Worries Over Ogoni Cleanup Heighten

  • 01/08/2017

The cleanup of Ogoni land, in line with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) recommendations, has again come under focus with stakeholders alleging non-performance by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), saddled with the responsibility of the cleanup exercise.

While the Movement For The Survival Of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Sustainable Ogoni People Initiative (SOPI), Save Our Ogoni Project, (SOOP) and Senate, among others are blaming HYPREP for tardiness in executing the project, the latter insists that the exercise, which it regards as scientific and time consuming, commenced since March this year.

Recently, a meeting of Ogoni leaders, other concerned bodies and representatives of HYPREP was held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital where leaders and traditional rulers expressed concerns over what they described as the seeming non-existence of the physical activity of the cleanup exercise by HYPREP.

Professor B.B. Fakae, the former Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University (RSU), formerly Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), whose science students under his watch participated fully in the scientific research of Ogoni soil test, is not happy with the delay in the cleanup.

Over eighty science students from the school joined foreign experts to carry out soil test in about three hundred (300) sites, which was successfully concluded in 2011 with the expectation that the actual cleanup will start almost immediately.

Fakae had in his capacity as a VC of the institution and an indigene of Ogoni who equally feels the impact of the pollution on the lives of his people, hosted two international trainings, which were highly commended by the United Nations. He trusted that only a clearly defined scientific approach could bring solution to the environmental crisis in Ogoni, and indeed, the Niger Delta region.

Though Fakae refused to blame politicians for the delay in the commencement of the actual cleanup of the Ogoniland one year after it was flagged-off, “the euphoria at which this flag off was done gave everybody the enthusiasm that everything will move fast,” he said.

“After the soil investigation in 2011 and we have still not started the actual cleanup of the polluted site, is not something anybody can be happy about. The delay has caused some variations in the process and I wished that something be done urgently,” Prof Fakae noted.

Indeed, June 2 last year was a historic day of atonement at Bodo, as Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President, flagged off the implementation of the UNEP, report on the cleanup of the heavily polluted Ogoni environment.

But, while the accusations and counter accusations continue, the rights activist, Annkio Briggs said the magnitude of the devastation in Ogoni land is so much that it would take fairly long time to fix it.

Briggs, who spoke last week at a press conference organised by some professionals on restructuring noted, “If you have gone through the issues in Niger Delta on environmental spills like I have done, I have been, across the Niger Delta, the devastation of the Niger Delta is not fixable, let us not deceive ourselves. It is not fixable in our lifetime, we must know that. If we do not know that we will not be able to take the right decision. We must know that the call that anybody can fix the environment of the Niger Delta is not true.”

But Dr. Marvin Dekil, Coordinator of HYPREP believes that the situation is summountable, while insisting that actual work has since commenced. “Remediation implementation of the UNEP report is a highly scientific process, it is a process that requires detailed scientific study and that process has begun.

Activities in HYPREP actually started in March this year. We have opened several demonstration sites in Bori, Bodo, K-Dere, Ogale and other places.”

However, Dr. Mpigi Ledornu, the executive director of SOPI told Sunday Independent that the sustainability of the Ogoni people was uppermost to the projects and programmes that come with the process of the cleanup.

“We were so happy when the President through his Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the cleanup process. But it is so sad that till today there is no cogent signal from the government to fulfill its promise,” he said.

Ledornu who is also in the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), Department of Petroleum Resources recalled that on the World’s Environment Day, Senator Remi Tinubu, Chairman Senate Committee on Environment raised the issue bordering on the Ogoni cleanup on the floor of the Senate. Her concerns were received the support of Senator Magnus Abe, the Senator representing Rivers Southeast Senatorial District, which is comprised the four Ogoni Local Government Areas.

Senator Tinubu believed that the development goals of ensuring clean water and hygiene environment through increased use of natural resources and reduction of toxic materials, combating climate change and its adverse effects, were far from the Ogonis.

According to Ledornu, “In sustainable Ogoni People Initiative, we partner with those that support the sustainability of Ogoniland. We’ve seen moves by the present National coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil of the new HYPREP who was part of the former one.

“We believe that as an insider, he will understand what needs to be done and does it well. What we don’t understand is the lack of awareness and synergy between local non-governmental organisations and HYPREP. It will be very proper for such synergy since the NGOs know more about the needs of the people and use participatory approach to reach out to them.

“The truth is that the people are suffering as a result of damage done to the environment these years. There are public health issues and socio-economic issues. But to tackle this capacity and capabilities of these households and individuals need to be built to enable them have a livelihood.

“In SOPI, we identify skills and harness it to build livelihood for the Ogonis. We wish the Federal Government will fulfill its promise to the Ogonis and make the environment a safe place for us to live again.”

Spokesman of MOSOP, Fegalo Nsuke said when soldiers are deployed to Ogoniland, it is always reasonably concluded that some innocent blood are about to be spilled. That has been the story of Ogoni people and the reason the Nigerian Army can never be trusted each time there is  news of its deployment or possible deployment to Ogoniland.

For instance, he said that on Monday June 13, 2017, the Project Coordinator for HYPREP, Dr. Marvin Dekil had told the U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart William Symington of a plan to deploy soldiers to Ogoniland to stop the re-pollution of the area through illegal refining of crude oil.

“I have reasons to doubt Dekil’s sincerity and strongly believe that the planned deployment of soldiers to Ogoniland should have nothing to do with environmental threats from illegal refiners,” he said.

He argued that Dekil’s real motive of contemplating the invitation of soldiers into Ogoniland is suspicious given the fact that the HYPREP Coordinator knows the illegal refiners and have personally engaged them.

