Ogoni clean up, not a jamboree, but where is the money? - by Ignatius Chukwu

Huge doubts have continued to create fogs around the $1billion Ogoni cleanup project that ought to be eight years in progress since 2011 when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) submitted its report to the Federal Government then led by a Niger Delta son, Goodluck Jonathan.

Fears are rife that just as Jonathan did not intend to clean up Ogoni within the UN framework, President Muhammadu Buhari may also be toeing the same line; motion without movement. Besides, the people have continued to ask to know where the $1billion the UN asked Shell to put down can be located. Many also want to know where the $10million that Shell said it has since made available can be traced.

The battle to clean up the Clean Up

Now, groups that work closely with the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP), the agency revamped and gazetted by the Buhari administration since 2016 to begin action, attempted with great caution to prove that the project was no jamboree. Fearful of soiling their hard-earned reputations, the civil society organisations (CSOs) made up mostly of clerics and other activists of many years standing, tried to create confidence in the clean up and to point to where the money is.

At the one-day stakeholders’ dialogue in Port Harcourt on May 3, 2018 conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Peace, Development and Child Welfare (CEPEDECW), four CSOs briefed the media of the outcome of the stormy dialogue within them where HYPREP presented updates. The CEOs included Emem Okon, Executive Director, Lekbetkache Women Development & Resource Centre; Inemo Samiama, Coordinator, Centre of Peace, Development and Child Welfare (CEPEDECW); the reverend, Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HMEF); and a catholic priest, Abel Agbulu, head, Pax Viva Foundation, faith-based Ecumenical Coalition for Community Peace Building.

Speaking on the theme, ‘Building Trust & Common Ground for the Clean Up’, Samiama of CEPEDECW who played active role in the ongoing Bodo cleanup project won through out of court settlement, presented a communiqué of the workshop which found expectation gap and re-pollution as major treats to the cleanup project.

The fire flew from the news men who wanted to know if the project was not a forgone jamboree. They pelted the CSOs to show where the money for the cleanup was, if they were ready to put their reputations on the line for the FG. The reverend, Bassey, took up the challenge as an observer-member of HYPREP representing CSOs. He said; “The $10million you talked about is in an escrow account. The Ogoni Trust Fund which has just been signed by the vice president is to warehouse the cleanup fund. Look, transparency is highly needed. The fund can even be invested to increase it or attract more. On where the $10million has been all this while, the board has just called for account of it. There is detailed financial management system which requires that every amount spent is accounted for and reported.”

He went on: “If it were a jamboree, many of us will not be involved. I have spent 30 years holding polluters accountable. People have a reason to have doubt and it is necessary. This is the biggest cleanup project in the world today. Niger Delta is even bigger and Ogoni clean up will provide a model for all of it. Why the funds will have to be invested is because, let funds not be idle. Funding is not an issue because it would be released when needed.”

Another cleric, Agbulu (of Pax Viva) added: “There is need for encouragement. Collaboration between HYPREP and CSOs to be stronger and the CSOs would help tell the people updates on the process. Much is being done but there is no portal to report them. So, this will begin to happen.”

Agbulu, who was key to peace and reconciliation in Bodo that led to the clean up there was reacting to calls for a portal on Ogoni clean up to give equal update to all stakeholders real time.

The convener, Samiama of CEPEDECW said: “Performance so far is steady. This is not a jamboree? It is not a one day affair, so different persons have different perceptions. It is too early to say it failed. Structures are being put on ground. It is not a jamboree. HYPREP has been gazetted, funds set aside, UNEP is involved, and the Ogoni are people through MOSOP and KAGOTE. All these people cannot be a fraud. Yes, stakeholders want action and there is need for communication. Engagements such as this are absolutely necessary to ensure feedback, sensitization, etc. Infographics are out already to help HYPREP communicate with the ordinary people”.

HYPREP puts up a fight

An official from HYPREP, Marvin Dekil, briefed the roundtable on updates of the clean up, saying it is intact. He said over 400 companies have indicated interest in the clean up and that selection was ongoing. “Clean up is intact and the government is committed. We are visiting communities in Ogoni on sensitisation and so far over 12 have been visited. We are soliciting the support of community in the area. We have started technical work; delineation is going on and we have advertised for interested companies for clean up to show interest through Expression of Interest. Over 400 local and foreign companies indicated interest at the close of the deadline being Monday, April 30, 2018. We are now selecting the good ones,” Dekil said.

He was further quoted thus: “Health outreach programme also started in 2017 because there is need for media attention to the people in the communities. The huge turnout led to a second phase. It took place in all the four local council areas of Ogoni using two healthcare centres each. So far, 20,000 patients have been treated. There has been outpouring of support by the local people. Most local people who never expected anything got treatments. Some of them testified that this one has been done well without rancour.’

