quality of work done by HYPREP.
There are concerns over the snail-pace nature of decision within HYPREP, re-pollution and artisanal refining, access to information, use of internationally accredited laboratories and even funding.
As at February 2020, HYPREP had received $360 million from the Joint Venture partners ( the polluters). In fact, HYPREP has reportedly spent only $38 million in three years.
Given their latest fiscal stewardship, stakeholders are concerned as to whether or not HYPREP has the capacity to expend funds.
Another challenge is the availability of a work plan that outlines projects and corresponding funds needed to achieve such milestones. The unavailability of a 25-30 years project plan and milestones poses a grave challenge to the spending capacity of HYPREP.
Civil Society Intervention
In their bid to unravel the true state of the remediation project in Ogoniland, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in collaboration with Cordaid have expressed concern over the level of politicking which seems to be enveloping the entire clean-up process which was conceived to restore, remediate, and rehabilitate the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta region as a whole.
For CISLAC, HYPREP’s claim of completing 70 per cent of the first phase of the clean-up is a deliberate attempt to distract stakeholders from the focus of the clean-up.
To ascertain the 70 per cent claim by HYPREP, CISLAC is demanding that HYPREP should make public knowledge the independent monitoring organisation overseeing the clean-up process.
HYPREP is also demanded to produce a blueprint for livelihood restoration that covers all facets of stakeholders and impacted communities in Ogoniland and also produce the laboratory results of the six lots it claimed to have completed remediation works, amongst other demands.
“HYPREP seems to have independently developed the Key Perfomance Indicators (KPIs) without stakeholders inputs and also unwilling to share the same for public utilisation to monitor the success of the clean-up exercise,” said the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa.
Although a framework for a definite intervention was provided in 2011 through the report of UNEP, Musa announced that issues surrounding contaminated land, groundwater, surface, water, sediment, vegetation and public health are yet to be resolved, thus endangering the lives of millions of citizens in the area.
” What this means is that the institutional issues as well as recommendations and steps to be followed in carrying out the exercise have become victims of senseless politicking,” he lamented.
One of the strong recommendations on the part of HYPREP to enhance their work and delivery is to assess the overall funding required for the clean-up, remediation and restoration of Ogoniland within 25-30years. Also, HYPREP should as a matter of urgency provide a timeline for the provision of potable water drinking polluted water, especially in Elementary local council.
They are also expected to develop infrastructure for sustainable job creation and also set up a database for the information on the remediation process, amongst other things.
Other recommendations include the engaging roles of the government , communities and civil society organisation facilitating, developing, partnering and collaborating with one another to clean-up Ogoniland.
Given that the Ogoni clean-up is a multi-stakeholder project, the roles of the aforementioned players alongside the implementation of the UNEP recommendation for Ogoniland is invaluable in restoring the lost fascination of the Niger Delta.