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Monday, September 25, 2023

Kebetkache group lists community concerns in Ogoniland clean-up

Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based not-for-profit, the Kebetkache Woman Development and Resource Centre, at a media session highlights the achievements of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) since its operations commenced three years ago and attempts to proffer solutions to identified challenges

Aftermath of oil spill in Bodo. Photo credit: Leigh Day

For over 60 years, the Nigerian government exploited oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta region. During this period, extensive pollution of the air, water, sediment and soil in local communities in the region exposed humans and other life forms to severe health risks.

At some point in the early 1990s, the Ogoni communities and civil society organisations agitated for the government to clean up environmental degradation in the area. As a response, the Nigerian government commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to undertake an environmental assessment of Ogoniland. In 2011, UNEP released the report that provided scientific evidence to the massive environmental pollution occasioned by oil spills in Ogoniland and proffered recommendations. In 2016, the Nigerian government flagged off the clean-up of Ogoniland, and re-established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in April 2017.

Till date, HYPREP’s activities in Ogoniland has focused on determining the scope and means of soil and groundwater remediation and local capacity building. It is important to mention that two other mandates of HYPREP are critical to the development of Ogoniland and cannot be relegated or jettisoned.

HYPREP’s activities are currently focused on soil remediation and capacity development. On polluted land remediation, HYPREP contracted 21 remediation companies in January 2019, to undertake remediation works in Ogoniland within a six-month period. As we speak, all 21 lots are still on-site undertaking remediation works 18 months after they signed the contracts.

None of the contractors have attained 50% of required work. Again, in the first quarter of 2020, HYPREP contracted another 36 remediation contractors to undertake remediation works (29 to remediate polluted lots and seven to monitor groundwater). So far, work done is below stakeholder expectations. In the following sections, we highlight the observed/noticeable challenges facing successful implementation of the UNEP report and proffered solutions.

HYPREP should go back to the emergency measures

The UNEP report identified eight emergency measures and recommended that they should be given urgent attention to address high risk issues in some impacted communities in Ogoniland. Of priority on the emergency measures’ list is the provision of potable drinking water to communities were available drinking water contains benzene 900 times more than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Three years and two months into the operations of HYPREP, these communities are yet to access potable drinking water. These measures that were hitherto considered emergency have not been prioritised. Currently, the implementation of the emergency measures is adhoc and selective, and only a few measures had been partially attempted while many others are yet to be conceived. Kebetkache is, therefore, calling on HYPREP to return to the emergency measures and ensure potable drinking water are provided for impacted communities.

Livelihood restoration

The approach to livelihood restoration is adhoc. Community stakeholders expected a robust and comprehensive livelihood restoration framework designed based on a Needs Assessment in Ogoniland. It is expected that a Needs Assessment should have provided a background and scope as to the skills and livelihood packages locals are interested in. Such consideration would have considered the current income level of the locals and their desired livelihood structure. While this is ignored, pockets of youths (a little over 30) seem to have been trained in cassava processing. Its almost a year after this training was conducted, no follow-up or impact monitoring.

HYPREP in early 2020, initiated a livelihood training for 400 Ogoni women to be undertaken in two batches, by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) at the Songhai farm – this is against the 1,200 women that were previously reported to be trained by HYPREP. Training duration, the skills to be acquired, and arrangement for start-ups after the training is not public information. These missing gaps seem to classify the approach as adhoc like the development of KPIs, work plan and the blueprint for project sustainability. To help with this aspect of the project, Kebetkache has undertaken a women livelihood assessment and identified sustainable livelihood structures women in Ogoni outlined for livelihood support. The report is a veritable tool in road mapping livelihood ventures for women in Ogoniland.

Contract terms and competency of contractors

The first set of 21 contractors were given six months to complete remedial work. None of the contractors in the phase 1 met this contract term. As a result, contractors had to apply for extension, which COVID-19 notwithstanding, is not achievable. Remediation of legacy sites as found in Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta can only be achieved within 24 to 60 months minimum, and this should apply to Ogoniland.

This therefore underscores the competency of the contractors who should understand that remediation of legacy sites is different from oil spill containment or clean-up that can be completed in six months. Duration of remediation will take longer in Ogoni because of contextual issues such as long rains (eight months – May to December). Thus, even when disregarding the impact, the COVID-19 restrictions will have on the clean-up, it is unlikely HYPREP can meet the preliminary five-year deadline in Ogoniland.

Work plan

Now, relevant, and key stakeholders do not have access to HYPREP’s work plan. The UNEP report made provisions for a preliminary five-year work plan towards environmental restoration in Ogoniland. In the pathway to sustainability, the UNEP report highlighted issues such as emergency measures, clean-up, mangrove restoration, centre of excellence, alternative employment to those in artisanal refining, surveillance and monitoring, clean-up of sediments and restoration of artisanal refining sites, to be given attention in the first five years. The initial $1 billion was supposed to carter for these listed activities. It is however worrisome that HYPREP is yet to outline a workplan that would consider these priorities in the first five years of its activities.

Capacity and competency

There are mounting needs for the funds to be expended on provision of potable water, capacity building of women and youth, sediment remediation, livelihood package for artisanal refiners, centre of excellence and soil management centre and community members expect HYPREP to indicate where available funds are channelled

Payment of contractors

Following the COVID-19 restrictions, work had stopped at some sites, while few are working. However, it is clear from field observations that most lots had stopped work long before COVID-19 pandemic reached Nigeria. Some lots had stopped work between September 2019 and January 2020, reportedly over lack of payments, while others are still active, with reduced staff capacity.

There have been increased protests by workers on the sites. Evidence also exists that workers have not been paid because contractors have not been paid too. While contractors lobby to be paid, others have locked their sites and embarked on “no pay no work” (E.g. Lot 5). It is difficult to understand the reason for indebtedness given that HYPREP has no funding challenge.

Key performance indicators

The monitoring tool (key performance indicators (KPIs)) that should be used by stakeholders to assess the quality of work done is not yet released to stakeholders by HYPREP. Conventionally, best practice requires all relevant stakeholders to co-develop the KPI. The reason is to meet different stakeholder expectations and encourage inclusive decision-making. However, HYPREP seems to have independently developed the KPIs without stakeholder inputs, and also unwilling to share same for public utilization to monitor the success of the clean-up exercise.

The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) has a statutory responsibility to monitor the remediation process, however, it is unclear whether NOSDRA has taken up this responsibility. Some contractors in the first phase of the remediation exercise have started backfilling, but stakeholders do not have access to data of Total Hydrocarbon Petroleum (TPH) concentrations of remediated or backfilled soil on such sites. This has raised concerns for quality assurance and control of the remediation exercise.

Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre (ICSMC) and Centre of Excellence

Most worrisome, the ICSMC and the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration is yet to be built. These centres were expected to play key roles in the remediation of recalcitrant hydrocarbons, management of toxic and hazardous waste, development of capacity for the remediation project and the creation of sustainable jobs in Ogoniland and the wider Niger Delta. These aspects of the project currently pose significant risks to the realisation of the project goal.

What is currently missing and worth highlighting is the toxic waste management plan in the different communities where remediation is being conducted. It is general knowledge that hazardous waste will be generated as the remediation begins, however, it is not clear how contractors intend to address issues related to effective hazardous waste management. This is critical to the success of the remediation works, even as the likelihood of dumping such waste in community dumpsites is remarkably high. This has implications for re-contamination. Also, it is unclear where and how waste generated from the lots during remediation are handled or managed.

The Project Management Consultant (PMC)

The PMC was engaged by the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) to ensure quality assurance and quality control of the remediation project. Although the PMC engaged is not competent in soil and groundwater remediation, the PMC ensured contractors prioritised health and safety measures on site. For example, they ensured contractors provided safety briefing to their workers, personal protective equipment, acquaint themselves with unsafe acts and unsafe behaviour and conditions, and overall ensured safe working environment for all workers.

Things changed when contractors started working on Saturdays and Sundays without the supervision of the PMC, to meet project milestones. On such days, one wonders if health and safety measures are observed.

What is important to mention here is that the contract of the PMC ended in December 2019. Since the expiration of the contract, contractors have been working without any supervision. Thus, neither equipment supervision, health and safety measures or provision of appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) has been considered important during remediation. As a result, quality control and quality assurance of the remediation exercise is compromised within this period.

Re-pollution and artisanal refining

Re-pollution is a major threat to successful clean-up in Ogoniland due majorly to oil theft, artisanal oil refining, and pipeline vandalism. There is need for HYPREP to give due attention to artisanal refining activities.

Use of internationally accredited laboratories

Stakeholders are very concerned over the capacity of available laboratories in Port Harcourt to provide credible analysis of samples collected from remediation sites in Ogoniland. While UNEP has earlier raised such concerns, neither NOSDRA nor HYPREP have taken the initiative to ensure samples are analysed in credible laboratories. Evidence of accredited laboratories by NOSDRA indicate that top management of HYPREP own laboratories that could potentially pose conflict of interest as contractors and jeopardise the integrity of analysed samples.

Lastly, there is no indication of HYPREP having a pragmatic approach to collaborate and partner civil society organisations. HYPREP is yet to perceive CSOs as partners in progress. This does not create room for CSOs to provide the needed support for the success of the project.

It is on the note of these 11 identified challenges that the following recommendations are made:

  • Rekindle the trust and confidence of the Ogoni people and indeed the Niger Delta in the ability of HYPREP to undertake a credible and sustainable remediation exercise in Ogoniland
  • HYPREP should immediately re-strategise the implementation of the emergency measures as this is a sure pathway towards confidence building
  • Review the contract terms and where necessary revoke the contracts of incompetent contractors
  • A livelihood blueprint and a pathway for Ogoni sustainable development should be developed and implemented by HYPREP
  • As a matter of urgency, publicise HYPREP’s work plan for the next two years. Ensure simultaneous execution to meet up UNEP’s five-year recommendations
  • Prioritise the building of the Centre of Excellence and ICSMC
  • HYPREP should ensure contractors are paid immediately milestones are achieved.
  • HYPREP to kickstart quarterly transparency and accountability forum to present scorecard to stakeholders
  • HYPREP’s Governing Council and Board of Trustees to rise to their responsibilities to ensure informed decision making in HYPREP
  • HYPREP should release KPIs to stakeholders and allow for the monitoring of the project
  • HYPREP should develop a roadmap for addressing re-pollution

Despite minimal progress in the implementation of the UNEP recommendations for Ogoniland, significant work remains in tackling the land contamination legacy and its public health, socio-economic, cultural, and environmental implications in Ogoniland.

The overwhelming joy and excitement that envelope the Ogoni nation during the flag-off of the Ogoni clean-up could be restored. Ogoni clean-up is a multi-stakeholder project, and everyone should be allowed to play its role for the achievement of the project goal.

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