Shell Continues to Pollute Ogoni as HYPREP Cleanup Fails on Water Provision

This four months investigation by Kevin Woke and Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi revealed that while British Shell continues to pollute the Ogoniland without cleanup, HYPREP on the other hand is yet to provide water to the Ogoni people as recommended by UNEP. Only the Alesa Eleme community has been  given borehole water while communities like in Tai LGA are yet to see water from HYPREP despite construction of the water tanks.

In the early hours of August 23, 2022, in the Bodo community in Gokana Local government area of Rivers State, Livinus Zabbey, a farmer whose livelihoods include raising chickens and cultivating pears, wakes up to find crude oil all over his compound. He was shocked and could only think of the impact of such an incident on his family should there be a fire. According to him,  his family was moved out of his compound to his eldest sister’s house in the same community that had not been affected by the oil leak.

In late August, a leaky crude oil pipeline belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, a subsidiary of Shell Plc, flowed over the Bodo community, ruining farmlands, aquatic life, drinking water, and contaminating the air. The spill that affected Zabbey’s compound engulfed a total area of 3900 metres in Bodo community, spilling over 16,000 barrels of crude oil, according to the data obtained from the NOSDRA oil spill monitor website. Zabbey said his compound was affected by the Shell oil spill on 23 August, but NOSDRA recorded the incident to have happened on 25 August 2022, while a joint investigation by the agency and Shell took place on 7 October — two weeks after the spill had engulfed the community. 

George  Adinwin, a Bodo community youth said: “ It took Shell more than a week before they visited the polluted sites and worked on their pipelines.”

When the reporters arrived in Bodo last December, there was still the smell of crude oil coming from Zabbey’s compound. This odour was also present in his 21 sachets of water he kept and in the water drawn from the well. Zabbey’s words: “If anybody tells you it is good water, you can test it to prove if it is good water.”

Bodo in Gokana Local government area is one of the host communities of Shell in Rivers State —the company has its pipelines across Bodo, linking to different areas of its facilities.  Zabbey sells his farm produce to Carter for the needs of his family, but the sudden Shell oil spill from the company’s pipeline has destroyed his crops and caused the deaths of over two hundred fowl, he said.

“This was my economic tree,’’ he said while pointing and breaking the dry stem of his peer tree that was burnt by the oil spill.

“My pineapple and other aquatic life are all gone. I have about 300 fowlsbut as they perceive the oil spill, it killed them” and “this is what is left,’’ he pointed to the fowls that were rushing for food.

It’s more than six months since the pollution of the Bodo community, no word of sympathy from Shell nor has there been any compensation or environmental impact assessment of the polluted areas, and crops no longer yield for consumption, according to Zabbey and other community residents.  Well water and sachet water- popularly known as “pure water” was also polluted by the oil spill, Zabbey said.

The spill that affected Zabbey’s compound  is one in three spills that suddenly visited the people of Bodo just in August 2022. The inhabitants are still counting their losses  after the spill destroyed their livelihood. On August 2 and 3, there was an oil spill from Shell’s pipeline according to several residents, of which the company claimed a total of 5 barrels was spilled on August 3.

The spill on August 25 also destroyed crops like cassava, and entered into the river, said Saga Giobari Promise, a community chief. He said the company (Shell) hastened to clean up the spill to avoid public outcry.

Promise words: “This recent spill that happened in August, happened here,” he said while standing on the spot on the farmland where the oil spilled. “ Shell quickly came and crammed it so that it would not engulf the whole community and before they came, it had already spoiled all our farmlands, you can even smell it, it spoiled the  cassava here and moved to the waterside and killed all our aquatic life.

“Everything we used to manage life has been spoiled,’ he added…

Promise recalls the spill followed through the small gutter and moved to the bigger gutter, and entered the well where they get drinking water including  farmlands.

