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Ogoni Cleanup: Anger, Suspicions Keep Growing

Time appears to be running out fast on the carefully calculated hype surrounding the cleanup of the polluted Ogoni environment by the severe activities of the international oil companies, IOCs, principally orchestrated by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC.

The inexcusable delay of the hydrocarbon pollution remediation project, HYPREP, saddled with the responsibility of handling the cleanup exercise, has since become unacceptable to most Nigerians, especially those in the civil society world. They believe that the agency has no reason not to put the exercise on accelerated gear to see that things are done fast.

The delay has sparked multiplicity of war of words from different fronts. For instance, the three factions in the movement for the survival of Ogoni people, MOSOP, have their different views on the snail speed of HYPREP, as well as the resumption of oil drilling in Ogoni following the federal government’s secretive plan to reenter there.

To make matters worse, Nyesom Nweke, Rivers State governor has blamed the rising cult activities and general insecurity on the planned resumption of oil operation at the oil mining license, OML, 11 by the federal government without proper engagement of the stakeholders in the process.

However, Igo Weli, General Manager, External Relations of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, SPDC, has debunked the allegation that the oil giant was surreptitiously mapping out strategies to reenter Ogoniland for oil and gas exploration.

Weli stated that the company has no plan whatsoever to reenter Ogoni either by proxy or otherwise against the wild allegations in some quarters to the contrary.

He added that since 2012, the oil and gas exploration company had handed over its operating licence in Ogoni oil fields to Nigerian Petroleum Development Company.

“Shell is not fronting any company to resume oil exploration in Ogoni, we have not drilled a single drop of oil in Ogoniland since 1993, and we have no plans on re-entering Ogoniland to resume operations.

“Since 2012, our operating license on the Ogoni fields has been handed over to NPDC, the production and exploration arm of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, so the question is, what has NPDC done with the license,” he said.

Weli, explained that sighting of Shell staff in the area is not for the company’s re-entry and resumption of operations, but that the company was carrying out routine maintenance of the company’s pipelines which pass through Ogoniland.

“When you see Shell in Ogoniland, it is not because we are resuming operations in the area, but because we are carrying out maintenance on our Trans-Niger Pipeline, which traverses Ogoniland,” he added.

He stated that as a way of adding value to the communities, its company had spent about N17bn in funding developmental projects through Global Memorandum of Understand, adding, “SPDC has spent a total of N17 billion on the Global Memorandum of Understanding clusters in Rivers State, giving communities a highly valued opportunity to decide and implement projects and programmes that have a lasting impact on the people’s lives”.

The General Manager, Safety and Environment, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Nene Anochie said, over 90 per cent of oil spills are caused by sabotage, adding that spills remediation delays happen when affected communities preventing Joint Investigation Visit, JVI teams from accessing the spill sites.

“Over 90 per cent of pipeline leaks are caused by third party interference. If a spill occurs, it impacts on the environment irrespective of the cause. It is made worse when the Joint Investigation Visit teams are prevented from accessing the site.

“Our surveillance is so good that between four hours, we will detect any spill, but when the affected community prevents the JIV team, it becomes difficult for any intervention,” she said.

Only recently, the House of Representatives kicked at the financial deals of HYPREP, with Lower House reportedly instructing a certain bank to investigate the financial transaction of HYPREP and then stop its activities for the meantime.

The House also queried what the agency has done tangibly with the money it has collected so far. It was at that point that they called for a full investigation to be conducted into the activities of HYPREP and all payments made since it was inaugurated to commence the cleanup exercise.

It could however not be confirmed whether Stanbic Bank was authorized by the federal lawmakers to freeze the account of HYPREP, due to some alleged shoddy deals in the course of the exercise, but what is true is the fact that prominent Nigerians and especially Ogonis have since expressed reservations over the way HYPREP has handled the Ogoni project.

The issue of HYPREP cropped up on the floor of the House during a plenary after due consideration of a report set up to investigate the implementation of the treasury single account (TSA) policy.

“All government ministries, departments and agencies who violated the TSA policy should be sanctioned accordingly and payments outside the TSA policy should be suspended as it is seen as an attempt to circumvent the policy”, the House said.

Comrade Baria Kpalap, a self-acclaimed President of MOSOP, expressed disappointment that despite the fanfare by the HYPREP handlers that it has mobilized contractors to various sites in the four local government areas that make up Ogoni, “I am yet to see a single contractor in K-Dere where I come from”.

Kpalap who is considered as a major stakeholder in the Ogoni matter, reaffirmed that HYPREP has so far collected not less than N180million dollars being the first tranche of cash from the US1billion budget for the entire cleanup exercise. This much was confirmed to have been collected last year which ought to be US200million every year staggered across five years.

