Nigeria's foremost Online Energy News Platform

Still on Ogoniland Cleanup Project ISSUES ARISING

-By Benjamin Ike & Gideon Osaka

With the recent approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of five more contracts for the cleanup of Ogoniland in Rivers State, the Buhari led government may have well signaled that its second term will focus serious attention on environmental conservation and take sustainability in oil production activities more seriously.

President Muhammadu Buhari

The approval of the five contracts was first revealed to journalists by the Minister of Environment, Suleiman Hassan, at the end of a seven-hour meeting of the council on Wednesday, March 20, which was chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Hassan said the new contracts, valued at N3.039 billion, are different from the 16 earlier approved and which sites were handed over to the contractors in January.

“While the 16 contracts awarded earlier were within the Ministerial Tenders Board, the five approved today is above the Tenders Board and that is why we presented them to the council,” he said.

The ongoing Ogoni clean-up exercise follows a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report that condemned extensive ecosystem degradation due to oil spillage.

There have been delays in speeding up the cleanup process and eight years after the release of the UNEP report on the need for Ogoniland cleanup, but with the five new contracts, the Federal Government may have finally indicated its willingness, or even readiness, to implement the recommendations of the UNEP white paper.

The Ogoni cleanup project has become contentious since the various spillages that ravaged the oil producing communities in Ogoni and its environs. The ensuing UNEP report, which was released during the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, in 2011, did not receive the needed attention from the government.

President Muhammadu Buhari shortly after his assumption of office in 2015 restarted the cleanup project.

Out of the $1 billion recommended by UNEP for the cleanup exercise, only about $180 million or 20 percent of the amount has been released, thereby hampering the effectiveness of the exercise.

Although some of the emergency measures outlined by UNEP for the benefit of the victims of oil spill in the area are yet be implemented, with the latest N3.039 billion now approved by FEC, there may be a speedy approach to the whole project.

Some of the emergency measures recommended by UNEP include to ensure that all drinking water wells where hydrocarbons were detected are marked and that people are informed of the danger, provision of adequate sources of drinking water to those households whose drinking water supply is impacted, and that people in Nsisioken Ogale who have been consuming water with benzene over 900 times the WHO guideline are recorded on a medical registry and their health status assessed and followed up.

Other recommendations by UNEP are to initiate a survey of all drinking water wells around those wells where hydrocarbons were observed and arrange measures (1-3) as appropriate based on the results, post signs around all the sites identified as having contamination exceeding intervention values warning the community not to walk through or engage in any other activity, post signs in areas where hydrocarbons were observed on surface water warning people not to fish, swim or bathe in these areas, inform all families whose rain water samples tested positive for hydrocarbons and advise them not to consume the water, and mount a public awareness campaign to warn the individuals who are undertaking artisanal mining that such activities are damaging to their health.

So far, the government has inaugurated the Governing Council and Board of Trustees, as well as performed the ground-breaking ceremony for the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre.

Also, the incorporation of the Ogoni Trust Fund and Escrow Account has been opened with Standard Chartered Bank of London for the Board of Trustee of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and credited with $177 million.

There has been procurement of contractors, as well as mobilization of contractors and hand-over of sites to contractors handing over 16 polluted sites to companies that would clean them up. There has also been a re-engagement of UNEP to provide technical support in Communications and Project Management.

Yet, elders of Ogoni Ethnic Nationality have criticized what they described as “flawed implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, for clean-up of oil pollution in Ogoniland” over perceived compromise of the process as gazetted by the Federal Government.

The leaders expressed the disapproval in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, recently, even as the Federal Government has already handed over polluted sites to companies for commencement of the clean-up work to various contracted companies.

Chairman of the Elders forum, Senator Bennet Birabi, said “more than two years after its flag-off, the manner and process for implementation of recommendations run completely contrary to assurances by Federal Government, more importantly in the report to detriment of the Ogoni people.

Kolawole Banwo, Programme Manager, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC

“Rather than commence implementation with the proposed emergency measures, we have come to observe that after each tranche of funds released by the oil companies on the clean-up, the expenditure pattern has not only been opaque, but completely out of sync with the UNEP recommendations.”

Also, Ledum Mitee, former leader of Movement for Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, alleged that even with the award of contracts so far, the implementing Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP, has come to the alienation of the community stakeholders.

“You won’t imagine that one of those who got contract was asking what the direction to Ogoni is. He has not been here, he knows nothing about Ogoni. They said they spent N1 billion on communications, if this is true, then all stakeholders including the communities should be on same page, one accord, but that is not the case,” Mitee said.

