The sustained media reports on the Ogoni drama which has inspired Nigerians and the international community to demand that the Nigerian government go beyond words in the clean up exercise in Ogoniland is immensely appreciated by the people of the area concerned.
As the planned clean-up continues to experience contrived delays, we commend grassroots groups and representatives of the impacted people of Ogoniland for their patience in the face of glaring violations that continue to test their wits and push them to the limits of endurance. Without mincing words, I must say that we are all witnesses to the spectacle that has been playing out since the clean-up exercise of Ogoniland was flagged off in June 2016 by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
Even though the exercise at the time drew wide acclaim, most of us can recall that Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) was quite sceptical and did not mince words to express its reservations. We had warned that the exercise lacked some very key ingredients including structures such as the governing council, the Board of Trustees and the management of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) that were expected to drive the clean-up process.
We had also expressed worry that while the UNEP ‘Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland’ report had recommended that the government and Shell contribute $1 billion over a five-year period to undertake the clean-up, the government body language did not show it was committed to committing any tangible sum to the process nor compelling Shell to do same.
Two years on, we can see that even though we now have a governing council, the polluter was invited to sit in their midst and continues to call the shots and slow the processes. No tangible sum has been committed to the clean up as we speak. Government has not made the required contributions to the clean-up fund save for the $10 million start up fund that it gave to HYPREP to commence its activities smoothly. This is strange to us and the international community that is keen on seeing tangible progress in relieving the Ogoni people of a Shell-imposed burden.
The pledge of the Norwegian government to support the clean-up process when its Ambassador to Nigeria, Jens Petter Kjemprud visited impacted sites in Ogoniland recently shows the frustration of the international community over the drama going on here. Kjemprud had remarked that the world was interested in the ongoing clean-up of Ogoni, and that Norway, as one of the biggest donors of the United Nations, was also committed to the safety of Ogoni People.
Apart from the fact that HYPREP management has been denied the funds that would enable it implement the clean-up of Ogoniland, the body has been unable to put together a well thought out work plan and budget for the clean-up process. There is the need to quickly enhance the capacity of HYPREP management in this respect but in the short term it would be important to hire experts that have coordinated such multifaceted and complex undertakings before.
We have said it time and again that Ogoniland represents an entry point on the issue of environmental remediation and restoration in the entire Niger Delta. ERA and her partners are desirous of supporting an adequately resourced HYPREP and will work to ensure that the agency delivers on its very important mandate of cleaning up Ogoniland and building the template for the clean-up of the rest of the Niger Delta region. In view of the above, ERA makes the following demands that:
Shell Petroleum Development Company be immediately removed from the governing council, the board of trustees and other institutional structures with oversight functions on the clean-up process. This will allow for the independence of the agency; there is need to urgently consult or hire UNEP as technical partner to HYPREP in the clean-up process; HYPREP be sufficiently resourced by the Nigerian state and Shell immediately by paying the $1 billion clean-fund to the accounts opened by the Board of Trustees; all stakeholders who are to contribute funds to the Ogoni Environmental Restoration fund should publicly declare their contributions immediately; A 2018 HYPREP strategic work plan should be prepared and be made available publicly for inputs and suggestions; a website that would have full information on contracting and procurement should be up and running so that the public is aware of the contractor/consultant handling a project, project sum, duration and the expertise and relevant experience of the contractor; HYPREP discountenances the use of Remediation by Enhanced Natural Attentuation (RENA) in any of the remediation sites. According to the UNEP report on Ogoni Assessment released in 2011, RENA technology is inappropriate in our environment and has caused more harm to the communities.
Also Shell and other oil companies such as RoboMichael and Belema oil whose activities have been pitting Ogonis against each other and overheating Ogoni polity be cautioned to desist from such acts and allow the clean-up process to proceed without distractions; that the Nigerian government must act with dispatch on raising the $1billion Restoration Fund just as it did in the North East Development Commission which went through the legislative process with ease; ERA proposes that $100 billion be set aside to be invested for the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta region.
To reiterate, the Federal Government environmental legacy project is in disarray. In 2018, to shore up confidence, the Ogonis and Nigerians expect the first drop of oil to be cleaned up properly so that restoration work can commence immediately. The federal government cannot afford to fail the people in its legacy project. The time for concrete actions is now. The time to kick Shell out of the steering committees and bodies presiding over the clean-up exercise can no longer be delayed.
– Uyi Ojo is Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria