Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr Godwin Ojo, in a policy brief lists deviations and gaps on the part of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in the management and implementation of the Ogoni clean-up process. He says the aim of the initiative is to ensure that government and HYPREP adopt the right measures on the clean-up process, even as he proffers some remedies to the gaps identified
Nearly three and a half years after President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by vice president Yemi Osibanjo flagged off the Ogoni cleanup process for Ogoniland, there are worrying signs that the project may fail spectacularly if immediate remedial actions are not taken.
On this 24th anniversary of the judicial murder of the irrepressible Ogoni activist (November 10, 1995), environmentalist and writer Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa and all the Ogoni martyrs whose lives and ultimate sacrifice watered and provided the underlying basis and framework for the Ogoni cleanup process. In their collective memory and the memories of countless martyrs from the Niger Delta region and many more from different parts of the planet who joined the struggle for a clean environment that sustains life. Those whose sense of justice, equity and equality were assailed by the egregious and reckless actions of the then Nigerian military state and multinational oil corporations Shell, it has become imperative that we act decisively and speaking truth to power.
Despite the well-oiled attempts to spin the true state of affairs surrounding the Ogoni cleanup process and the media onslaught by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and its media team; it is clear to local communities and civic groups closely following and monitoring the cleanup process that all is not well. Key deliverables in critical areas such as transparency, accountability and local participation have not been clearly articulated let alone achieved.
Major Gaps in the Clean-up Process
Some semblance of clean-up is going on but very haphazardly. A holistic Workplan for at least to cover the first five years of the project has yet not been publicly disclosed. ERA and its allies and other CSOs have continuously raised the issue but HYPREP is not forthcoming with the plans. Rather, it prefers a piecemeal approach showing that it lacks the capacity to plan and implement the clean up on a long-term basis.
Lack of Key Performance Indicators
Only in January 2019 were some contractors mobilised to the clean-up sites. Yet, HYPREP did not consider the need to have baseline data upon which to gauge the clean-up process. It has no scientific measurements called key Performance Indicators outlining expected achievements in terms of quality of clean up and environmental remediation, level of restoration of livelihoods, gender participation, human rights protection and security including an enhanced organisational capacity of HYPREP itself are clearly missing. In some of the Lots visited, contractors whose selection criteria and process are still enmeshed in controversy over their competence are in the field supposedly undertaking the clean-up of Ogoniland. They have no robust key performance indicators to measure the level and quality of clean up.
While HYPREP indicated soil baselines in the tender documents given to the contractors, it did not provide the livelihood status of the individual communities or local government councils, and by what percent livelihoods would be improved in such polluted communities. The lack of KPI will also make it extremely difficult for stakeholders such as civil society organisations and independent working groups to utilise such KPIs to monitor the positive or otherwise impacts of the project and measure value for money.
Also, field report and monitoring show that target value is less than the intervention value in some cases especially in lots that were split to parts to accommodate other contractors for political patronage. More pertinent is the regulatory environmental threshold given by HYPREP to contractors which is an intervention value of 1000mg/kg and target value of 50mg/kg that could be considered good when compared to the current Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN).
However, given the need to protect public health, a more conservative threshold would benefit the Ogoniland and the Niger Delta at large. It is important to mention that baseline data provided by HYPREP to contractors disclosed certain lots where land contamination is below 50mg/kg. It is neither a cost-effective nor sustainable decision to remediate such sites given HYPREP’s intervention value. While HYPREP indicated soil baselines in the tender documents given to contractors, it did not provide the livelihood status of individual communities or local government councils, and by how many percent livelihoods would be improved or increased in such communities. This will make it extremely difficult for stakeholders such as civil society organisations and independent working groups to utilize such KPIs to monitor the positive or otherwise impacts of the project and measure value for money.
CSOs Developed Key Performance Indicators for HYPREP
Given the importance of the KPIs to the Ogoni remediation exercise, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria has made effort through a robust research in the course of the year to precisely identify KPIs to measure and evaluate the impacts or burden of HYPREP’s activities on the environment and the outcomes of environmental actions such as clean up indicators required which should include environmental livelihood, health, potable water, gender, human rights and security, amongst others. It is also to promote active and voluntary environmental monitoring efforts. Such performance indicators will promote HYPREP’s efforts and other independent organisations for internal evaluation and decision making with respect to the Ogoni clean-up.
For a project expected to last between 25 to 30 years, setting measurable indicators would help the different governance regimes to focus on the goals of the project. It will also help the different administration and civil society organisations to measure impacts of the clean-up on the different aspects of the Ogoni society and its environs.
Gender Blindness in the Clean-Up Process
Field monitoring and inspections were undertaken to specific sites to assess milestones and performance indicators given to contractors. During the visit it was noted that the gender sensitivity was not considered significant. For example, the Lots in Eleme LGA had a 15:1 of men to women ratio. Given that women inclusion is a critical indicator for the success of the Ogoni clean up, the current gender consideration needs to be balanced. Perhaps, a 30-40 percent women inclusion in the provision would mean well for the livelihood restoration in the region.
Low Organisational Capacity
As the vice president Yemi Osinbajo was flagging off the commencement of the Ogoni clean-up process, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and other civil society groups had expressed grave concerns about the capacity and ability of the new HYPREP team to undertake the very complex and multi-disciplinary task of delivering a world class remediation project. To us the remit of HYPREP was not merely to remediate the long-standing spills that have caused devastation in the Ogoni area. The arduous task before HYPREP was at a minimum to breathe life back into a dying Ogoni ecosystem; to inspire confidence and hope in Ogonis and help kick start the healing and reconciliation process that is so essential for a return to normalcy.
