Ogoni Cleansing: Concerns over Transparency and Accountability as Project Relaunch
Jyears after the inauguration of a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) labeled “Ogoni Cleanup”, thousands of Ogoni natives from its six kingdoms of Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Ken-Khana, Nyo Khana and Tai have yet to feel the impact of the exercise which has swallowed up billions of naira.
Based on the initial request from the Federal Government and background work undertaken by UNEP, approximately eight assessments were formulated for the cleanup: these included a comprehensive assessment of all environmental issues associated with the oilfields in Ogoniland, quantification of impacts, the provision of useful advice given to undertake the remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater, the provision of recommendations to respond to future contamination of the environment by oilfields, as well as to build local capacity for better environmental management and promote awareness of sound environmental management and sustainable development.
Field observations and scientific investigations by UNEP have revealed that oil contamination in Ogoniland is widespread and has a serious impact on many elements of the environment. Even though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoni communities, oil spills continue to occur with alarming regularity, a situation that forces communities to live with pollution on a daily basis.
Remote sensing, according to the UNEP report, revealed a rapid proliferation over the past two years of artisanal refining, where crude oil is distilled in makeshift facilities. The study found that illegal activities endanger lives and cause pockets of environmental management problems.
Thus, President Muhammadu Buhari, in June 2016, re-inaugurated the Cleanup Project and established the Hydrocarbon Remediation Project (HYPREP) to oversee the total remediation of contaminated and polluted sites in Ogoni communities.
Indeed, oil pollution has destroyed aquatic life, the environment and drinking water sources in communities.
Therefore, the inauguration of the cleanup was met with pomp and pageantry by the locals who believed that the exercise would reclaim their environment and bring back their green vegetation and aquatic life. But the communities’ hopes were short-lived as UNEP’s long-awaited cleanup failed to achieve the desired goals.
A very worrying situation is the inability of the communities to access drinking water because the springs have been polluted by benzene and hydrocarbons.
The Federal Ministry of Environment in 2021 awarded a 6 billion naira contract for the provision of potable water in four Ogoni LGAs of Gokana, Khana, Eleme and Tai, but locals and some non-governmental organizations (NGOs ) said the water project was “simple”. boreholes that have not been up to the integrated water project recommended by UNEP.
The Ogoni also complained that they were not considered in the awarding of cleanup contracts, noting that of the six companies awarded the contract for the water project, only one contractor was indigenous.
One group, the Assembly of Ogoni Peoples (OPA), has previously called on the Minister of Environment to consider indigenous contractors in carrying out water and sanitation projects as part of the HYPREP cleanup.
OPA leader Reverend Tom Probel Williams said the Ogoni would resist any hijacking of the water rehabilitation contract and any HYPREP contract that did not give the Ogoni people the right of first choice.
He said fairness demanded that indigenous Ogoni lead the community, media and communications unit of HYPREP, as well as the management of water projects by qualified Ogoni companies.
Reverend Williams said: “The Honorable Minister should be informed that the Ogoni are marching past the largest crop of senior officials in Rivers State competent enough to fill all overdue openings requiring replacement in HYPREP.
“May we take this opportunity to inform you that Ogoniland, having suffered the highest number of oil spill incidents in the entire Niger Delta, with an average of over 1,000 spills, is marching the most experienced group of vendors to deliver world-class repair as evidenced by leading companies finishing first and at the top of the last two batches of HYPREP contract awards.
“It is fair to allow 60% Ogoni and 40% non-Ogoni in all contract awards in HYPREP. It is recorded that in March 2021, the Ogoni woke up to see that the Minister of Environment had awarded six water contracts worth over N6 billion and only one was awarded to an Ogoni contractor. We have just learned that the department is about to award 14 contracts without an Ogoni contractor being considered, even when we have multiple qualified contractors. We will vehemently resist any such initiative.
“It should be noted that this clean-up project is the product of a very costly struggle that claimed the lives of over 2,000 Ogonis, including Ken Saro-Wiwa. The issue of domestication, local content and capacity building is close to our hearts and we will pursue and guarantee it. Our heroes will not die in vain.
The group also sought sustainability and return on investment for the people and called for a smooth start of the Saakpenwa University of the Environment, the construction of a center of excellence, a management center waste management, as well as the relocation of the HYPREP office to Bori.
