By August 4, 2023, the cleanup of Ogoni as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Progamme (UNEP) is exactly 12 years in motion with little progress.
So far, only $300m has been released for jobs out of the $1bn put down by those the UN identified as the polluters (the joint venture partners led by the then Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with project execution done by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
Now, multiple sources in the civil society community (CSO) admit that since less than one third of the fund ($300m) is what has been released for work, invariably, less than one third of cleanup is being attempted. The sources also said no site has been concluded and handed over, though the media unit of HYPREP headed by Kpoobari Naava, put the official number of completed sites at 36 out of 50 lots in the phase one and two while 13 lots are at different stages of NOSDRA close out and one still ongoing.
He said 39 lots awarded in phase two and that contractors have been mobilised to move to site.
All the sources however, affirmed that the sites so far being attended to are graded as lowly impacted whereas complicated sites are about to be given attention.
Clean up journey
For years now, the biggest issue out of Ogoni is cleaning and cleaning, but many wonder how far the exercise has got to and the meaning of the cleanup.
The Ogoni cleanup is as a result of decades of environmental pollution since oil was discovered in 1958, up to the time Ogonis regard as the conscious era when a movement was created known as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). This was the time when the Ogoni people realised that their survival as a people was tied to their environment and that this environment had been polluted and for them to survive, the environment must be cleaned and restored to how nature made it.
This activism led to the expulsion of Shell (SPDC) in 1993. The agitation continued and two years later (about 1995), Ogoni leaders were being arrested and allegedly killed. This culminated in what is now known as the ‘Ogoni-9’ (the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and other activists) and the alleged death of 4000 others.
In 2005 the FG decided to do something about this endless crisis in Ogoni, and the then Olusegun Obasanjo regime invited the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to carry out a study into the Ogoni environment to ascertain the claims of the people that their anger was the pollution of the natural habitat. The UNEP was commissioned to see if it was true; this was between 2007 and 2009. The UNEP went round Ogoni Local Council Areas of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme and by August 4, 2011, and came up with a verdict of yes; Ogoni was polluted. They issued what was known all over the world as an Ogoni Report.
Now, the Ogoni expected immediate action. To everyone’s surprise, the Federal Government (at that point headed by Goodluck Jonathan, a son of the Niger Delta) refused to take action, as many Ogonis see it. He rather set up what was called the Hydrocarbon Pollution & Restoration Project (HYPREP) in 2012.
This too became an issue and the activists agitated again to remove the word ‘Restoration’ in the name because, as one activist told BusinessDay on the anniversary day, you cannot restore hydrocarbon in a polluted environment.
According to Fynface Dumnamene Fyneface, an environmental justice activist, human rights defender, and executive director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), who is an Ogoni-born activist: “We also kicked against the agency being under the Ministry of Petroleum (and the NNPC) because we regarded the Ministry and the NNPC as the major polluters. At last, HYPREP was removed from the Ministry of Petroleum and other polluters were removed and restructuring took place.”
BusinessDay finding showed that in 2016 (Muhammadu Buhari time), the cleanup was taken up with seriousness. HYPREP was restructured and the board was set up and the flag-off was done at Bodo. By this time, about two communities had become extinct or no more in their original locations.
In 2017, the first board was set up and the first Project Coordinator, Marvin Dekil, a doctorate degree holder, came but was removed after four years without reappointment. He was replaced by a professor and head of remediation in Shell, Phillip Shokolo. His entry attracted uproar in some quarters because he was seen as a man from Shell, especially activists some of whom accused him of coming to do Shell’s bidding. He was later removed.
In 2022, another doctorate degree holder, Ferdinand Giadom, was appointed but he too faced criticisms and was removed after only two years.
Now, substantive Project Coordinator, a second professor, Nanibarini Zabbey, was appointed in May 2023. This attracted many positive reactions. The Centre for Environmental, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) described it thus: “The appointment of Prof. Zabbey is well deserved and commendable. It amounts to placing a round peg in a round hole. We are overwhelmed by joy as we consider the appointment as a big win for the environmental CSOs in the region and beyond which have been at the forefront of the struggle for environmental justice.”
Assessment so far:
Independent assessment of the cleanup looks gloomy. This may be majorly due to the close-lips and closed-door communication approach in the place. Emergency measures which the UNEP Report recommended right from the beginning was ignored, according to CSOs that spoke on the progress report. “They appeared to want to put money in the pockets of the big guys by going into big-ticket projects,” one source stated.
So far, $300m has been released by the International Oil Corporations (IOCs) but close observers and CSOs say HYPREP has not been able to spend it.
One source said: “HYPREP’s problem is how to spend the money, not money to spend. The people are yelling for solutions to various maladies but HYPREP seems helpless.
“Let us believe that the new man will do better and clean up Ogoni as mandated by the UNEP Report.”
Financial drawdowns and drawbacks
It sounds logical that if only one about third of the clean-up fund is what has so far been released, it means that only one third of Ogoni pollution has been cleaned.
In 2018, HYPREP awarded remediation jobs but some prominent CSOs claimed that none has been delivered today. Many say this is due to skewed selection processes that led to poor execution. It is openly said that some of the contractors are farming companies and others previously doing non-remediation related jobs that were given such sensitive jobs. Official sources however, claim 36 have been completed, but CSOs say the disparity in what HYPRP knows and what the masses know shows the huge information gap in the cleanup scheme, something the world has interest in. Information online stops at 2020.