Speaking on the issue, Kolawole Banwo, Programme Manager, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, stated that some operational issues such as health audit, alternative livelihoods, potable water are perceived to be delayed, inadequate or poorly implemented.

“Consequently, there are conflicting claims, distrust, suspicion. The risks remains and effects remain, re-pollution continues through artisanal mining and oil spills, mortality rates high and life expectancy below national average”, he said.

According to him, there is absence of the integrated contaminated soil management centre: comprising an incinerator, thermal unit, soil washing unit and a contaminated water treatment unit (Exclusion of community from cleanup process; concern over disposal of contaminated soil and risk of secondary pollution, apprehension.

He also identified some of the challenges bedeviling the cleanup exercise to include; lack of community engagement, the feeling of exclusion, community division, emergence of ‘cleanuptreneurs’ , influence peddlers, patronage, pro and anti establishment community stakeholders, as the effects include, community division, restiveness, flash of violence and dissenting opinions, the risk of poor quality work.

“There is politicization of the whole project; Federal Government-State dichotomy and antagonism, partisan interpretation to clean up process, personalization of issues: The effect is distractive propaganda, low complementarities,” he added.

According to Valuechain findings, Ogoni people warn that any attempt to resume crude oil and gas production using takeover as a smokescreen without addressing the fundamental issues that led to the Ogoni struggle would be stoutly resisted, and the Federal Government is putting measures in place to ensure that restiveness never returns to hamper oil production and the revenues it gives to Nigeria.

The Federal Government on March 13 mandated the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to take over operatorship of OML 11 from the end of April apparently to forestall disruption of oil production in the Niger Delta.

The directive was contained in a statement addressed to Dr. Maikanti Baru, the Corporation’s Group Managing Director (GMD) by Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Earlier operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the juicy facility lies in the southeastern axis of the region and boasts of 33 oil and gas fields, eight of which have been producing since 2017.

The Ogoni Youth Federation (OYF) had last year called on government not to renew the lease for the oil well which expires in June.

The 28,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity fields were shut following the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others.

Fegalo Nsuke, President of MOSOP had maintained in a statement that the resumption of oil exploration in Ogoniland in the face of current pollution remained unacceptable.

As a matter of fact, MOSOP which was co-founded in the 1990s by Saro-Wiwa, had argued that oil production had devastated the region’s environment, while bringing no benefit to its 500,000 people.

Saro-Wiwa, while he lived, was of the view that Shell had turned what was once an area of unspoilt natural beauty into a grubby black moonscape as oil from dilapidated pipelines and pumping stations seeped into the soil and destroyed it.

Consequently, the Ogoni took up the peaceful fight against Shell and the military regime in Nigeria, culminating in Shell abandoning Ogoniland in 1993, which triumph turned Saro-Wiwa, the writer and environmental activist who spoke out forcefully against the Abacha junta as well as his acolytes into a real menace for the Abacha military government.

Saro-Wiwa, winner of the Right Livelihood Award, and Goldman Environment Prize, was arrested in 1994 for allegedly being responsible for the death of four Ogoni tribal leaders.

Saro-Wiwa who was born October 10, 1941 was consequently executed by hanging on October 11, 1995 after trial by a military tribunal and, by his death, became a symbol for environmental protection and human rights.

To avoid structural, policy and administrative flaws that could create crisis in the Nigerian petroleum industry, President Buhari’s government is taking time in getting every step right before it gets into implementation stages.

This approach has recently been seen in the area of oil and gas legislation exercises, as President Buhari has declined assent to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Act (Amendment) Bill passed and transmitted to him by the National Assembly last year.

In a letter addressed to Bukola Saraki, Senate President and read on the floor of the Red Chamber (Senate) March 13, Buhari said his decision was pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 (as amended).

Specifically the President said the piece of legislation undermined the powers of the Minister of Petroleum Resources as well as functions of the Ministry. Buhari who doubles as the Minister of Petroleum Resources stated inter-alia: “I am declining assent to the bill because in a number of important sections, the bill undermines the powers of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the functions and responsibilities of the Ministry.

Listing the contentious areas in the proposed law to include Sections 3, 6(1)(a), 7(a) and (b), 8, 9, and 11, Buhari insisted that “Section 8 of the bill imposes a new charge of 0.5 per cent of operation funds on oil companies for the enforcement of environmental legislations in the Petroleum sector.”

The imposition, he maintained, “is an additional burden on the industry, particularly given that it is unclear what operation funds mean for the purpose of applying the provisions of the law.”