“Why invite soldiers to come and terrorise Ogoniland when you know those causing the trouble and you are so close to them to the extent that you can hold meetings with them? Shouldn’t the Police and our courts be able to deal with people like this who are so well known to us?

“Why do we always like to engage and reward criminals in this country and get innocent people to suffer? We pay those who took up arms against the state yet we cannot provide basic drinking water and electricity for people like the Ogonis whose resources fund our national budget,” Fegalo added.

Another group known as the ‘Save Our Ogoni Project’ said it is deeply concerned about what it described as the secrecy and clear lack of openness and consultations going on within HYPREP as it portends real danger to the peace of Ogoniland and to the “$200million recently released by Shell for the Ogoni cleanup”.

The coordinator of the group, Anthony Aalo said that he believes that the Governing Council and particularly the project coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil of HYPREP hold whatever offices in trust for the Ogoni people and therefore, are obliged to report back to the people.

On the finances of HYPREP, he said: “We have lost confidence in the leadership of HYPREP and suspect that the $200million paid by Shell may have been deposited in a private account instead of being kept in the Ogoni Trust Fund.

“We therefore demand that the Ogoni public should be briefed and notified on the state of the fund.

“We are concerned about the secret recruitment of youths for oversees training drawn from a particular political party affiliation and the failure of accountability within HYPREP while the organisation hastily appears to be engaged in activities that only suggest attempts to justify its reckless spending patterns,” he alleged.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government had earlier approved the sum of $10million for the funding of HYPREP secretariat.

The Save Our Ogoni Project therefore demands that the project coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil should make his work plan public, disclose the state of the finances of HYPREP for Ogoni cleanup and cancel the partisan list of trainees he has already drawn.

Speaking exclusively with Sunday Independent in Port Harcourt, Dekil said that their immediate concern for the people was access to portable and clean drinking water.

The committee we set up to look into the issues of drinking water has come out with a very good report. The report highlights in every community whether there is a water treatment facility or not. We undertake the exercise in consultation with the Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources, Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

With this collaboration, we put together a report, which we are working with. We are beginning to go into the communities to assess the status of each of these facilities and which one we can easily activate to get water for the people on a quick intervention.

In the long-term plan, we will design a comprehensive water scheme for communities affected in Ogoni land so that they will have portable water.

The environmentalist confirmed to Sunday Independent that the exercise is on course in spite of what he refers to as a misconception.

Insisting that the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland has actually started, he said that several companies that have developed interest in the project have been assigned to various sites to test their technical efficacy in handling such a very sensitive project like the cleanup of the vastly polluted environment.

Denkil said that there was no hindrance to the implementation as speculated by people, adding that they have set up a 4-man team for water which is an integral part of the report. “We go into the communities to access and get water well treated for the people.”

According to him, “We are used to system of not doing something well in this country. That is why people are eager to see that something is done urgently. It cannot be that way. We have to take time and do what is right. Like I said, the process is ongoing and this is a highly technical process.

“Recently we held a technical training for people with Masters Degree upward to provide technical assistance. The American Ambassador was in this office. They know that the process has started. We are not complaining about anything.”

The environmental scientist said in the next six months they will be able to record a considerable milestone which will be appreciated by the people.

Speaking further, he said, “Last month, we did a training of technical assistance, this involved people with Master’s degree and above in related discipline.  In fact the UN Resident Representative met the team in the field. Because they understand the technicalities of the exercise, they also understood that the process has started. Those that say the process has not started is either they are not communicating with us even when we are open to talk to them or they don’t understand that the things are not going to be done in their usual way. These things have to be done professionally and we are in the process of getting it right this time.”

Confirming the financial development of the cleanup, Legborsi Pyagbara, President of MOSOP and member of the Governing Council of the HYPREP said the Federal Government has so far released US$10million for the project.

“US10million has been released and paid into HYPREP account. But this is grossly inadequate to start anything reasonable as far as the cleanup exercise is concerned,” Legborsi said.

“The major partners, which include Shell, Agip, Total and the NNPC said they would pay US$200million annually in a space of five years for the cleanup. We have to build center of excellence in Ogoni and other key projects. That is why the initial US$10million is not enough”. Magnus Abe, senator representing the Rivers southeast senatorial district in the Red Chamber, said that he would ensure the commencement and completion of the cleanup project.

“I was talking with some friends the other day about the Ogoni clean-up. We have worked on that and we are still working on it. In this year’s budget, total provision of over $190 million had been made.”

“It is supposed to be $200m and we are still pushing for it to be made $200m for the take-off of the cleanup project for the year. That is part of what Shell Petroleum Development Company is to contribute for the clean-up exercise for the year.

“I am also working with the Senate Committee on Power to try to create impact of the power project in the senatorial district particularly in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State. We are also trying to expand the power project in Andoni Local Government Area as part of our constituency project this year.”

Also giving some degree of hope to the Ogoni people, the former deputy speaker of the Rivers state House of Assembly, Hon. Leyii Kwanee said he was happy that President Mohammadu Buhari had started the process of Ogoni cleanup.

“It is a good thing that this government has started the process. Our own son from the Niger Delta spent six years as President, yet he did not do anything to better the lots of Ogoni people as far as the Ogoni environment is concerned”.

POLITICAL TWIST

Since virtually everything in Nigeria appears to be attached to politics, the greatest fear of people about the cleanup of the Ogoniland is that with the fast approaching political season, the cleanup matter will gain less attention.

Some analysts believe that it will be a double header for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in the sense that, should the Federal Government reignite the vigor in carrying out the exercise between now and next year, people will simply conclude that the party is looking for vote from Ogonis.

Credit: Independent.ng

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