“To the best of my knowledge, they have received not less than US180million dollars so far. I have actually not seen what they have done with that amount of money. I have not seen where contractors are working in Ogoni, not even K-Dere, my own community”.

The activist fumed that the basic projects that HYPREP ought to have sited in Ogoni in line with the United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP, report guidelines such as integrated center, water scheme and center of excellence among others are not given considerations.

On his part, Fegalo Nsuke, another self-acclaimed President of another faction of MOSOP had earlier declared HYPREP as a fraud and therefore should be disbanded. His reason is that the agency, besides being shadowed in secrecy is “grossly incompetent to carry out the Ogoni cleanup exercise”.

Fegalo said the Ogoni cleanup contract was a scam and described it as unfortunate and ridiculous. His anger boiled over when he reflected on the fact that for quite some three years after it was flagged off in July 2, 2016 by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, “the Ogoni cleanup has only been heard on newspapers, radio and television”.

He alleged that the contract fraud in HYPREP was shameful, ridiculous and a huge burden on the anti-corruption campaign of President Buhari.

“The ministry of environment should be ashamed to tell us that the only reason it awarded Ogoni cleanup contracts to farmers and livestock breeders is that they signed affiliation agreements with perceived cleanup companies.

“It follows that HYPREP’s only condition for winning the contracts was for anyone to sign a contract of partnership with some firms that are perceived to be competent” Fegalo noted.

The self-styled MOSOP President noted that the ministry’s position was tantamount to an election contestant who uses someone else’s certificate to scale through screening, emphasizing that HYPREP’s handling of the cleanup contracts amounted to fraud and violated even the rules set by HYPREP as advertised in several media.

He re-iterated earlier position that HYPREP was stinking in corruption and the award of cleanup contracts lacked integrity and did not follow due process.

Fegalo called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately dissolve the Governing Council of HYPREP to allow an independent investigation into the contract scam because leaving the Governing Structures of HYPREP in place while investigations commence into the fraudulent contracts will erode public confidence in the process and jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.

Also sparking grave concern and criticism was the recent oversees trip by the former Minister of environment, Suleiman Hassan where he took some stakeholders to the United Kingdom for a retreat. Fegalo faulted the minister’s trip to the U.K describing it as “a waste of funds and a ploy to cover-up misappropriated funds in HYPREP”.

Fegalo said the exercise was absurd and ridiculous especially as it happened few weeks to the end of the Minister’s tenure.

“His level of frivolities lends credence to our earlier warnings of massive financial corruption in HYPREP.

“It was unthinkable that just weeks to the end of the Minister’s tenure, he embarked on a study tour on best practices for a cleanup program for which he has since awarded the contracts and claims that work has begun? HYPREP was clearly a negation of the anti-corruption claims of the President Buhari’s administration,” he said.

He said the Ogoni cleanup program has become laughable especially in view of attempts to cover up corruption by a government that award contracts and claim mobilization of contractors to site even before deciding on a laboratory to handle samples.

The former secretary of MOSOP views that the cleanup managers were merely after the cleanup funds and oil resumption in Ogoniland and not bothered about the fundamental demands of the Ogoni People for Self Determination and freedom in Nigeria, the demands for compensation for the destruction of livelihoods and the provision of water for the Ogoni People to end the water crises in Ogoni.

MOSOP also noted the deficiencies of the exercise without the support structures including the Integrated Soil Management Center and the Center of Excellence.

Meanwhile, the Ogoni people have vowed never to allow any oil company to enter the land for any oil prospect. This newspaper had reported on the leaked memo that allegedly filliped to the public. The memo instructed the Nigeria National petroleum company, NNPC, to take over the OML 11. The memo instructed NNPC to take over the operations of the oil from SPDC.

This sparked up the agitation from Ogonis who then petitioned the European Nations, EU, and the United Nations to prevail on the Buhari government not to aggravate the already tensed situation in Ogoniland.

In what could pass as his response to these numerous allegations, Dr. Marvin Dekil, coordinator of HYPREP said in implementing one of the recommendations in the UNEP Report to provide alternative source of livelihood for the people in oil-impacted communities of Ogoniland, the HYPREP had trained 15 Ogoni youths on fabrication of cassava processing machines.

Dekil, said the agency in collaboration with Stakeholders Democracy Network, SDN and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, developed the template for the training to empower the Ogoni youths.

He gave this response to questions put to him during an interview where he said the 15 Ogoni youths which represents the first batch of Ogoni people trained in fabrication and welding of cassava processing machines at IITA in Onne, Rivers State.

Against the accusations leveled against his agency, Dekil reaffirmed the commitment of the Federal Government to the cleanup of Ogoni and also assured the people of Ogoni that HYPREP would implement the UNEP Report to the later.