The initial steps taken by HYPREP were unsteady and unsure could be attributed to a clear absence of organisational capacity.
The staffing at HYPREP and competency of the staff to deliver on the mandate of the agency was suspect and the bungling of the initial contracting process showed how much work needed to be done to build staff capacity. Even more significant is that as yet staff of HYPREP are yet to come up with a credible work plan that a roadmap for the execution of the cleanup process.
It had similarly jumped into the contracting process without adequate preparation or making available broad-based key performance indicators to guide the contractors, its staff, local communities and the security agencies attached to the project, vulnerable segments of the communities and interested civic groups.
There is also the untenable situation where a former Shell staff Prof Shekwolokwo who supervised failed clean-up operations during his Shell days is now the head of operations in HYPREP. While we have nothing against hiring the best hands we believe that given the damning verdict of the UNEP report about failures of the cleanup operations carried out by Shell, the head of operations in HYPREP ought to have been someone other than a former Shell employee who we believe holds his position at the behest of Shell.
The inability to recognise, collaborate and actively encourage the participation of other actors in delivering on its mandate in the Ogoni area. It was expected to proactively provide leadership, streamline and synthesise actions and interventions by actors such as the Rivers state government and its relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and other international agencies and donor organisations in its area of focus.
HYPREP Lacks Capacity to Spend
Closely aligned with its glaring organisational capacity deficiencies has been the inability of HYPREP to spend the funds made available to it. The HYPREP gazette clearly states that HYPREP will receive at least $200 million dollars every year until the $1 billion recommended by the UNEP report for the cleanup of Ogoniland is achieved with an initial five-year period. The present management of HYPREP which was appointed in early 2017 will be marking its third anniversary in another two months and it is still struggling to spend the initial $170 million contributed by the stakeholders on secondary or less polluted sites rather than on primary or heavy polluted sites.
It is yet to provide Ogoni stakeholders and the general public with a transparent and accurate report of how much it has expended so far and the activities on which these expenses were incurred. HYPREP is due to receive $600 million by 2020 but has no rolling workplan to allocate this. While HYPREP may be plagued by bureaucracy and political patronage, HYPREP lacks operational independence hence the need for the National assembly to provide for legislative backing for the clean-up process and conduct oversight functions over the clean-up process. The Environmental Rights Action offers the national assembly a guided tour of the polluted sites if the need arises.
Deviation from the UNEP Recommendations
HYPREP renege on the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre
There are concerns being raised about the delay in the commencement of work on the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre (ICMSC) as recommended by the 2011 UNEP report. The ICMSC to provide broad based capacity building for the Ogonis has been completely sidelined and this portends grave danger for the clean-up. We condemned the decision of the HYPREP team to use bio-cells remediation technique to treat impacted soil at this stage with the lame excuse that it is unable to find a suitable template for an Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre. But from its body language HYPREP is unwilling to build this facility recommended by UNEP in Ogoniland. But this should have been a priority for the project.
HYPREP renege on Centre of Excellence
Similarly, HYPREP is unwilling to commence the construction of the Center of Excellence recommended by UNEP. Again, its argument for not going ahead with the construction of the center of excellence is that the UNEP report says that the center will be a place for learning, research and knowledge sharing at the end of the project. HYPREP do not understand the need to record and document every step of the clean up as a learning process which the centre can offer as a learning institution in the pre, during and post clean up phases.
The argument that Centre of Excellence will be built 30 years at the end of the clean-up is senseless and ludicrous. Part of the $200 million each year in the initial five years totaling $1 billion as recommended by UNEP for the Ogoni clean-up process ought to be used for the provision of this centre of excellence.
The Federal Ministry of Environment Bureaucracy
The overbearing bureaucratic influence of the Federal Ministry of Environment – HYPREP is tied very firmly to the apron strings of the Minister of Environment and critical decisions about processes and activities within HYPREP usually have to receive the imprimatur of the minister before they are implemented. This situation has meant that the Project Coordinator is often in Abuja ostensibly lobbying the minister to get things done. While the Programme Coordinator is thus otherwise engaged in Abuja, activities at the project office are brought to a halt until the Project Coordinator returns from his visit to Abuja.
As a matter of urgency, the National Assembly should urgently intervene in the Ogoni clean-up process by directing appropriate committees to provide oversight functions on the clean-up process. Unqualified contractors were procured for the clean-up and lacking robust Key Performance Indicators to measure the quality of remediation. NASS oversight function will prevent the dissipation of public revenue and at this early stage and halt the drift of HYPREP towards the fate of similar laudable interventions in the Niger Delta that went into private pockets instead of addressing the needs of the people and the environment.
The National Assembly should adopt the HYPREP gazette and rework it with appropriate modifications and pass it into law to provide legislator backing with independent status. This will ensure a more robust and legally binding supervision of HYPREP and the funds committed to it. While we urge the early release of the $600 million due to it by 2020, HYPREP failed to demonstrate capacity to spend thereby requiring an overhaul.
To re-iterate, if urgent and decisive action is not taken to refocus HYPREP, we may have another white elephant intervention in the Niger Delta region like others before it that have failed to turn the fortunes of the region around for the good of long suffering communities in the region. In a nutshell, the structure and operations of HYPREP should be urgently reviewed by the National Assembly to ensure proper oversight of its activities.