The cleanup of Ogoniland in Rivers State has been a matter of deep concern to people who know the enormity of the devastation wrought on the environment at Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme Local Government Areas of the state.
On record, it is over 365 days since the Federal Government inaugurated the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, comprising the Board of Trustees, the Governing Council and Project Coordination team to take charge of the cleanup of Ogoni land.
Residents of the area are starting to get agitated over government's slowness in commencing the cleanup exercise estimated to gulp over $1billion, bringing to question the sincerity of the Federal Government in implementing the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP Report in the area.
Uncertainty: The development has largely created suspense for Nigerians, who look forward to applauding the present administration on the development of the embattled Niger Delta. The acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, had at a stakeholders' meeting in Port Harcourt, February, revealed that Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, would contribute $1billion for the clean-up, explaining that the payment would be made in five instalments of $200 million yearly.
When NDV visited some of the remediation sites, there was not visible work on the sites, but officials of HYPREP, the body in charge of the remediation, said that it had begun desk works, adding that preparations before cleanup proper were enormous.
Resign, KSA tells HYREP members
But then, Coordinator of Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, KSA, Chief Gani Topba, called for immediate resignation of members of the committee set up to pilot the implementation process, stressing that they (members of Board of Trustee and Governing Council) have failed to deliver the needed result to the people.
Topba, worried that work has not commenced at the affected sites one year after the constitution of committees by the Ag President, called on the FG to invite the UNEP team to do a reassessment of the Ogoni environment before carrying on with the process, stating that the current report had expired and could not impact positively on the people of the area.
"I am not happy with what is going on now. Look at the people that were appointed, Board of Trustee members and Governing Council, every day, they are on the media agreeing and disagreeing. The structure is supposed to have a communication channel where they are supposed to have their spokesman, but every day, they come up and defend the federal government. Is that their work?
"Sometimes, they will say the government has done well, another time they will say they have not done well, thereby causing confusion in the whole process. Members of the Governing Council and the Board of Trustee should all resign because they have failed the people in their obligation. They have not done anything since the day they gave them the mandate to go champion the implementation," he said.
What Osinbajo should do
According to Topba, "What the acting president needs to do is to compel the Ministry of Environment to invite UNEP to do a reassessment of Ogoni within four months and give them a report that should be implemented.
"If you carefully look at the whole process, you cannot say this is the difference they have made so far. This means that they have not done well for the Ogoni people. You see this issue of implementation of the UNEP report; everybody knows that that report has expired."
We are on course --HYREP
But, Project Coordinator, HYPREP, Dr. Marvin Dekil, disagreed with KSA, saying: "We have shown commitment to the implementation of the UNEP report. The government has set up the governing structure of HYPREP and the structure is such that can it survives political transition, so we have the governing council, board of trustee and the project coordination office.
"Within the period we started, we have set up a committee to look at the water requirement of the Ogoni people which is part of the emergency recommendation of the report. We set up a four- man committee drawn from each of the local government areas to identify poor water supply and facilities in Ogoni land.
"In the coming the months the people will see more activities from HYPREP. We have a functional office in Port Harcourt. We have to train them within resources, we are starting; we are at the foundation level putting together the building blocks for this work."
He emphasized: "The process of remediating a site is a very thorough one and time consuming. We do not want to do this the way they know it to be, which means to rush it and get it done in a wrong way. For you to remediate a site there is a lot of desk work involved. The task of remediating a polluted site is enormous. We appeal for patience so that we don't make mistake."
Declare state of emergency-- Nnimmo Bassey
On the other hand, Coordinator, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, expressed worries over the delay in the commencement of the process, stating that FG ought to declare state of emergency on the Ogoni and Niger Delta environment.
Bassey, an environmental activist, said: "August is coming and that will be the sixth anniversary of the UNEP report. Definitely we shall have seen something more on the ground. The process is slow and painful, something needs to be done to prove to us that something is really going on.
"Something needs to be done that will prove to us that work is really going on. Personally I expected to see alternative water supply for communities that are condemned to depend on obviously and clearly polluted water. Now the governing body of HYPREP has just endorsed the work plan and the board of trustee has also seen the work plan."
UN visits, backs HYREP
Meanwhile, United Nations and the National Oil Spill Detection Remediation Agency, NOSDRA, last Thursday, visited Ogoni land to ascertain the level of work done in the cleanup process.
Speaking at a contaminated site in Kwawa community, Khana Local Government Area, which HYPREP uses for the training of personnel for the cleanup, the resident coordinator, UN, Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallou, said the process has commenced, urging Ogoni people to be patient.
Kallou stated that the remediation process involved technical approaches that needed a lot of time to be achieved, saying "There are two conclusions I want to draw in my visit. This is a very technical investment; it is not a rural type of investment where you are going to see houses built within a short period of time. My appeal is patience, to ensure that the required technical needs are met and to ensure that at the end of the cleanup it is properly done.
"The beneficiary communities or the affected areas are looking up to what are the critical outputs of this investment, but the project is on. It needs to be given time to ensure that the technical aspect of the work is done properly. My advice to the project coordinator to look at a diversified approach with a rural development focus within the project itself that can be delivered in a short term."