Dr Evidence Epaabari Enoch, the secretary of the OPA, criticized the process involved in awarding the water contract in Ogoniland.
He said the Ministry of Environment did not carry out a feasibility study before awarding the contract, noting that what the contractors had done was just simple drilling without treatment stations.
He said the water projects dug so far were not sustainable, noting that the water was still contaminated with benzene.
Mr. Fagule Nsuke, leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), said that the Ministry of Environment violated UNEP’s recommendation when awarding the water project.
He said UNEP recommended an integrated water project for the Ogoni communities, also noting that what was on the ground were mere boreholes containing benzene and hydrocarbon particles.
Our reporter’s findings revealed that HYPREP has carried out water projects in Alesa Eleme, Nowa Tai, Korokoro Tai, Barako, Gokana, Trerabo and Kpean.
HYPREP had previously tasked the contractors in charge of both sewerage and water contracts to accelerate action for the rapid completion of projects.
Former HYPREP Project Coordinator, Professor Philip Shekwolo, gave the charge during a performance review meeting held with contractors at the Project Coordination Office (PCO) in Port Harcourt.
He said HYPREP would not tolerate any delays in the completion of projects. He particularly disapproved of the slow pace of work at some sites and warned that some remediation contractors could risk being fired if contractors did not step up their efforts to complete them in record time.
He stressed that while HYPREP was willing to increase the capacity of local contractors, it would raise the bar in subsequent contracts to allow more financially viable remediation companies to enter.
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) recently sounded the alarm after discovering a toxic waste dump site by Shell in Kdere, Gokana.
ERA/FoEN, in a press release signed by attorney Mike Karikpo, its program director, said a team of its environmental field monitors visited Lots 13 and 14 on September 28, 2021 and updated Shell’s toxic waste dump site in the community of Kdere.
According to the release, some workers from Centennial Development and Investment Limited, the contractor responsible for cleaning and remediating Lot 13, Phase 1, Lot 1 of the HYPREP-lined cleanup sites, also complained of a powerful stench that escaped from the lot.
ERA/FoEN further said an environmental specialist on the team revealed that the stench and color of groundwater in the pit were signs that the site could be a toxic waste dump site.
The statement read in part: “The excavated area has been cordoned off, but despite the possible occupational health and safety implications in such a deleterious environment, work is still in progress in the various sections of the site and many workers did not have the benefit of protective masks or other protective equipment necessary for such dangerous work on the site.
ERA/FoEN recalled that in 2018, similar substances with very unpleasant odors were discovered at oil well No. 39 in the Kdere community, and laboratory analysis confirmed that the substances were waste. toxins buried there by Shell.
Lamenting the situation, Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, condemned Shell’s alleged frequent releases of foul-smelling toxic chemicals dumped at Ogoni. He said it was a major source of soil contamination and water pollution with serious health risks, noting that people in the community died in installments through no fault of their own, but greed and the looting of an oil company that allegedly broke the rules, but had perfected the art of repeatedly violating the people of Ogoniland and their environment.
Dr Ojo said that “what plays into the cleanup of Ogoni country in the discovery of secret toxic waste dumps is the lack of transparency and accountability in the operations of transnational oil companies throughout the Niger Delta which destroyed the environment, reduced potential livelihoods and impoverishment of the people. »
To this end, Dr Ojo called for “an immediate investigation by the relevant agencies, in particular NOSDRA, of the Shell waste dump to determine the level of toxicity and harm to people, the environment, livelihoods and to provide appropriate corrective measures”.
He added that “the federal government should urgently declare an ecological emergency in the Niger Delta to deal with the decades of ecological disaster in the region.”
Comrade Imeabe Savior Oscar, Chairman of Ogoni Youth Development Initiative and South-South Youth Initiative (OYDI/SSYI), however appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for his show of love through exercise cleaning the Ogoni.
He said President Buhari had proven he could be taken seriously for delivering on his campaign promise to the people of Ogoni, while noting that the clean-up exercise had suffered many setbacks under the president. previous administration, Goodluck Jonathan.
He said that the people of Ogoni made several demands for the implementation of the Ogoni clean-up exercise which he said were rejected by the then President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
He pointed out that during the tenure of the then administration, there had been no success in clearing the Ogoni except for the fact that there was an office space where staff resumed work.