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Environmentalists urge definite approach in Ogoni land clean-up

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Oil spill in Ogoniland PHOTO: PHYS

• Seek comprehensive audit of infrastructure
Four years into the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), initiated by the Federal Government to clean up contaminated Ogoni land in Rivers State, the exercise is dogged in transparency issues.

The Federal Government flagged off the remediation of contaminated sites in Ogoni Land in 2016.

The government had through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and multi-national oil companies mobilised $180 million for the exercise.

A total of 21 contractors were picked for the clean up/remediation exercise.

But, the procedure employed by the government has been condemned by critical stakeholders and environmentalists questioning the process adopted to remedy the sites.

Last year, a group, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), said the status of HYPREP in terms of its structure, independence, funding, effectiveness, capacity as well as perception of sluggishness due to bureaucracy, politicisation, low responsiveness has affected the clean up exercise.

According to CISLAC, the exercise is now bugged with identity crisis, procedures, processes and overheads. Perception of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, complex decision making, internal crisis of choice between Ogoni and the Niger Delta.

The Programme Manager, Mr. Kolawole Banwo, who provided an overview of the UNEP report on Ogoniland at an interaction in Lagos, said HYPREP is now seen as a HY-BRID, made up a project and agency, rather than a specific programme for the Ogoniland clean up.

He also noted lack of no sequence of action and prioritisation of activities and cost management as well as adherence to original in the process.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland in August 2011 after series of protests of oil spillage in the community that culminated to the death of Ken Sarowiwa and eight others.

The report commissioned by Federal Government of Nigeria, made recommendations to the government, the oil and gas industry and communities to begin a comprehensive cleanup of Ogoniland, restore polluted environments and put an end to all forms of ongoing oil contamination in the region.

Findings in the Report underline that there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concern over the viability and productivity of the ecosystems.

In addition, that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed. Pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoniland is extensive in land areas, sediments and swamp land.

In 49 cases, UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5 metres. At 41 sites, the hydrocarbon pollution has reached the groundwater at levels in excess of the Nigerian standards permitted by National Laws at Nisisioken Ogale, in Eleme LGA, close to an NNPC product pipeline where an 8 cm layer of refined oil was observed floating on the groundwater, which serves the community wells.

Banwo said that the fatalities occasioned by pollution in Niger Delta, particularly Ogoni had called for serious attention to save lives and property.

According to him, there is need to re-visit, and where necessary remediate identified sites.

“We are already eight years behind after the report itself was first launched in 2011 and 63 years late after the first oil spill happened in Oloibiri in 1953.

“The Federal Government flagged off the remediation of contaminated sites in Ogoni Land in 2016.“But since then, not much has been done in that direction. The wellbeing of the people in Ogoni and the Niger Delta at large is to say the least pathetic.“Life expectancy has dropped to 40, livelihoods destroyed, inhabitants consume contaminated water 900 times above the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.

“Festival of funerals in the region has become very worrisome, all due to pollution and exposure to environmental hazards.“This calls for the urgent need to review the remediation techniques, repair, maintain and decommission non-producing facilities.“The duty of care point of view upon which the emergency measures are based imposes not just a moral but a legal obligation to prevent harm or compensate victims.

“The 25-year long journey and struggle for the clean up of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta Region is a challenge to our shred humanity.

“It is about the lives of real people whose only offence is that petroleum resources which drives our economy are found in their land. We must keep asking right questions, applying the right pressure and speaking out.

“With the professionalism, courage and persistence of the press we will achieve more and faster. We must do more to get our government to Clean Up Ogoni now”, he said.

Also, the Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey said the Ogoni aspect requires lot of preliminary works to get the clean up off the ground, the delineation, quantification setting up of the key performance indicators and how to know that what needs to be done hasn’t be done, takes a lot of time.

According to him, It would be wise for HYPREP, to commence the clean up in the more easily reachable and the less polluted locations which they did through the 21 lots that were awarded and the process of awarding another 30 new lot also which would handle more areas that are not deeply contaminated.

He said: “With regards to the process understanding that the whole lots depends on learning about the situation and evaluating.

‘What I noticed when I visited one of the locations in Eleme area where the soil was contaminated up to a depth of 5-metres in the UNEP report, actual excavation now shows that it was up to 7-metres meaning that as time goes on, it was getting deeper.

“These kinds of changes have to be taken into account in getting the job done.

I am happy that that UNEP itself is providing backstopping to help people seek clarifications.

“On our part as civil society, we are training Ogoni youths to actually monitor what is going on at regular basis to know what is expected and so that they could say, what was expected is not done if need be.

“On the part of HYPREP, there is the integration of local communities to make sure that they monitor the performance as it goes on.

“One aspect I think HYPREP should step up is the provision of alternative water for the heavily impacted areas. That should be the priority now and I don’t think that could wait any further. They are working with the state’ ministry to rehabilitate existing water works but the communities may need a new comprehensive water scheme, which is what I would recommend.

“The other thing that has to be done is a comprehensive health audit apart from the health outreaches by HYPREP; it is essential to have real auditing. A serious and scientific medical auditing of entire Ogoni land to find out the patterns of illnesses and what could be the root causes of the sicknesses so that a holistic medical response that would not just address the current situation, but future occurrences to forestall a repeat.

