Ogoniland cleanup: Fresh $1bn restoration fund needed

The August 2017 launch of the $1bn cleanup and restoration programme of the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta by the Federal Government came with refreshing hope, but now seen by the communities, as another failed promise.

Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, on August 7, 2017, launched a $1billion clean-up and restoration programme of the Ogoniland region in the Niger Delta.

Prof. Osinabjo said that financial and legislative frameworks had been put in place to begin implementing recommendations made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Speaking at an event in Port Harcourt attended by thousands, including former Nigeria football international Joseph Yobo and Miss Nigeria Pamela Lessi , the vice president said the federal government was now delivering on what was one of President Buhari’s key election promises.

He said the implementation will be based on recommendations from a 2011 UN Environment report, commissioned by the Nigerian government, on the impact of oil extraction in Ogoniland. The report found severe and widespread contamination of soil and groundwater across Ogoniland.

The report found that institutional control measures in place both in the oil industry and the government were not implemented adequately and thus proposed the establishment of a Restoration Authority with an explicit mandate to clean up Ogoniland and restore the ecosystems.

The report also recommended the establishment of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Fund with an initial capitalization of $1billion to cover the clean-up costs. However, controversy has continued to dodge the commencement of the clean-up or the establishment of the Fund especially after the exit of then Minister of Environment, who is currently the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed.

Speaking on the development, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mallam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, expressed fear that that the Federal Government may abandon the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, which assessed the extent of environmental pollution in the oil-rich Niger Delta. He said that the Presidency merely launched the commencement of the clean-up exercise with all the fanfare and simply went to sleep as nothing tangible has been done after a few visits by the Vice President Osinbajo and former Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed to the region.

“More than a year after the federal government launched the implementation of the Ogoni clean-up project, not much has been done to inspire anyone, not least the affected communities. The project has been weighed down by all kinds of silly excuses and institutional bureaucracy,” he said.

On his part, the founding Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD) Dr. Otive Igbuzor, said that the oil exploration in the Niger Delta led to environmental degradation, loss of livelihood and deprivation and general lack of development in the region.

He, therefore, called for immediate actions to redeem Nigeria’s image, especially that the nation has more to benefit from the clean-up. He said the overall cost of the clean-up should not be an obstacle to its implementation and that this can be achieved through an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland which should be set up with an initial capital injection of $1billion that can be contributed by the oil industry and the government.

On its part, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) and some leaders from the Ogoniland have accused the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) of deviating from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommendation in the clean-up of Ogoniland. They were speaking on the “Ogoni Clean-up Scorecard” and lamented that eight years after the UNEP report was released, the federal government has been paying lip-service to the clean-up of Ogoniland.

They also decried the lack of clarity on the process after four years of President Buhari Administration. The Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, said that there was a fundamental deviation by HYPREP from the recommendations and that the absence of Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre (ICSMC) as well as Centre of Excellence to train Ogonis and raise the needed manpower for the clean-up has been sidelined. “In July 2019, during ERA’s monitoring visit to clean up sites in Ogonis, ERA field monitors, media representatives, community leaders and leaders of civil society organisations were prevented by the community youths in Alode and Ejama Ebubu communities in Eleme local government area of Rivers State. We condemn the militarization of the clean-up process by HYPREP surrogates and in particular the prevention of ERA-led volunteers to inspect the sites,” Ojo said.

He insisted that independent field monitors require no approval before inspection of any polluted sites, hence HYPREP attitude was rather surprising, wondering what it was hiding and why are they refusing to wake up and open up to the people? He urged the federal government to call HYPREP to order and halt the deviation and implement the UNEP report following the detailed recommendation of the UN agency.

On their parts, the Traditional Ruler, Hcow /Goi Community, High Chief Eric B. Dooh and a leader, Hocon/Bodo Community, Chief Saint Emmah, called for the immediate commencement of the clean-up and that the government should stop playing politics but act on the clean-up. They also said that the success or otherwise of the Ogoni oil spill clean-up will affect the stoppage of desert encroachment in the North and other environmental challenges across the country.

FG links delay to cumbersome procurement processes However, stakeholders, especially from the federal government identified the cumbersome procurement processes in awarding contracts and non-payment of firms handling the project as reasons for the delay in the clean-up.

They spoke at a joint meeting of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Ogoni Trust Fund (OTF). It was organised by the Federal Ministry of Environment and Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in Abuja. Chairman, BoT, Ogoni Trust Fund, Chief Olawale Edun, said that the BoT’s role was to see to the collection of funds from international partners and manage such funds judiciously.

He argued that the project needed much more than the proposed $1billion. He said, “We are not happy with the pace of work and we are calling on the Accountant General of the Federation to appoint an auditor for fund administration of the project.”

Also, the Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, sought an abridged procurement process and an extension of the clean-up exercise to other oil-impacted states in the region.

He said that livelihoods and drinking water should be HYPREP’s priority as these were the essentials of the remediation programme, adding that these would facilitate the cleanup exercise.

On his part, the Minister of the Environment, Dr. Muhammad Abubakar, promised to holistically study the entire project and focus on the essential aspects such as water already on the ground. Responding, HYPREP’s Project Coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil, said that their medical team had treated 20,000 persons in council areas affected by oil and water pollution.