WILLIE ETIM reports from Port Harcourt that despite President Buhari’s applauded move to implement the UNEP report on the imperative of cleaning up Ogoni after the environmental degradation cause by oil exploration and exploitation, steps that appear to negate the spirit of the agreement on how to go about the exercise are being taken by the self-same government.
Six months after President Muhammadu Buhari approved a N2.1 billion ($10 million) donor-driven fund for the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report on the immediate clean-up of Ogoniland in Rivers State, the exercise has run into some hitches. Ogoni leaders who appraised the federal government’s fresh draft on the clean-up project have accused the government of changing the agreements they reached on how the exercise can be successfully implemented. At a critical stakeholders’ meeting held by the Ogonis, the leaders accused the government of altering the composition and structure of the Governing Council mandated to lead the clean-up initiative.
President Buhari had on August 4 last year announced his approval of the fund for the implementation of the UN recommendations and the amendment of the official gazette setting up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to reflect a new governance framework comprising a Governing Council, a Board of Trustees and a Project Management team.
The negotiation for the cleanup and the implementation of the UNEP report in the entire Ogoni land started during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and between those negotiations, stakeholders involved had three meetings, two in Nigeria and one in Geneva, Switzerland. At the meetings, a working group was set up on different thematic areas and about 70 per cent of what was needed to be done was achieved, leaving only how the exercise would be carried out and the time-frame for it.
Prior to Buhari’s pronouncement on the matter, two meetings were said to have been held in Abuja between June and July 25 last year to perfect the document and the process to be applied.
Among the issues addressed by the meetings was the enabling legislation by the Federal Government to drive the process. After addressing the grey areas, the working group sent to the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources a proposed gazette on what the stakeholders want the document to contain and a new process detailing the steps to be taken to achieve the cleanup was sent to the President that same July.
This reportedly informed Buhari’s announcement that the clean-up exercise would commence based on the proposal, which was submitted to him by the working group comprising officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Shell, Agip, Totalfinaelf, the Federal Ministry of Environment, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), representatives of Ogoni communities and a representative of the Rivers State government.
Trouble started when a new draft of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) gazette (the enabling legislation to run the process) was sent to the stakeholders for comments. In the updated gazette, the oil companies and the Federal Government reportedly reduced the representation on some of the committees while other committees were removed from the process.
At the recent stakeholders’ meeting within the leadership of Ogoni land, they came up with a common position rejecting the new version of the gazette as it negated the agreement all the parties reached on July 28, 2015. Some high ranking members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) who participated in the meeting that produced the resolution told The Authority in Port Harcourt the that Ogoni people suspect that a major objective of the new draft gazette is to eliminate the effectiveness of Ogoni participation and representation in the exercise and increase the influence of the government and the oil companies.
Three parties are involved in the age-long Ogoni crisis, namely the Federal Government, the
Shell Oil Producing and the Ogoni people. In every negotiation that has taken place to end the crisis, equality of representation and respect for the outcome of agreements have always been honoured.
But, as one of the Ogoni leaders pointed out, tampering with the representation violated an earlier agreement reached among the three parties in the crisis. He said the Ogoni reject the composition of the HRPREP, which is to be headed by the Group Managing Director (GMD) of NNPC as the Chairman of the Governing Council because it goes against what was agreed in the negotiation and reflected in the penultimate draft, which is that the chairmanship of the Council shall be rotated amongst the various stakeholders.
He said the inclusion of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources was conspicuously absent in the new draft. According to him, it was also agreed that three persons of high integrity and repute from the Niger Delta Region appointed by the President should read: ‘Three persons of high integrity and repute from Ogoni appointed by the President as the issue at stake had been a matter between Ogoni, Shell and the Federal Government of Nigeria and should be treated as such.’
According to him, the reference to the Niger Delta is not acceptable to the Ogoni. “We reject the smuggling in of representation of Oil Producers Trade Section of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) into this draft under any guise,” he said. “Why LCCI and not representatives of the funding entities as in the preceding amended gazette? This entity is unknown to us and should be expunged from the draft gazette. The entities, Shell, Total and Agip that were listed in the negotiation document and reflected in the initial draft gazette should be returned.”
The MOSOP leader said the Ogoni people are insisting that the agreement recognized the nominee from the United Nations system as a full member of the Governing Council and not an observer. They disagree with the idea of reducing it to a mere observer who cannot vote on any issue and whose contribution will be limited. He said they had observed that there was nothing like HYPREP Coordinator in the terms of agreement reached on July 28 last year.
According to him, it was agreed that the Project Manager shall be the secretary to the Governing Council but “in Section 3 of the draft gazette on the functions of HYPREP, the Ogoni people reject the idea of the formation of the working groups being at the discretion of the Project Manager.”
“As agreed on July 28 last year, this should be spelt out in the gazette that the work of the Ogoni Restoration Project be based on the four working groups mentioned in the initial amended gazette. Each of the groups should be chaired by appropriately qualified persons employed by the Governing Council,” he said.
Recognizing the importance of the community engagement process and the interface needed for this project, they also condemned the elimination of the Central Representatives Council and Zonal Representatives Council from the latest draft. “We demand that it be reinstated and spelt out in the gazette,” the MOSOP leader stressed. “This cannot be a structure that would function at the whims and caprices of the Governing Council. It has to be in the gazette from day one and should stay under the Project Monitoring Group not eliminated.”
Under Section 7 of the gazette, which spells out the tenure of the office of the HYPREP Governing Council, the Ogoni insist that the tenure of office should be stated in the gazette from the outset and not subjected to individual letters of appointment received, adding that the provision of four years in the penultimate draft should be reinstated.
“As stated under section 4, we maintain that the Oil Producers Trade Section of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce is unknown to us and should be expunged,” the MOSOP leader declared. “From the outcome of the meetings of July 28 last year, it was clear that the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees of the Trust Fund are two separate entities. The Fund was to operate independently of the Governing Council but work synergistically. In this case, the Fund is not expected to report to the Governing Council. Since the HYPREP Advisory Council is now proposed to be removed, we propose that the two entities: the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of the Trust Fund should report to the President through the Minister of Petroleum Resources.”
The MOSOP leader lamented that following the amendments and observations they noted in the latest draft, they are deeply concerned that this gazette is being done in a manner that suggests a departure from the framework of agreement reached in the discussions of July 28 last year and which formed the basis of the announced approval of the President.
President, Ogoni Solidarity Forum and Community Officer Social Action, Mr. Celestine Akpobari told The Authority: “Ogoni soil is dead. In every cup of water taken in Ogoni, there is acid coated with crude oil. And yet, even after President Buhari has released money to kick-start the clean-up, nothing has been done.”
Chief Barile Deebom, the traditional ruler of Keenwigbara Bane in Ken Khana Ogoni, homeland of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, said they are not satisfied with the government over oil spills in Ogoniland. Vice President, Bodocity Youth Federation, Mr. Peter Lenu explained that the Federal Government set up HYPREP to look for ways to restore the environment but that it (HYREP) never saw the light of day.
However, the traditional prime minister of Goi Community Chief Erick Bareeza
Dooh declared in a chat with The Authority: “We have not received any money from the government.”