ERA/FOEN, communities take stock of Ogoni clean-up
In an unflattering assessment of the status of Ogoni clean up exercise, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) and communities have raised the alarm that the novel initiative deviated from the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report.
The Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FOEN) in an 18-page report titled ‘Ogoni Clean Up: Monitoring and Progress,’ measures the level of transparency and accountability with the processes, militarisation of the cleanup process, poor stakeholder participation, the politics of funding, the status of the Centre of Excellence and the Integration Soil contaminated Waste Management Centre as well as the fate of the emergency relief recommend in the UNEP report.
The findings are the outcome of field monitoring and scorecard on the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) and the Ogoni cleanup process details the outcome of an independent monitoring by ERA-led allies in the communities, volunteers, Oilwatch Nigeria and other CSOs of different sites in the first half of this year.
In 2011, UNEP released the result of its three-year study of the Ogoni environment; it detailed widespread soil and groundwater contamination in the area. In 2012, the Nigerian government under ex-president Goodluck Jonathan established the HYPREP 1. The HYPREP 1 was given a mandate to implement the UNEP recommendations on Ogoniland. The programme suffered from severe structural defects, a clear lack of commitment on the part of government to implement the recommendations.
But in 2015, the current administration announced a fast tracking of the implementation process, and worked to correct the structural defects as well as the paucity of funding for the agency. Although the clean-up was flagged off on June 2, 2016, with the setting up of the HYPREP II. The project only begun in 2019 with the handover of 21 lots from 21 sites to contractors, which process the CSOs said, is riddled with allegations of corruption, unwholesome compromises, and nepotism.
Highlighting the danger signs in the exercise, the report indicated that there has been passive communities engagement. “The Ogoni communities do not feel that they have been adequately consulted or have a definitive understanding of the project, its scope, deliverable and timelines. The negative perception about the project is primarily because of the long delays experienced with the project and lack of tangible or concrete results to date,” according to the ERA/FOEN Nigeria Executive Director, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo.
The report noted that there are concerns being raised about the delay in the commencement of work on the Integrated Contaminated Soil management centre (ICMSC). ICMSC is a facility for receiving and treating waste from the remediated sites. All remediation approaches that would require ex-situ treatment would generate significant hazardous waste.
“Experts expected construction of this centre to have commenced before the award of remediation contracts. Perhaps, the facility would have provided a more secure location for storing waste whilst treatment is ongoing than the bio-cells favoured by HYPREP, which leave contaminated soil to the vagaries of the weather.
“Similarly, UNEP recommended Centre for Excellence is expected to train the required local manpower to participate in the clean up exercise. The centre was to increase tourism to contaminated sites for students and researchers globally. This centre and ICMSC was prerequisite for a proper clean up of Ogoni. UNEP has for the first five years allocated substantial funds to the establishment of the centre,” the report said.
But in its statement, HYPREP explained, “We have adopted an updated site remediation strategy, which divides the sites into three categories: A- complex, B-less complex and category C – sites that require further investigation. The work of remediation in less complex sites does not require utilization of ICSMC. We have since commenced feasibility studiers for both ICSMC and centre of Excellence. We are adopting international bidding process to get the best of expertise and technology for construction of both facilities.”
The report also noted that UNEP outlined eight emergency measures, but “till date, only a few measures had been partially attempted while others are yet to be conceived.”
Ojo disclosed, “the provision of potable water is a primary issue in all impacted communities. Given that the current HYPREP has operated for approximately two years, it is expected that a short, mid and long term measures for providing potable water in local communities should have been developed and implemented.
“Communities continue to drink and bath in contaminated water containing harmful chemicals including benzene, a carcinogeous substance. The mortality rate of people in Ogoni is increasing by the day.”
Furthermore, it observed that the project suffers from a serious lack of transparency as no accounts have been published, and terms of contracts entered into with the contractors. “As things stand today, we can conclude the Ogoni cleanup project is being run by the rule of the thumb. There is no systematic publicly available document detailing the plans and design of the process.”
The report urged the Federal Government to initiate a quarterly transparency and accountability meeting open to all stakeholders, which will be used to gain trust and confidence as well as validate the integrity of HYPREP. Besides, the report called for a robust economic package or programme for local community members involved in artisanal crude oil refinery.
Meanwhile, Chief Saint Emma PII, Bodo Community told The Guardian that the HYPREP is not implementing the UNEP report. “We want the government to come to our rescue to ensure transparency in the process,” he said.
Chief Eric Dooh of Goi community, said the emergency measures are not been complied with. He called on government to compensate the communities and restore potable water to the affected areas.
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