“Three months ago we ushered in 15 young men and women to a life transforming training in the fabrication of machines for the processing of cassava.

“It has been a long journey for the trainers, who before now had previous training or skills in machine fabrication. Today, we are here to see a group of youths who are determined, focused, ready to leverage on the opportunities provided by this training to change their lives and be ambassadors of their communities.

“At HYPREP, we will ensure that our skills are put to good use as a cassava processing center will be set up to generate income and also create economic hub for the community.

“Moving forward, HYPREP will train 400 women, a hundred from each of the four LGAs of Ogoniland in different skills by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, UNITAR, at Songhai farms for six months.

“The training will be in batches until a total of 1200 Ogoni women are trained in the livelihood program,” Dekil said.

Also speaking, Head of Station, IITA Onne, Dr. Richardson Okechukwu, described the centre as a training centre on agro-business and crop value-chain with specialization in cassava, plantain, maize, banana etc, as well as post-harvest processing.

Okechukwu said the beneficiaries have been trained on how to fabricate basic cassava processing machines such as roasters, graters, presser, mill, sifter, peeling machines and cabinet dryer.

For his part, the Senior Project Officer, SDN, Jesse-Martin Manufor, expressed optimism that graduating trainees will themselves become trainers to train others, as well as set up cooperatives for easier access to other forms of empowerment.

He said they will continue to partner with HYPREP to help improve the livelihoods of the Ogoni communities.

“The choice of this skill was well thought out, since cassava is a staple food around this area and Nigeria is the highest producer of cassava in Africa.

“So this training in essence is adding value to cassava which in turns gets garri, starch, flour etc. We are happy with the collaboration with HYPREP and IITA, the training hasn’t stopped, we are going to set up cassava processing plants in Ogoni where the trained youths will process surplus cassava planted in Ogoni for sustainable development,” he said.

Only last week, another chieftain in Ogoni, Sunny Zorvah raised the alarm that there was a sealed plan by the federal government to sneak into the Ogoniland to start a wide range oil operation.

Zorvah said that there has been a concerted plan by the Nigerian Government to commence oil drilling activities in Ogoniland, using security agencies and other criminally minded non-state actors to shield operations of the oil company.

The said oil operation, with military cover, is billed to commence in the coming months as parties involved have been instructed on their respective roles. Each of the security agencies listed in the plan has been tasked with specific roles and responsibilities, particularly, in tackling voices of dissent in the Ogoni community.

He said that MOSOP as an organisation of the Ogoni people was particularly disturbed about this latest development and actions of the Government, considering its possible negative implications and the crisis it might cause among the people in the communities and with the company involved.

“It is unfortunate and disappointing that rather than going through the proper and legitimate means and process, the government chooses to ignore the people of Ogoni and prefers to engage and impose an oil prospecting company on them, even with an intent to intimidate, suppress and kill the people more with the use of heavily armed security forces.

“As part of this plan, we are aware that some companies have also commenced some clandestine discussions with agents in and outside Ogoni on how to facilitate the success of such operation.

“We appeal to all those involved to discontinue the unholy and selfish alliance and allow the people decide on this matter and make their choice, without being forced to do so.

“We have consistently stressed that whilst we are not opposed to discussions relating to resumption of oil production in Ogoniland, the federal government and its agents must engage in a broad-based discussion with the Ogoni people that addresses the issues of benefits- sharing, community participation and the proper environmental management of the Ogoni ecosystem, including legacy issues arising from the over four decades of reckless oil operations in the land,” he said.

This is not about the deceit enveloped as corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities but about sustainable outcomes that can take the Ogoni people into the foreseeable future.

This is the only way the government can gain the confidence and acceptance of the Ogoni people that we are not going back to the same inglorious past of reckless oil exploration and zero benefit to the people and their land.

Zorvah said MOSOP was ready and would continue to engage and cooperate with any process that respects and recognizes the rights of the people and the community, but will vehemently oppose any form of injustice and intimidation of our people.

He noted that MOSOP stands ready to support any genuine economic activity that will benefit and is in the overall interest of our people, but we will not allow a process that undermines our natural existence and subdues our rights as a people.

“We therefore reiterate our avowed position to resist any attempt by the government and any company or their agents to re-enter any Ogoni community for the purpose of carrying out oil exploration activities by force without due consultation and broad-based discussion and agreement with genuine and competent representatives of the people and key stakeholders in Ogoniland. We are prepared to resist them with the last drop of our blood,” Zorvah said.

He charged Ogoni people to remain resolute and resilient in the days ahead and be prepared. “We also extend our call to our teeming supporters and members of the international community to take notice of the proposed devilish and genocidal plan of the Nigerian government against the Ogoni people and continue to offer your support to us, especially in the time of this genocidal conspiracy against us and our land,” he said.