7 September 2017

Nigeria: Edun - Govt Is Funding Governance Structures Needed for Ogoni Clean-Up

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) in Ogoniland, Mr. Wale Edun, has stated that the federal government has properly funded both the governing council and BoT of HYPREP, the two key elements of the governance structures required for the clean-up of Ogoniland and other impacted sites.

The two structures were set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in line with his promise to implement the UNEP Report, which recommended the setting up of $1 billion fund to clean up the oil pollution and ensure the environmental remediation to Ogoniland.

Speaking Wednesday on a programme anchored by the Editor and Executive Director of THISDAY Newspapers, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY, Edun stated that the HYPREP BoT was working with all the relevant stakeholders to develop a world-class framework to measure the achievements of the agency.

"We have an escrow account, we have investment advisers, fund managers are in place, we have technical advisers so that when we are given a list of what else has been done, we can check it properly.

"In fact, from the perspectives of the board of trustees, we have funded the governing council, we have funded the budget office and they are yet to apply those funds fully and come back for more," he said.

"But in the meantime, one thing I like to point out is that the idea is not just that the government or just the joint venture oil companies should fund this clean-up, we expect it to last for years and we expect it to cost huge amounts and so we are putting in place a structure that allows other people, other philanthropists, other institutions - national and international - to also put money in that fund.

"So it is not a project-based organisation that we are handling; it is a fund that can take money at any time and is committed to applying it properly; to applying it prudentially to the job of cleaning up Ogoniland," Edun explained.

Speaking on whether the $1 billion was meant only for the clean-up of oil pollution or could also be deployed to other initiatives such as providing health services and other amenities, Edun said the fund would also be used to intervene in the health sector and also in the provision of drinking water for the people of Ogoniland, whose environment was devastated by oil pollution..

"It is holistic, it is comprehensive. So it is for the clean-up of the land by remediation, clean-up of the water, provision of drinking water, restoration of the health of the people of Ogoniland, health intervention, restoration of the means of livelihood of the people as well.

"So for the young people, we have training programmes; there are empowerment programmes, as well as standards of restoring agriculture and restoring the fishing industry in Ogoniland.

"It is a comprehensive attempt to really restore the lives of the people," Edun explained.

Edun, an economist and former Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State, also spoke on the second quarter GDP growth recorded in the economy, reversing five consecutive quarters of contraction, especially on the oil and financial services sectors.

He noted that the information technology and transport sectors have recorded retarded growth, arguing that with the recovery of the country's oil production and oil prices, the economy recorded the growth as an oil-based economy, which had suffered when production and crude oil prices were down.

Edun added that with the recovery of the oil sector and the possibility of Hurricane Harvey in the US driving up oil prices, Nigeria would have the liquidity to drive the economy.

"With all that, we now have the liquidity to drive the economy forward and that is why we are seeing elements of growth. How this will last is a function of how far we keep doing the same thing.

"If we agree that it is liquidity that will has driven us out of recession, then we need to maintain it. When you look at the sources of liquidity for this country, it is a diversified economy - agriculture, industrial services and the private sector all contribute to growth.

"The fact is that it is the oil sector that provides the foreign exchange, that provides the liquidity, provides the government revenue and that is where the issue is and I think that is where the focus should be - on trying to maintain what we have done so far, which is improving the foreign exchange market and at the end of the day, it is all about investment," Edun explained.

He also commended the federal government for the achievement but added that for Nigerians to enjoy better standards of living as targeted by President Muhammadu Buhari, GDP growth would have to be much higher than the 0.55 per cent recorded in the second quarter of the year.

"The people in government are working hard and should be commended for what they have achieved so far but if you look at even the remarks coming from the president, they are looking at GDP growth of 0.55 per cent but to my mind, it is definitely not enough because what the president is saying is that he would like to see a situation where the lives of Nigerians will improve," he said.

To eliminate poverty in Nigeria, especially in the North-east, Edun said the people should have access to income, adding that this could only be achieved by creating employment opportunities.

He advised the government to create the enabling environment for the inflow of investments, stressing that the country's foreign reserves of $32 billion had also encouraged investments.

According to him, the government currently does not have the capacity to borrow because of the country's debt situation, adding that the money must come from the private sector, foreign direct investments and Diaspora remittances.

On whether or not the country should sell some of its oil assets, Edun said that could be an option but the concentration should be on building infrastructure to boost productivity.

He argued that government should not invest directly in infrastructure but should encourage public private partnerships (PPPs), and also make policies that would encourage the private sector as has been successfully done in Lagos State.

Edun stated that the sale of oil assets could be looked into as an immediate solution to creating liquidity but added that "what matters most is when that liquidity is achieved, what will be done with it?"

He recommended that states should diversify so as to play bigger roles in the economy.

According to him, most states were not doing well because they are not viable, stressing that this trend has to be reversed for the states to play bigger roles in the country's economy.

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