Sloppy pace of Ogoni cleanup angers host communities

Institutional bottlenecks, funding challenges, disenchantment by affected communities and political interference, among others, may stall the implementation of the Ogoni Cleanup Project, which was launched by the Federal Government one year ago.

Though the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), has called for expression of interest to prequalify for implementation of different aspects of the project, several Ogoni interests have vowed to resist any attempt to disregard the local content law.

A source on the governing council told The Guardian that nothing tangible may be achieved soon due to institutional bottlenecks such as the public procurement processes, which HYPREP has to contend with.

He explained that the delay in the commencement of the cleanup was occasioned by the refusal of the oil companies to make any financial commitments to the project until government sets up a board of trustee that would be accountable for disbursement of funds to HYPREP, adding that it was the formal registration of HYPREP that paved way for the release of $10 million take-off fund by Shell.

The source further revealed that since the setting up of the board and the subsequent appointment of the project coordinator, the whole process has been encumbered by bureaucratic bottleneck in the Ministry of Environment, in addition to public procurement processes.

“Everything is subject to the public procurement process. It is the same thing that slows down work in the ministry that is now slowing down HYPREP, even though the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had recommended an independent body to oversee the cleanup. If the Ogoni people had insisted on that, we fear that government could have scuttled it. Regrettably, it is government’s institutional problem that is slowing down things,” he said.

The source, which revealed that so far, the $10m that was released by Shell is being used to fund preliminary operations and administration of HYPREP, added that the cleanup might be further hampered by paucity of funds because the proposal of the project coordinator for 2017 alone was far beyond the initially released $10m, even as government, through the NNPC was yet to provide its counterpart funding for the year.

“The administrative funding for HYPREP has not been released. The government is supposed to fund HYPREP. So, we might have problems when it comes to government funding the project through the NNPC. I don’t think we will have difficulties with the oil companies. Shell has been telling everybody that it is prepared, and I don’t think Shell wants its image to be rubbished further. Where we may have problem is with the Federal Government”

“The project coordinator has to be proactive. We want to see water projects here, studies on health impact there. We and everyone in the area want to see so many activities going on. In spite of all these issues, we as governing council members are not happy with the slow pace of work, and even Shell is complaining because it is one of the projects it hopes to use to redeem itself,” he added.

Meanwhile, there is discontentment in some of the most impacted communities such as K-Dere, Bodo, Korokoro over lack of adequate consultation by HYPREP, and the Federal Ministry of Environment.

For instance, K-Dere community, which has 56 oil wells, a flow station, manifold and perceived to be the most contaminated, has petitioned the Minister of Environment to complain of marginalisation, and to demand that the Integrated Soil Management Centre should be located in the community, instead of Bori, where the groundbreaking ceremony was held in February this year.

On their parts, locals in K-Dere complained that politicians, who are not from the major oil producing and impacted communities are interfering with the cleanup process. They warned that if this continues, the cleanup project might be hampered.

A source, which pleaded anonymity at the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), said once the cleanup process begins, the agency would ensure certificates would only be issued to companies involved in the project only when the agency is satisfied that contamination level has depreciated approved levels.

“There is an advertisement for scooping job out there. The essence is to get the actual contamination level as at now, not what was done six years ago by UNEP, so that when contracts are awarded we know the level of contracts being awarded to individuals,” he said(GUARDIAN)

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