In the same farmlands where Mr. Promise had earlier told reporters that the Shell oil spill had ruined the crops, soil samples were also collected. To measure the level of crude oil pollution, total hydrocarbon testing was done. The total Hydrocarbon test is one of the other variables to measure the amount of crude oil in the farmland. The soil had a total hydrocarbon content of 48,300, according to the lab’s test results from University of Port Harcourt Plant Science and Biotechnology, which the laboratory attendant at the University, Japhet Onuegbu, described as “ really polluted.”

According to the American Soil Science Society, soils contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons can have an impact on both persons and the health of the soil. It can have negative impacts on soil microorganisms and soil activities, and it can do so at far lower quantities than it may have negative effects on human health.

The reporters collected three samples of water: one from a borehole that HYPREP provided in Alesa Eleme, one from a community well (Zabbey’s compound) in Bodo, and another from the Bodo river. The samples of water collected were mainly to ascertain the level of total hydrocarbon in the water. The total hydrocarbon test is used to detect the level of crude oil pollution in water while the pH test is used to find out the acidic nature of water. 

We sent the samples to the University of Port Harcourt Plant Science and Biotechnology, which has a  laboratory. The drinking water from Alesa Eleme village, where UNEP HYPREP built a borehole for the community as part of the UNEP recommendation Report for the Ogoniland, has level of 208.5mg/l, while the well water from Bodo community has 316.5mg/l and the level of total Hydrocarbons in the Bodo River is 304mg/l. All test results show that the hydrocarbon in the water is very high. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) says a Total Hydrocarbon limit of at 0.5 mg/litre is “quite high”. 

Drinking water containing petroleum hydrocarbons can cause an upset stomach, stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. According to research, drinking water containing hydrocarbons can have major harmful effects, and exposure to hydrocarbons by inhalation, ingestion, or aspiration can result in death.

The test findings show that the pH of the water from the Bodo well is 5.03 whereas the pH of the water from the Alesa Eleme borehole is 5.40. WHO suggested a pH range of 6.5 to 8.5. Neither the pH of the Alesa Eleme water nor the Bodo community well water is safe for human consumption. Several research shows that low pH, which turns toxic solution, is dangerous to humans body and can cause digestive problems from a high acidic stomach. 

Bodo community is among the 17 communities in Gokana, precisely the last village in Gokana Local government area and has 69,000 people, according Pius Dukor, an indigene, who founded Pius Dukor Foundation, a local nonprofit organisation whose objectives include advocating against environmental crime.

“If you had come during the spill, you would have seen the fresh spill,’’ Dukor said, accusing the company of failing to change and maintain their pipelines in Bodo.

The company’s spokesperson in Nigeria, Abimbola Essien-Nelson, did not respond to email, seeking for comment, after promising to make comment on the issue.

Shell’s decades pollution and UNEP recommendation

Shell has a history of pollution in the Ogoni land — pollution that destroyed the livelihood and caused environmental degradation. However, the recent oil spills gave rise to youth agitation against the company’s lackadaisical attitude towards the host community. 

Shell’s massive pollution from Gokana local government area (LGA) to Eleme LGA, which occurred over a decade, resulted in a global presence including international organisations such as the UNEP. Over thirty thousand barrels of oil spill  destroyed several farmlands, including rivers and major drinking water. UNEP 14-month evaluation of the pollution revealed that the massive pollution affected  biodiversity, farmlands, creeks, rivers including areas that surface appear unaffected were also contaminated after the scientific analysis of the areas.

Although, according to UNEP, the cleanup would take between 20-25 years , however, in order to reduce the suffering of the community residents, UNEP recommended an emergency action including cleanup, provision of water and a Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, to be built in Ogoniland and supported by potentially hundreds of mini treatment centres, would treat contaminated soil  and provide hundreds of job opportunities.

However, further findings revealed that no soil testing centre has been built and some communities are yet to be given water while the Tai local government never used the borehole dug despite completion of the water tank.

Failed UNEP recommended project

In 2018, UN began a new project—Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP)  with the aim to respond to the issues of Shell’s pollution after its 2011 Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland. HYPREP formation is expected to help Shell “discharge their responsibilities better and clean up oil contamination in Ogoniland,” according to UNEP.