He said the minister of environment visited the state in the last week of April on the matter of soot, and that soot is connected to the main issue in question, which is artisanal refining that produces soot and disrupts the clean up. “Pressure on clean up should equally go to bush refining (kpo-fire). HYPREP needs the support of all. We are keen on clean up,” he said.

Measuring the Ogoni pulse

The FG needs to understand that the problem in Ogoni is beyond money. The perception crisis in the place that has fought for over 20 years and lost over 2000 sons and daughters is huge. A source said a study was presented at the workshop to show how the Ogoni feel about the cleanup project.

Sam Kobari, PhD, an Ogoni and a force in the activist community and head of the Centre for Environment Rights and Human Development (CERHD), was said to have laid the facts bare through a study recently conducted on the clean up. On community perception of clean up, he found that the Ogoni, about one million people predominantly farmers and fishermen, located in four local council areas of Rivers South-East region, understand the clean up ordered by the UN as compensation for their years of suffering and oil spillage.

He wants HYPREP to manage the expectation of the impacted communities better.

He was quoted to have said: “Our research took us to eight impacted communities where we talked to 240 community members; talking to top people gave different opinions from talking to the ordinary people in Ogoni. Response system in spills: Who do you report to: 81 percent say there is no emergency response to their knowledge; 51 percent admit they have once reported spill and 56 percent said no effective system in place. Thirty seven (37) of the 240 said they learn things about spill from social media, an indication that leaders are not on ground and do not carry messages home; 58 percent said they depend on radio.”

He went on: “What is clean up? Their response showed their understanding thus: Compensation, creation of jobs, removal of oil spill. Has clean up started? 87 percent said it has not started, and asked the researchers if they saw any sign of it. Perception: 69 percent have negative notion of the Clean up; reason, no action, no jobs yet, etc. They have doubt. 57 percent believe it will ever go well if it does start. Youth: They expect it is for them, or they will be involved. They want reduction of political interference. They expect that if political intervention is removed, credible companies used, UNEP involved, it will work. Expectation: Jobs first before restoring environment; they demand sincerity on the part of the government (FG), adequate compensation, sufficient funding of the clean up.”

Pollution is now highest killer in the world – Nnimmo Bassey

The grandfather of environmental activism in the oil region, Nnimmo Bassey, delivered a thought-provoking lecture where he pointed out how bad it is to play with pollution, especially one caused by cancer-triggering benzene from oil and gas.

He said: “Nigeria is one of the most polluted nations in the world (Reports put PH at 180 points, highest in the world). Ogoni is classified as a deadly environment because it has high cancer causing agent. Therefore, anything to clean it up is most welcome, much needed, and the best must be done. We must hold all stakeholders to account; FG, state government, local councils in Ogoni, oil companies and all of us”.

He said Ogoni is now a metaphor or symbol for resistance against pollution; and shows that neglect of environmental regulations is cause of pollution. “The Ogoni Bill of Rights meant to fight environmental pollution was written as far back as 1990, but how far has the environment changed since then? The OBR was an inspiring piece of writing to other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta which led to other declarations such as Kaiama, Ikwerre, Urhobo). This is a wakeup call. Environment unites us all in Nigeria. The Ogoni struggle is the most successful because it has clear strategy, clear target; it shows what could happen when communities come together.”

He recalled the writings of Ken Saro Wiwa’s words in prison: “Silence would be treason when the land is ravaged, the air is polluted”. In Ken’s ‘A Month and a Day’, in every nation, there are Ogonis; people marginalised who have no future. “So, it’s important for our people to demand for their rights to exist. We are all Ogoni. The poisoned water flowing below reaches everywhere.”

On oil, he said: “Oil sabotage is rampant, and there is too much interference in oil facilities. Militarisation of the Niger Delta cannot stop it but would rather aggravate it. Bush refineries: There should be study on why it came into being and how it can be stopped. Do the bush refiners know the real danger of that activity? Oil companies easily show the illegal activities of bunkerers but their own pollution goes on unnoticed. Security agencies must be made to realise that their method is contributing more to pollution than stop it. Life expectancy in the region (41 years) is least in the world. Burial ceremonies take over from festivals in our communities. It is a new tourism spectacle”.

He said clean up is a clear example of social engineering. “It calls for sacrifice. It is not to make people wealthy but may create jobs, and the competences to face the larger Niger Delta cleaning. So, we say ‘No’ to profiteering and cutting corners. Some people have said; you cannot successfully mop the floor while the tap is running. Re-pollution is evil.”