“This would provide a picture that would help lookout of what is happening elsewhere in Niger/Delta and for learning by other African countries that might experience something similar like in South Sudan, where the ground water, is heavily contaminated.

“I think what is going is on the average, something that needs to be supported. The stakes are very high and some of us are committed to make sure that the Ogoni cleanup succeeds because it has very far-reaching implications for the rest of the Niger/Delta. We must try to get it succeed”. He added.

On alleged politicisation of the clean up of Ogoni, he said, “Pollution itself is political. In 1991 there was an email by chief economists of the world bank which said that some African countries are under polluted and therefore, it was okay to pump waste toxic in some of the countries and because their men doesn’t live up to 65years to have prostate cancer, it was okay.

“When people say it should be depoliticised, it depends on what type of politics that they are referring to. If they are saying that it should not be driven by party politics, I say totally yes to that. You cannot drive the clean up based on party patronage. That is what I see almost rubbished the performance of capacity of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to perform because a lot of contracts that were awarded were based on party patronage. The same thing can’t be allowed to happen in HYPREP for high performance.” He added.

Another environmentalist, Dr. Ediem Eniang said the cleanup still has a long way to go since it started and what has been done so far; it’s like a drop in the ocean.

“It took as far as 60 years to do the damage and four years isn’t sufficient to clear off the damage. You have buried oil from fields, surface oil.

“How would you clean the buried oil against the surface oil, which everybody could see? It took so many years for the oil to permeate the soil, the growing plants and crops that human beings eat, the sediments in the rivers and the underground waters”.

According to him, Oloibiri was founded in 1956 and commenced operations in the 60’s. The devastations in that area of the country and the position the government of Nigeria is leading is a mis-normal and misleading.

“For reasons best known to those that propagated the Ogoni cleanup they made a blatant mistake from the beginning to build the environmental concerns around Ogoni in the first instance. The fact that UNEP had done an environmental assessment of Ogoni land doesn’t mean Ogoni was the only troubled spot. It is just a subset for the whole. When they did Ogoni studies in 2011. The whole Niger/Delta is devastated and needs clean up”.

He stressed that the gas flares going on, has no boundaries and go far beyond Rivers state gets to Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Edo, and if care ids not taken, it might pass Lagos because gaseous emissions travels as far as 200km depending on wind direction.

The environmentalist said the connotation of the word clean up of Ogoni Land is wrong; it should be restoration instead of cleanup. We should call it Ogoni restoration and rehabilitation because it goes beyond the casual clean up of something that has permeated the soil for many years.

Government has released funds, but what have we done with the funds? Few people were selected and sent on training abroad, brought contractors on site but what has the contractors done till date. There are fundamental things that are not yet in place. The lives of the generality of the people have not been touched. The infrastructural base of these communities has not been impacted and so this is not enough.

On his expectations, “If the right steps/actions are taken and are transparently implemented by the government following international best practices and protocols, it would be very fruitful and successful but a situation whereby the scheme is bedeviled by civil service and government bureau not racy, it will not survive. We have to exercise some levels of independence in employing the services of experts. There should be independent bodies of supervisory consultants who are apolitical. People who will dance to the gallery and that would live above board. So that the issue of corruption, which is, part and parcel of the government system will be far from it. When they did the study, it was devoid of political bias. This is the kind of intervention that we want. Not a situation of ‘dogs chop dogs’ like we have right now. There is no standard boat yard in Ogoniland right now.”

But the founder of Society for Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Mitigation (SETPOM) and Lecturer at the University of Lagos, Prof. Adebayo Otitoloju, said the communities must be actively involved and not on mere monitoring of projects where they are given money for the project to really work.

According to him, government must carry the people along because it may be a major issue of contracting.

“It is not just about expatriates now a lot of things you have to do, ability to even work within that the environment.

“The model that can work is to train the people in that area to be major contractors in the area apart from just engaging them in menial jobs.

“They should not just be collecting money without anything. If you have indigenes of the place as contractors doing the major work, it will go a long way into solving the problem”, he added.

Otitoloju, who was a former senior research advisor to the Environmental Department of Shell Nigeria said, “the issue of cleaning up an oil soil often time is the ability to remove those top soil that are contaminated and replace it with soil that are not contaminated that is really is the major thing that is going to happen.

“It is not a new technology , the other thing is that if you want to say how do you treat the ones that has been taken out from the oily area, that is when you talk of a company that has equipment that could burn off the oil”, he said.

Prof. Otitoloju stressed that people were talking about more of the fact that indigenes are saying, they should give them the contract because they are the ones that have been suffering in those area and that there are people who are just coming to take the financial benefits of the clean up, as if they cannot do what they are doing there. So, my advice is that the people should be actively involved beyond monitoring of the event. The environmentalist said government can adopt a two side approach whereby the communities are involved in the intervention on the replacement of top soil while the other lots whether through bio degradation or by thermal disruption, must be done by real experts who have the equipment and expertise, On the issue of political will, he said, government has demonstrated the will to carry out the clean up exercise going by the enormous investments made so far, but it is just for them to get the right approach to push it through.


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