Against all odds, Ogoni land clean up is gathering momentum. ELEOJO IDACHABA in this report looks at UNEP Report on the remediation of the land.
Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria about 60 years ago, the country has witnessed tremendous upsurge in export trade and foreign exchange earnings. The development has also brought with it the creation of opportunities with the provision of economic and social infrastructure such as roads, bridges, seaports, airports, schools, hospitals, tourism and recreation centres over the years.
Aside this, focus on oil and gas related activities has also brought its downsides. In addition to distorting the structure of the economy and relegating such vital sectors as agriculture and manufacturing to the backwaters of the country’s development equation, it has also left most oil-bearing communities worse off with unmitigated pollution and monumental devastation to the economy and entire ecosystem.
Among the affected oil producing communities, especially in the Niger Delta area, the case of Ogoniland stands out like a sore limb. Deriving from the activities of oil companies the environment was badly polluted and neglected for a long time, while no sustainable policy and programme were implemented to create an alternate economy for livelihood.
When HYPEREP took overWith an assessment by UNEP that began in 2009 and the report submitted in 2011, expectations were rife that the time had come for Ogoni land to smile. This, however, did not happen until 2017 when the Project Coordination Office (PCO) of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Programme (HYPREP) commenced action. That meant that there was an implementation chasm for seven years. Since 2019, however, implementation of the UNEP report has gathered pace with remediation work ongoing on initial 21 lots spread across the four local government areas of Ogoni land. Most of the remediation companies are now at the stage of soil treatment preparatory to back filling of treated soil. This dovetails into arrangements that are at the conclusion stages to award contracts and mobilise remediation companies to additional 36 lots.
For the first time in the history of the Nigerian oil and gas industry, environmental remediation is being done according to the provisions of the statute book and regulatory documents of the land and international standard practice. All the while between 2017 and 2018 after the Project Coordination Office (PCO) was set up and it seemed there was no visible activity in the field, PCO was putting structures in place and also updating the data on the status of those sites earlier studied by UNEP but due to the delay in the implementation of the UNEP Report submitted in 2011, was left unimplemented.
Each of the initial 21 sites creates a minimum of 35 local jobs mostly for indigenes of Ogoni land. This could be more in the case of the additional lots. Income by the beneficiaries of these employment opportunities improves the standard of living of various families and economic activities in the communities.
That’s not all, although the UNEP report recommends provision of potable water for only impacted communities, PCO says it is collaborating with the Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources and Rural Development to ensure that more communities have access to potable water. This extra step of magnanimity may have emboldened observers to think that HYPREP is not forthcoming with potable water for the people of Ogoniland, though, indeed, it appreciates their patience for an essential resource as water especially in an environment that is devastated by oil spills. It was gathered that implementing the UNEP recommendation on the provision of potable water is now at the stage where taps will soon be running in that part of the country.
Also, the plan for the launch of HYPREP livelihood training for the first batch of 400 Ogoni women has been finalised. In the coming days, the women being nominated by the leadership of their communities would be called to camp where they would be trained in poultry, fishery, feed production and cropping for a period of six months and there after organised into co-operative societies to enable them access funds and put into use the skills so acquired for their benefit and that of their dependents. In addition to the economic empowerment that comes with the alternative livelihood training is the remuneration for the other youths who are already working as community nominees on the 21 lots and earning salaries.
HYPREPs task of remediating Ogoni land and restoring livelihoods is, therefore, a partnership the project has with the Ogoni people and what that means is that it needs their cooperation and understanding to enable it deliver on its mandate to them.
The key recommendations of the UNEP Report, which also constitutes the core mandate of HYPREP includes livelihood restoration and environmental remediation in impacted sites and some emergency measures like provision of water and other things in the impacted communities. Also, some studies to determine if there is a relationship between diseases and pollution in the area, as well as construction and establishment of centres of excellence and an integrated soil management centre.
Challenges being faced
However, its nimble strides aimed at delivering on its mandate have not gone without challenges, especially in the areas of balancing diverse perceptions and matching deliverables embedded in the UNEP report with expectations.
HYPREP’s project coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil says, “The biggest of the challenges is the management of the expectations of the people. The UNEP Report is specific as to the deliverables and what it is that is recommended to be done. However, the general population of the people do have a far larger expectation than what this project is designed to deliver.
“There is also the issue of opinion leaders who are untrained in the field of environmental remediation and from observation of hitherto poorly executed remediation projects take clean-up of oil spill to mean mobilising bulldozers to sites to dig up or maybe cover up impacted soils. This wrong perception of the art, science and practice of remediation has largely informed the upsurge in public opinion that the environmental remediation of oil impacted sites in Ogoniland being carried out by HYPREP is slow.
“In addition, there were initial challenges of inter and intra community land disputes that denied HYPREP access to remediation sites, chieftaincy tussles that hindered its engagement with some of the communities and the heavy rains that hampered remediation activities, it has made remarkable progress.
“The issue of re-pollution constitutes another area that the PCO expects the people of Ogoni to assist it in the course of delivering on its mandate.”
Analysts maintain that HYPREP’s effort to clean Ogoniland would amount to nothing if after investing so much resources and time to remediate the land, it is again re-polluted by the activities of illegal bunkering and refining. It is therefore necessary that the traditional and political leadership of Ogoniland discourage the youths from these very poisonous activities to health, environment and the economy, so that whence Ogoni land is cleaned, it would remain clean for the present and future generations. Navigating through these challenges has not been an easy task.
Therefore, to those who think HYPREP is slow, the organisation says such thoughts derive from the recognition of their understanding of remediation to mean a product that has no process and time lag while as the fact remains that to proceed to the next stage of remediation, one would need the end result of the previous as input for the next and to disregard that sequence is a recipe for sub-standard job which is against the spirit and letter of the UNEP Report.
“Fastness without observance of the rules would be counterproductive. He continued further saying, “How fast can HYPREP go then? To the extent that it does not run foul of procurement laws and statutory regulations. To the extent that when it finally tells the Ogoni people and indeed the rest of the world that it is done, it would not have to come back for a repeat performance.”
RecommendationsThe UNEP report has various recommendations made to the community, the government, IOCs and civil society groups which include the review of the environmental laws and institutions and reform of those institutions.
“It is therefore in the interest of the nation and all other stakeholders that the people of Ogoni limit their expectation of HYPREP to only those deliverables that are contained in the UNEP Report. Demanding what is not part of its mandate from HYPREP when the project is constrained by resources and scope of work to do only those things that it is set for could clog the wheel of progress,” he maintained.