Shell in its 2022 annual Report pointed out it prioritised the Ogoni cleanup, adding that the first phase has been completed in August 2018. The company agreed to commit $900 million across five years to the Ogoni Trust Fund as recommended by the UNEP with a capital fund of $1 billion and co-funded by the Nigerian government and other operators in the area. According to Shell 2022 annual report, the company contributed $180 million for the cleanup in July 2018, and another $180 million in 2019. Although HYPREP did not request for a release of funds in 2020 but in 2022, Shell released $212 million to the Ogoni Trust Fund, according to data gathered from the company 2022 annual Report. The company confirms in its annual Report that  repollution is among the challenges facing the Ogoni cleanup as recommended by UNEP. 

But Adinwin said Shell has never done any empowerment programme, nor provided water or a proper  functioning health centre in Bodo community.

The company has spilled a total of 1,112 barrels of oil between 2017 and 2023, with 2023 recording the largest number, according to data collected from the oil monitor website. The agency said that the information on its website is based on information provided by oil companies, but may, however, be inaccurate.  Companies are required by the NOSDRA Act 2006 to report oil spills in writing within 24 hours; failure to do so will result in fines of N500,000 for each day that passes and N1 million for failing to clean up the affected areas. However, stakeholders and rights lawyers have since pushed for the law’s reconsideration, stating it gives polluters freedom to continue their pollution. The government on its side has been talking about the review of the law but not much has been done.

However, despite Shell’s commitment of a total of $572 million, the aim of the project seems not to be achieved; most communities that were supposed to be provided borehole water for drinking are yet to see any construction while communities like Tai that have been constructed—the borehole is not functional.  

Barrister Chima Williams, Executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, criticised  the UNEP HYPREP cleanup in the Ogoni land, stating the cleanup is “too slow” and not going well as expected.

Williams worries that the basic life sustainable UNEP Report recommendations are still not fulfilled such as provision of potable water and the   creation of life sustaining programs that will empower the Ogoni people to invest back while they are waiting for the polluted area to be cleaned and remediated.

He said: “And the most critical components of the UNEP report recommendations are not being followed through those life sustaining recommendations because we would have expected that those would have been the first thing to be done so that people will be alive to witness and benefits from a clean up Ogoni environments, not the other way around.

“You know, if those activities have been conducted, executed in accordance with the recommendation of the UNEP, then, we would have  seen tangible things on the ground and since those things we can see are not being done, that is why there is a campaign on the centre stage that nothing is happening,” Williams said.

Human Rights activist, Celestine Akpobari blamed the slow pace of the Ogoni cleanup on the constant change of the Minister of Environment. According to him, HYPREP is a project under the environment ministry and the Minister supervises the project and decides what happens despite the fact that funds have already been kept in the UK for the project.

Akpobari said: “About six Ministers of Environment have been changed and when the new Minister comes, he tries to roll back what has happened and try to rewrite his own and at the time of implementation, the Minister will be changed.”

Akpobari who also doubles as a member of the HYPREP governing council said water is an emergency measure that was supposed to be the first thing to be done among the recommendation lists, however, HYPREP has been too slow in providing potable water.

Akpobari wants the National Assembly to enact a law that gives HYPREP an autonomy to be on its own, according to him; it would HYPREP to speed up in the implementation of UNEP recommendations.

 “HYPREP should not be under the ministry of environment so that if the Minister travels, the project should not stand still rather they (HYPREP) will continue to work.

“This is one project that already has the  money in the bank in London and the law of independence given to HYPREP would help the Ogoni project.

No Response from HYPREP

A call put across to the Coordinator of HPREP, Dr. Ferdinand Giadom was not responded to and a message sent via WhatsApp on 14 February 2023, was read the same February 14 at 12:34pm. UK time. Further, we reached out to the spokesperson of HYPREP, Joseph Nafo Kpobari for comment about the lack of drinking water in the mapped community despite constructing a borehole. He said: “We have awarded six contracts, we have completed one in Alesa Eleme and the other Five are still in the process. 

