By Akanimo Sampson
SOCIAL Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), a civic group that has been monitoring the Niger Delta environment and the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland since 2007 says there is nothing on ground in Ogoni to show that cleanup can commence this coming August.
This is, however, running counter to President Muhammadu Buhari’s claim on May 29, that the environmental cleanup of the oil region which commenced with a launch in Bodo, an Ogoni community in June, 2016 is progressing satisfactorily.
On April 21 this year, Coordinator of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), Dr. Marvin Dekil had during a medical outreach in Taabaa community declared that the Ogoni cleanup would start in August.
Minister of State for Environment, Mr. Jubril Usman during a briefing in Abuja to mark 2018 World Environment Day had said that the cleanup would start by the ending of August. While also inspecting a medical outreach in Terabor General Hospital in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, he pointed out that submission of documents for bidding of contracts for the clean-up would end on April 30.
According to the minister, ‘’the Federal Government is working sequentially to ensure that there is no mistake and that whatever is started would be irreversible, even when President Buhari is out of office. We have a complete timetable of our programme now. We have also done advertisement for people to see what we intend to do’’.
Adding, he said the ministry would go through all the procurement processes and evaluation, and approval of the award of contracts before commencement of the exercise.
Piqued, Social Action says it is worrisome and contradictory to also hear the same HYPREP coordinator told Al Jazeera in an interview in his office, a month later on May 18, 2018 that the
Ogoni cleanup would start in September and not the August that he told the public earlier.
Research/Programme Officer of Social Action, Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, in an online statement on Monday said while they are not against the immediate commencement of the Ogoni cleanup after seven years of the release of the UNEP report on August 4, 2011 and two years after the flag-off on June 2, 2016, ‘’we are, however, worried that the Federal Ministry of Environment and HYPREP are not prepared for the cleanup and therefore, on a to Cleaning in a Vacuum”.
Fyneface says Social Action has doubt that HYPREP can undertake any credible and successful cleanup that meets international standard in August 2018 or even its new timeline of September 2018 when certain UNEP recommended preliminary steps have not been taken and the necessary facilities are not yet in place in Ogoniland.
According to him, ‘’our field monitoring report shows that HYPREP is not yet prepared for Ogoni cleanup even by December 2018, because the following UNEP Report recommendations are not yet in in place. These are:
*Absent of Contaminated Soil Treatment Centre: This centre recommended by UNEP and its foundation laid by former Minister of Environment (current Deputy Secretary General of the UN), Amina Muhammed in February 2017 has been abandoned by HYPREP since Amina left office. This site located in Bori-Ogoniland is currently overgrown with weeds and we wonder how HYPREP intends to carry out the cleanup exercise without this vital facility in place.
*Absence of Centre of Excellence: This Centre was recommended by UNEP and its foundation also laid by Amina Muhammed on February 27, 2017 with the planting of a tree but till date, the location in Bori is covered with weeds and we are wondering how clean up can happen without this fundamental facility in place.
*Failure to Implement Emergency Measures: The emergency measures recommended by UNEP to precede the cleanup has not been implemented. This include provision of portable drinking water, Health Audit, etc.
^Reneging on Promise to Re-assess of Oil Contaminated Sites, etc.: HYREP had said in the past that plans to re-assess contaminated sites in Ogoni to determine the currently level of pollution after UNEP Report in 2011 was partly responsible for the delay of the Ogoni cleanup. To address these, HYPREP made publications in national newspapers in 2017 calling for expression of interest by competent companies to carry out the re-assessment of sites assessed by UNEP and those not assessed by UNEP. HYPREP also went further in the said call for expression of interest and advertised for companies that would handle the provision of drinking water, assessment of water facilities in Ogoniland and health audit of the Ogoni people whom UNEP said had lived with pollution all their lives. It would however interest you to know that, till date, HYPREP has not awarded contract to any company to reassess polluted sites in Ogoniland that they claimed was partly responsible for the delay of the Ogoni cleanup but has gone ahead to advertise again in 2018; called for expression of interest, opened bid and ‘preparing’ to award contracts for the commencement of its mirage cleanup in August 2018.
^Refusal to publish cleanup implementation work plan: Since the Flag-off of the Ogoni Cleanup exercise on June 2, 2016, HYPREP has failed to publish the cleanup implementation framework/wok plan. We (Social Action) also wrote and officially requested for the work plan but HYPREP refused to release the document if it exists.
‘’We therefore dismiss claims by HYPREP that it would be able to start Ogoni cleanup in August 2018 with a wave of the hand because these pivotal facilities are not yet in place, excepts HYPREP is on a mission to impress the political class ahead of the 2019 general elections by cleaning in a vacuum.
‘’HYPREP’s constant reneging on promises and shifting of goal posts for the commencement of the Ogoni cleanup is causing more harm to the Ogoni people who live in the polluted environment, breathe polluted air, drink oil polluted water and dying in their numbers over the environmental poisons.
‘’We call on HYPREP to lay a solid foundation for a sustainable commencement of the Ogoni cleanup by implementing the emergency measures, constructing the Contaminated Soil Treatment Centre, Centre of Excellence, etc.’’
Besides, the group is taking the recent directive by President Buhari for funds to be released for the Ogoni cleanup with a pinch of salt because similar statement was made in August 2015 to ‘Fast Track’ the cleanup and this is where we are today still advocating for the cleanup to happen.
‘’We would have however taken the President’s statement more seriously if he had made direct budgetary provisions for Ogoni cleanup in the 2018 Appropriation Bill. With the reverse as the case, we wonder where the funds that the President had directed to be released would come from.
‘’Realities on ground in Ogoniland show that the Ogoni cleanup is not ‘progressing satisfactorily’ as stated by President Buhai,in his May 29, 2018 Democracy Day speech. There is also nothing on ground in Ogoniland to show that HYPREP is prepared to carry out cleanup in Ogoniin August’’, Social Action said.
The environmentally despoiled Ogoni is reported to have experienced about 3,000 oil spills during a 15-year period from 1976 to 1991, bringing untold hardships on the people of the area.
Spokesperson of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Fegalo Nsuke, has been saying that in Ogoniland today, some villages bury as many as 13 persons a week.
According to MOSOP, ‘’the lessons from Ogoni clearly show how much injustice is pervasive in our country. The shame is that rather than address these injustices, our country and our government have attempted to deceive the world about the true situation in Ogoniland’’