In his conclusion he said: “We cannot leave a legacy tomorrow with pollution today. Zero pollution to old and new pollution is what we demand. Yes, oil belongs to us but we cannot use what belongs to us to kill us. Every single pollution agent must be identified. Saying that re-pollution can go on since clean up has not started is wrong. It is time to hold people accountable. We must go together.”

Inemo Samiama: Info-graphics needed to communicate clean up

Samiama, a pro-people activist with a touch of creativity with striking brilliance, thinks new ways to converse with the people on clean up must be adopted. He chose infographics. He said: “This involves use of images to communicate the meaning of clean up to the people. Bodo clean up is going on in three phases; Collecting all the oil on water and land; Remediation; Restoration. Now, after first phase, birds were seen flying all over. We tried to find out and the locals said because of return of fish to good waters, birds that do hunt for fish are back. The sad aspect is that re-pollution is going on in Bodo. Just after phase one, bush refining is going on already.”

He smiles at tomorrow, saying, after Ogoni clean up, the entire Ogoni will flourish again. “Water supply to Ogoni is a right as enshrined in the UNEP Report of 2011. The Ogale wells had 4000 percent of benzene. As part of my own activism to attract attention and support to Ogoni situation, I collected the water in bottles and went to Abuja with them and gave them to all the embassies. It produced instant result. Some did not want to even touch the bottles. They started looking for how to help.”

He said HYPREP is in touch with Oxford University and the University of Port Harcourt to produce a health impact assessment in the Niger Delta. “If life expectancy is such low, why is nobody investigating it? Why are the governors of the region not bothered, not campaigning on this, not setting funds to assess it and make demands on this? Why do we have to do a march on Soot before anybody or government would react? There is need to create alternative livelihoods for the youths so as to reduce the reliance on illegal lifestyles especially bush refineries. More pollution is going on for people to keep making money out of oil. We care, and people should care; due to oil boom, life expectancy is now very low. Amnesty International reports on level of pollution in the oil region is very alarming. If it were in any other region of the world, it would have become an emergency by now. In Nigeria, its normal living in polluted water and drink poisoned water, die young, etc, just for oil to go on. Oil/Gas operates in other countries but they do not have pollution crisis. Why is it allowed to go on in Nigeria? Does the government really care? The government is very quick to make sure that oil production goes on. Living with pollution is not normal. So, all stakeholders must help. Do not re-pollute. Its either we want clean up or not.”

It was made clear that over 9million persons die yearly from pollution worldwide and that it is worse than all persons killed by wars.

He added with insights from Bodo: “There are confidence mechanisms. Scrap team would evaluate the land before and after clean while project directorate manages the cleanup process (Mark Cowen is involved in this). All Nigerian regulatory agencies are involved; International and local experts are involved too. If work is allowed to the end, we may have that one shining example of clean up in any place in the Niger Delta. Bodo clean up is from a litigation process. Let’s learn lessons and do things correctly.”

Others:

Fidelis Allen, another doctorate degree holder, in his presentation, said the type of contracts between oil companies and communities over the years has not helped matters. He said shortcomings from International Oil Corporations (IOCs) and communities can make one lose hope that things would ever change. “Conflicts could still emerge even after clean up. Optimism has been injured because many say if it is to last for 30 years and if it had started in 2011, it would have been eight years of its action by now. Clean up has much to do with development goals.”

In a goodwill message, the Senate committee chairman on environment, Oluremi Tinubu, who was represented by one of her aides, wondered why the clean up was delaying in the presence of clear guidelines. “Guidelines are clear, just implement them. Relevant agencies must work together to achieve the clean up. The UNEP Report is clear and the HYPREP guidelines are also clear; just implement them to save the lives of our people. Let the people of the area allow things to work because if there is no peace, nothing will happen. Above all, stop oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism.”

The one day dialogue seemed to caress the tiger by the whiskers. Is the clean up a jamboree? It is expected that after the counters, the stakeholders now know whether it is still perceived as a jamboree or not. It is left for them also to decide whether they now know where the funds are lodged or not.

Where actually is the main money?

Nobody told them at the event that Shell once hinted where the main money is. They had once said that the company provides $180million out of the annual $200million stipulated by UNEP in their joint venture JV) budgets every year waiting for FG and HYPREP to demand for it for projects. Other culprits are to provide $20million yearly, too. Shell has always said they cannot release except in accordance with UNEP guidelines, which is when actual work starts. The initial $10million is to start administrative processes including buildings for HYPREP and groundwork for actual capital expenditure. This was not disclosed there.

Conclusion

The organisers of the dialogue said the roundtable was about building common ground for the cleanup project and that the ‘Ogoni Clean Up’ is real though with information gaps. This makes people to ask, why so long? They said insiders know the cleanup is a process, not just an event. No information, no knowledge, and rumours take over.

 

Ignatius Chukwu

Share

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.