14 August 2018

Nigeria: Ogoni Clean-Up Is Well On Track

opinion

The attention of the Management of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP has been drawn to separate publications in The Guardian Newspaper of 6th August, 2018 with the titles, "Niger Delta Leaders, Stakeholders Decry Slow Pace of Ogoni Cleanup" and the Guardian editorial, "What's delaying the Ogoni cleanup project", respectively.

While we appreciate the writers and stakeholders behind the op-eds for raising some genuine concerns over the Ogoniland clean-up, as well as the people of Ogoni for their understanding and cooperation with the Project Coordination Office of HYPREP; we equally want to put the records straight on other issues brought forward in the reports as HYPREP is making crucial and final preparations for the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland.

The report stated that the Federal Government only contributes a paltry N20 million in the 2018 spending plan for the clean-up and that it translates to breach of covenant with the environmentally embattled people of Ogoniland. This is not the case, as the said N20 million is only an administrative cost to be borne by government and not part of the remediation funds. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other International Oil Companies (IOCs) are the contributing partners to the initial $1 billion for the clean-up project. As such, the issue of breach of covenant does not arise.

The other issue raised was the alleged slowness in implementation two years after the project was flagged off. What many persons know, including experts, but are not willing to admit is the fact that the Ogoni clean-up project is first of its kind in Nigeria in terms of scope and complexity and unlike what was done in the past for a clean-up that lacked detailed remediation plan and a variegation of remediation technologies to treat contaminated soil, underground water and swamp, the assessment that recommended the Ogoniland clean-up was carried out by an international body, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and so its implementation must of necessity meet international standards.

What we have done in the last 15 months is to follow those procedures and processes as recommended by the UNEP report and are now at the terminal stage to enter the field for remediation. What we do not want to do as a project is to sacrifice global standards on the altar of speed to get momentary commendation that cannot stand the test of time. A little more patience with us and we will get there.

It is gratifying to note that the Guardian editorial Board rightly noted that the Federal Government is "expected to create an Ogoniland Restoration Authority distinct from all existing institutions, create an environmental restoration fund, co-ordinate multi-stakeholders efforts and oversee institutional as well as regulatory reforms." It also noted that "As part of government's duty, President Buhari has since approved the setting up of a Board of Trustees to commence the process of implementation and also a Trust Fund to finance the programme."

As stated above, we have done this and more in the past one and half years in line with the provisions of the UNEP report. And as each stakeholder is expected to play their individual roles towards the successful implementation of the project, we call on the Ogoni people to sustain the peace we all enjoy for the overall attainment of corporate goals.

The success of the Ogoniland clean-up is to provide the template for the clean-up of the rest of the Niger Delta where there is oil pollution. This is the reason the project is called Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, and not Ogoniland Restoration Authority, as was recommended by UNEP, so that it can apply to other hydrocarbon impacted lands outside Ogoni by the time the Ogoniland clean-up is accomplished.

On the supposition that the current fast-track of the clean-up process is aimed at drawing good will for the President in the 2019 general elections, nothing could be further from the truth than that. The President had shortly after assuming office launched the clean-up in fulfillment of his electoral promise during the 2015 presidential election and had followed it up with the setting up of a Governing Council and Board of Trustees - structures that were lacking in the former HYPREP. This was done to make it run with less inference of government and to outlive any particular regime of government. The Project Coordination Office was to come after and since then we have been working to the point where we are now. It is only sheer coincidence that the last stage of the process leading to the actually remediation tails out just before an election year. For emphasis, the Ogoniland clean-up is not a campaign tool for the 2019 election, but a fulfillment of Buhari administration's promise. From all indication, it is obvious that President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo remain committed to the overall development of the Niger Delta region.

The entire perception of slowness of the project revolves round the fact that the Project Coordination Office insists on compliance with international best practices. When the process is fully completed, the Ogoni people, and indeed the entire Niger Delta, will be satisfied with the outcome that it was worth waiting for. HYPREP is not only carrying out remediation, but it is also providing potable water for the people, carrying out livelihoods training to give them alternative sources of income as well as conducting health impact study.

Also, HYPREP had advertised for pre-qualification of remediation companies and the list of successful companies published on our website, www.hyprep.gov.ng. We have also advertised for water and health impact study and the bids are now being evaluated. We have kick-started the process for livelihoods training and communities of Ogoni have graciously donated lands to support the process for which we are grateful. It must be categorically stated that the project is not a mirage as alleged in the said article; instead there is everything on ground to show that the Federal Government is committed to the clean-up project. Twice have we embarked on medical outreaches to Ogoni with an impressive record of more than 20,000 persons treated for various ailments and 300 surgeries carried out in Ogoniland; the testimonies are there for verification.

Also, we have carried out the delineation of impacted sites (which entails desk top study of UNEP data on all sites previously assessed, field investigation, sample collection and analysis, evaluation of analytical report, use of analytical results to calculate volume of soils to be treated) to get the current characterization status of the sites since the UNEP report was submitted in 2011 and the time lapse has necessitated a more recent investigation to update the data on those sites.

Again, I would like to emphasize that the clean-up of Ogoniland is not a subterfuge for the resumption of crude oil production in the area. Our mandate is a stand-alone - to remediate the environment and to restore livelihoods of the people.

We have not left the people of Ogoni in the dark about what we are doing. We have sensitized the leadership of impacted communities, engaged with Ogoni stakeholders at two different fora, as well as the youths and student bodies on all our activities. We now have records on a range of remediation technologies there is to be used for the clean-up as a result of a demonstration of remediation technologies that was carried out by volunteer companies at no cost to the project. Our assurance to the people of Ogoni and all Nigerians is that the project is on course to deliver on its mandate and we need their support.

Joseph is Media Assistant, Project Coordinator, HYPREP

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