…As environmentalists say agency lacks capacity for project’s magnitude
Ben Eguzozie, in Port Harcourt
Nigeria’s effort to clean up Ogoni land, an oil producing area with the worst form of spill in history, since June 2016, refuses to come clean of controversies amid continued privation of the harried area. Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), the Federal Government agency saddled with undertaking the clean-up continues in despicable half-measure performance so far.
Now, Nyesom Wike, Rivers governor, the home state of the spill sites, asks HYPREP to relocate its headquarters to Bori, the oil womb of Ogoni land, to be able to understand the magnitude of its assignment in the area; rather than its continued fire-coverage activity tens of kilometres from the flanks in Port Harcourt, the state capital.
“If you want to undertake Ogoni clean-up, relocate your headquarters to Bori in Ogoni land. Not to stay in Port Harcourt and then, carrying out activity in Ogoni. It’s through this that you would be able to know and understand the people’s yearnings. We deserve a fair treatment in Nigeria. We’re not, and should not be treated as second-class citizens in our country,” Governor Wike said in Bori, the traditional headquarters of Ogoni land.
According to him, HYPREP’s lacklustre performance, so far, on the Ogoni clean-up project, five years in its operation can best be explained by its non-physical presence in Ogoni.
For more half-a-century of oil production by mainly Anglo-Dutch Shell left the area with perhaps the worst oil spill on earth. Apart from environmental degradation, the area’s underground water is reported to have been contaminated with 900 per cent of benzene content, a dangerous chemical associated with oil production activity.
Late last year, an environmental group, Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), said a two-month study they carried out on Ogoni clean-up indicates that HYPREP may have only covered 11 per cent of the entire spill sites. Godwin Uyi Ojo, ERA/FoEN’s executive director informed the media in Benin last July that all the 21 sites being currently cleaned up by HYPREP covers only about 11 per cent of the total spill area identified by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in its August 2011 report. Ojo, unarguably an authority in environmental issues, said during its organization’s global report on Ogoni clean-up after their two-month survey of 17 out of the 21 impacted sites being cleaned by HYPREP, sorely shows the Nigerian Government may only have been surface-scratching.
“Our report on Ogoni clean-up titled: ‘No clean up, No Justice’ showed there was lack of capacity by the HYPREP to conduct a proper environmental cleaning of a huge project such as Ogoni clean-up,” Ojo said.
ERA also showed distaste for HYPREP’s structuring as its greatest challenge. Shell, the chief polluter, wields overarching position on the agency’s board. This newspaper was told by some experts knowledgeable on HYPREP, said, its key biggest success inhibitor is its structuring. To the level that it may never manage to realize the Ogoni clean-up in the final analysis. For instance, the requisition process is made so complex it takes months to secure money for little stuffs as office consumables, let alone awarding big-ticket contracts. Besides, approvals must come from Shell for money release. As of late last year, the agency battled to retrieve $200 million due it for 2020 from the $360 million received. Then, it had only spent $31 million due to what ERA describes as “Shell’s overbearing powers on HYPREP’s structures.”
“Based on regular field monitoring and evidence at our disposal, we have come to the conclusion that the federal government environmental legacy project which is the clean-up of Ogoni, is failing and lagging behind, because the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) lacks the capacity to conduct a proper clean up. For the (Ogoni) clean up to succeed at a greater pace, we urge the federal government to urgently reorganize and completely overhaul the HYPREP apparatus, to ensure that it is able to deliver a truly significant clean up in Ogoni land,” Ojo’s ERA said.
“Oil companies like Shell should have no role in the oversight bodies, management and implementation of the process such as the governing board and the Board of Trustees; and should not second staff to HYPREP,” ERA stated.
Meanwhile, Ogoni pressure group, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) accused HYPREP of spending nearly N1 billion on media campaigns of works it was yet to undertake, including provision of drinking water for the Ogoni population whose water was declared poisonously unsafe.