A group of Ogoniland Elders Forum under the aegis of GBO KABAARI OGONI (Forum of Ogoni Elders and Leaders)has kicked against the ongoing cleanup exercise in their lands, describing it a whitewash.

The group said it is rather regrettable that Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP, saddled with the responsibility of the cleanup has continued in the most unfortunate path of reinforcing failure and engaging in propaganda to cover up its failures at the expense of the health and lives of the hapless people of Ogoni. Some of the issues we drew its attention to earlier, have now snowballed and assumed very complex dimensions.

Senator Bennett Birabo, Chairman and Dr Desmond Nbete, Secretary of the Ogoni Elders and Leaders Forum in a the statement, posited that HYPREP as presently structured, cannot function efficiently to deliver on an important and colossal project such as this.

” The UNEP report which necessitated the establishment of HYPREP highlighted the raging environmental emergency in Ogoniland. HYPREP, as currently structured, is heavily laden with unnecessary byzantine bureaucracies. The two layers of governance – the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees – as well as the complicated ministerial bureaucracies and their overarching and competing influence, all struggle for the attention and control of an Agency (HYPREP) that ought to be focused on implementing the scientific and socio-economic recommendations of the UNEP Report.”

”Worse still, this complex governance structure is largely composed of political appointees with indefinite tenures of appointment, as well as representatives of the oil companies that polluted Ogoniland, in the first instance. With the majority of members being direct and indirect representatives of the complicit JV-structure that led to the pollution, the executive decisions for the clean-up can be easily remotely influenced by these interests. Perhaps equally worrisome is the fact that persons who have been part of the problem in the first place are now being put in charge of critical aspects of the equation. Here, we recall that one Dr Philip Shekwolo, who just retired from his role in Shell as the officer in charge of ‘remediation’ that supervised the cover ups called clean-ups in Ogoni is now the head of HYPREP’s operations. In fact, Dr Philip just took over in HYPREP from one Musa who was the NOSDRA officer that used to certify the corner-cutting and fraudulent clean-up jobs in Ogoni, whilst the said Musa has been moved back to NOSDRA to certify what would be the eventual product of Dr Philips’ operations in HYPREP. This, in our view, is an insulting conspiratorial arrangement to perpetually under-develop Ogoni. It depicts the manner of games that are played with the lives of Ogoni people; but it has got to stop.”

”Also, as we have noted before, HYPREP as presently constituted, has no life of its own. It was set up by a Presidential directive (later gazette), and has no legislative
instrument to give it a life, impetus and legal personality. HYPREP as presently structured and constituted, exists at the pleasures and mercies of the President. We strongly believe that, that should not be the case for an important project such as this.”

” In our previous intervention, we had raised concerns about the opacity, blackbox secrecy, and total lack of transparency in HYPREP’s contracting process. Recent events and revelations have now proved us right. Remediation contracts were reportedly awarded to companies with no iota of experience on remediation, and this has become quite obvious on the field. This calls to question the prequalification process. Remediation is a serious scientific process, and should not be given to newbies learning on the job.”

”As stated in the UNEP Report, some sites that were previously certified cleaned and remediated were found to be still heavily polluted decades after. The only explanation for this is that contracts were awarded to companies lacking the technology and technological capability, and a complicit regulatory body or personnel that certified the sites as remediated. With the benefit of this sad experience, it should be criminal for HYPREP to repeat same grave errors, and award contracts to contractors with no capacity or proven competence and experience. Sadly, HYPREP is marching on in the same path of failure, wastage and sharp practices, by awarding such an important project to some contractors with no proven experience and pedigree to undertake such complex task.”

”Our assessment of the scoping process shows a lack of understanding of the complexities and dynamics of remediation activities. Adopting a generic scoping template, despite the variability of pollution levels and environmental dynamics, could be responsible for the poor scoping by HYPREP. The task of planning and scoping lies with HYPREP and its Project Management Consultant, and we are of the opinion that in order to ensure that this project is properly managed, this role should be revisited to reflect best practices.”

”A major item recommended by UNEP as emergency measures has to do with provision of safe drinking water to communities with contaminated water sources. The UNEP Report showed that the people of Nsisioken have been drinking water with Benzene, at levels more than 900 times the WHO threshold. Section 20 of the Nigerian constitution outlines the Nigerian state’s responsibility to ensure a healthy environment. Section 33 of the same constitution guarantees the right to life of a citizen. Sadly, continuously drinking water contaminated with such dangerously high levels of Benzene, a carcinogenic substance, is an obvious threat to this fundamental right of the Nigerian citizen.”

”The continuous refusal to implement this all important recommendation is, therefore, a serious threat to the corporate existence and sustainability of Ogoni people, who as Nigerians are protected by the Nigerian constitution.We roundly condemn the unfortunate and offensive attempts by HYPREP to downplay the meaning of “emergency” or, perhaps, input a strange into it.”

Emergency measures means emergency measures! Another important emergency measure was to embark on a sustained public awareness campaign to warn against the dangers of artisanal refining.

”Artisanal refining and the pollution therefrom, particularly due to the unsafe standards currently implemented, is a threat to both human life and the HYPREP remediation project itself. The threat of re-pollution from sources such as artisanal refining will undermine any clean-up effort by HYPREP. Unfortunately, HYPREP appears to be on a mission of self-sabotage. It has neither embarked on any sustainable public enlightenment campaign on this nor provide alternative employment opportunities for practitioners of artisanal refining.Delays in Payments and Project Execution Despite Funding: From the UNEP evaluation, an estimated $1 billion is required for execution of the clean-up”

However, they demanded that the Federal Government should, as a matter of national urgency, put an end to the current sophistry epitomized by the failed clean-up efforts in Ogoniland.

”To this end, we call for the comprehensive overhaul, re-jigging and restructuring of the Project across all levels of the current nested structure. This is the first step to getting the clean-up on the track.”