When asked further about the cause of the slow pace of the cleanup and remediation in the Ogoni land, he said: “remediation is not something that is fast, it takes time for the land to heal.

“But we have awarded the first contract in phase 1, batch 2 and we are moving to the next contract phase of contract award which is phase 2, batch 2. They are there for you to come and see.”

More pains for community residents

Bodo-city is a small community where some residents survived either through farming or fishing. However, with the recent new oil spill, there has been a decline in fish in the river and plants hardly yield crops according to several sources. Paul Nedee, is a fisherman that has been fishing for over a decade. “Before now, I caught seven basins of big fish but now,  I toured all night only to see this size of fish,’ Nedee lamented while showing a small quantity of fresh fish  he caught on  his palm. “There is a lot of crude oil in the river that stained my fishing net, ” he added.

All Efforts made by reaching the appropriate authorities for compensation and remediation have been abortive, according to Promise,  community chief.

“There is food scarcity and an increase in food prices due to limited farm produce,” said Chief Baribo kabaridom Togbe 86, a  community leader of Gabanga Dynasty in Bodo council of chiefs and elders.

Promise said prior to the oil spill from Shell pipelines, a basin of Garri(cassava flask) used to be very cheap as cassava yielded bountifully for farmers. “Then, a basin is sold for five hundred ($1) to one thousand five hundred ($3) but now, no one (garri) to sip, we are hungry and even when crops are planted, before it is due for harvesting, they are all rotten,” he added.

The long time effect from the continuous drinking of the polluted well water has affected his eyes. “Not only me but other people have kidney problems,’’ he claimed. “If you go to the community, there are a lot of deaths because of the inhaling of carbon and water they are drinking. We are crying and you people (media) including the government should help us on how we can be alive and wait when God will finally call us,’ Promise said.

Beauty Dopka, picks periwinkle (seafood) in the river to sell and care for her family, but the oil spill from the Shell pipelines have destroyed the river where she and other women enter to pick periwinkle and other seafood. According to her, the pollution from the company pipeline  has made seafood to be sold costly because only a few are seen in the river.

Dokpa said:“The most annoying part of it is that many women like me survive by picking periwinkle. We eat and sell it to buy other things we need and that is why periwinkle is very costly.

“When we breathe in and even when we want to cough, we cough out black mucus from our throat. 

Dokpa appealed to British Shell to come and help the community, stating the pollution that has resulted in the loss of biodiversity and farm produce has made families to barely feed their child. 

A visit to the Community  

A visit to the Tai communityconfirmed the borehole constructed by HYPREP is not functioning and several sources told reporters that there has never been water from the tank. 

The tap vicinity looks dried unlike a functioning tap water in use, however, residents say they have never drank from the borehole before, since after it was constructed

Ndabekara Doctor Nwifambale, an indigene and resident told reporters that early last year when the water project came, the federal government brought a water tank —for one year, the water is still not running. Nwifambale said: “No one has drank from the water project.  

“If the water project is functional, bushes would not have taken over the site,’’ he said, stating that the video on media about the water project is only a deceit. 

“The video is a different place (HYPREP PR video) to show the world that they have provided water to the Tai. But thank God you are here to see things for yourselves,’’ he said, referring to the reports of water provision in the Ogoni people .

“This same money would have been shared among each compound (village house)  to dig a borehole rather than this abandonment of an empty water tank. Leaving people to suffer water scarcity,” he said.

Queen Sampson , another resident, when asked about the source of  drinking water in Nowa Tai, said ” We buy water though”. “Since I came to this place I haven’t seen anybody fetching water from this water tank,” she said while pointing to the HYPREP constructed borehole that is not working. “No water comes out from this water tank. We buy water,’’ Sampson added.

Additional reporting by Faith Imbu. 

This story was produced with funding from  Journalismfund Europe and first reported on Sahara Reporters

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