Sources said and the head of media confirmed that new jobs have been awarded. It was gathered that the sites so far attended to are low grade, not complicated sites. “They are now trying to move into the big and the more complicated sites. We don’t understand why they can’t perform,” said the close source.
Fyneface said HYPREP complains of procurement method because they are under the Ministry system (Federal Ministry of Environment). “We are kicking for reduction of bureaucracy.
“There are strategies anybody can use to side-step the constraints from due process. If bureaucracy say you must wait for six months after advertising before award of contracts, one could roll out many contracts and advertise them for the required six months at same time. After this, one would push out many contracts. Then, work would be going on in many places at the same time.”
He stated that the IOCs have gone to the National Assembly to state that, look, they have the money. “They say it is just to spend it and give account of what was spent and collect the next batch of money (drawdown). HYPREP has not been able to meet this simple target; spend and show proof. They have not been able to account for money spent. IOCs are having Ogoni money in their vaults because HYPREP has not been able to perform.”
Many CSOs say the $1bn put down is just for the first five years but because HYPREP has not been able to spend it, many do not know when they will spend the rest and get more.
YEAC boss said: “See, Bayelsa pollution report says $12bn is needed. Now, Ogoni pollution is bigger but only $1bn was awarded, more is needed. By now, Ogoni would have been asking for up to $5bn if they had spent the $1bn released. Money is not the problem, they say.”
Observers are beginning to question the ceaseless drawbacks and criticisms from Ogoni when only Ogoni persons have so far been appointed to head HYPREP, yet, they have not been able to meet the expectation of their people.
Fyneface attempted an answer: “It’s a strategic government policy that Ogoni should head HYPREP. It’s regarded that its Ogoni blood that was wasted and that if the FG should bring outsiders, trouble could erupt, but I have warned my Ogoni brothers that if Ogoni keeps failing, the FG would have excuse to bring outsiders.”
Many however, wonder why Ogoni people fail in HYPREP. The major reason they give is that HYPREP can’t act on any matter unless they go to the Ministry. “Most people believe that the Minister picks his boy and sends as an errand boy as Project Coordinator. So, such a person cannot act. We want HYPREP to be autonomous,” YEAC boss stated.
If lack of autonomy is the cause of delay, but the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was autonomous at the beginning but only corruption and looting were seen oozing out of the place, as confirmed by the forensic audit. What then is the way forward?
Many say best way remains autonomy. They argue that because the Ogoni populace is galvanised, that the CEO of HYPREP would not be allowed to do full wrong. There are court cases against people who do what the people do not like in Ogoni, it was gathered.
The activists have been fighting and they say the excessive bureaucracy is loosening a bit. Before now, even a tweet must pass through the Ministry of Environment. So, if it can become autonomous, better, they said.
Many claim that this is why newsmen are complaining that they have been shut out of happenings in the clean-up by HYPREP whereas many believe that Ogoni struggle is a global subject and that the clean-up must also be done with global watch through the media, especially periodic media briefings in Port Harcourt before the independent media, not just for handpicked few with clipped loyalty.
YEAC boss said: “I think this situation is due to too much bureaucracy. Some foreign journalists fly in to see things for themselves but fly back without information. It’s sad, but they are trying to open up.
“In 2018, we the CSOs opened a platform for quarterly briefing but it never worked. HYPREP rather has a journal called HYPREP Herald but media men say they have never set eyes on it. They should allow independent access to their work and sites. The process should not be skewed.”
Life in polluted communities still brutish
Independent sources told BusinessDay that life in polluted communities is still brutish; there is no water, no access to health, etc. The UNEP Report stipulated what should happen from the onset but many said it’s not happening. Putting money to pockets of big boys still looks like the objective.
There is no information about the clean-up scheme, they insist. HYPREP has sent out many achievements including giving water to people and that the 100-bed hospital in Ogoni is open, etc, but CSOs say it looks like putting the cart before the horse, though better than nothing.
Water: on how people drink water in these communities, one of the CSOs working with impacted communities said the villagers cannot afford bottled or “pure” (sachet) water. One source in Ogale said a family finds hydrocarbon coming out of boreholes. The family depends on sachet water to bathe and eat.
So, poisoning and dyeing are said to be going on. “They drink poisoned water but blame deaths on kinsmen instead of polluted water.”
Fyneface has advice on this: “My advice is for HYPREP to energise the whole system and help people to live. Alternative livelihood has not been addressed. A lot of people depend on cat fish, etc, because fishing has died. UNEP did not address this much.”
He said $10m was released a long time ago for alternative livelihood activities, but it’s not well used. “They send people to have some training outside the country, though we do not know if the fund comes from the $10m. The real youths are not touched. There is re-pollution because idle youths are breaking the pipes and stealing crude for refining.”
Experts have been telling HYPREP what to do in terms of alternative livelihood because one cannot be cleaning when the tap is still running (re-pollution).
It is said that stopping re-pollution is a worthy project because if you stop it, not only HYPREP will gain but the IOCs will make more money and have more money to use for cleaning.
For whatever reason, most persons see the cleanup as mere scam. The transparency and openness in HYPREP may need more attention so most interested persons can see and know what exactly is happening. Many have wondered why protests are not going on in Ogoni of less than one third has been cleaned in 12 years and more billions are possible for the Ogoni should the first $1bn is properly spent.