Analysing the activities of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in line with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommendations for the remediation and restoration of the polluted Ogoni environment, Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), at a forum in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 says there is “monumental deviation” from the UNEP blueprint that he claims has eroded public confidence and will likely compromise the quality of the clean-up process. He urges HYPREP to stick to the concrete recommendations relating to the clean-up process
The much-anticipated clean-up of Ogoniland which has become very contentious and politicised.
In 2015, the current federal administration announced the fast tracking of the implementation process and worked to correct the structural defects as well as the paucity of funding for the agency. Although the clean-up of Ogoniland was flagged off on June 2, 2016 with the setting of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP 2), it was only in January 2019 that the agency announced that it was handing over 16 sites to contractors to commence the clean-up processes.
The verdict on Ogoniland by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Environmental Assessment has not changed. Recent visits to the communities indicate that Ogoni land remains a wrecked environment and environmental disaster zone. Despite efforts made towards the clean-up, till date, contrary to popular belief, not a drop of oil has been cleaned.
The multiple claims that contractors have mobilised to site, and that clean-up has commenced is false as there is no visible sign of contractors going by reports from our independent field monitors who are closely monitoring the process and were there this week.
The report finds monumental deviation that has eroded public confidence and will likely compromise the quality of the clean-up process. Hence, we request HYPREP to stick to the concrete recommendations relating to the clean-up process. This report is of interest to critical stakeholders in the Ogoni clean-up process.
Scanty information about Ogoni clean-up contractors
There are interested observers and local communities who would like to get full information about the contractors that were finally selected to undertake the current clean-up jobs. Apart from the list of over 170 firms who submitted their expression of interest and bid documents, there is an information gap in the public domain on who the successful companies are, where they come from, track record of similar work done and the terms of the contract.
It is now international best practice to publicly disclose the terms, scope and cost of the contracts entered between entities such as HYPREP and each of the companies selected to commence the clean-up process in the 16 selected sites. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and several other international institutions have had this as part of their operational guidelines and disclosure policy. The process should therefore scrupulously abide by international best practices to ensure appropriate monitoring and evaluation by the international community.
HYPREP and a five-year work-plan
HYPREP has raked in huge public outcry and negative criticism by the secrecy surrounding the work-plan. In a multidisciplinary and complex undertaking such as the Ogoni clean-up process, a work-plan should be made available publicly. A work-plan outlining a set of goals and processes is not in public domain, thereby shrouding the process in secrecy. A work-plan would demonstrate a set of outcomes to be achieved in the short, mid and long term.
Thus, the work-plan could be used as a tool for measuring and evaluating the progress of the work over time. Work plans, whether used in professional or academic life, help you stay organised while working. If it has not done so already, HYPREP should develop and put in the public domain a five-year work-plan for Ogoni clean-up process with enough in-built flexibility to allow for practical public input and adaptation to emerging realities.
Sustainable funding for the clean-up process
So far, after nearly three and a half years after the presidential announcement on the fast-tracking of the Ogoni clean-up process and the $10 million take-off fund, the only announcement in 2018 was that the stakeholders have finally mobilised about $177 million to enable the commencement of clean-up project. While there is a shortfall in 2018, it is hoped that funding of $200 million for 2019 should be released early so that there is sustainable funding for the exercise. The inability to quickly mobilise funds to ensure effective commencement of the clean-up process created a perception of lack of sincerity and commitment on the part of government and the other contributing stakeholders led by Shell.
Establishment of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre
According to the UNEP report, the key recommendation for the clean-up of the Ogoni environment is the establishment of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre (ICMSC) comprising an incinerator, thermal unit, soil washing unit and a contaminated water treatment unit that are yet to be built even after a ground-breaking ceremony in 2017 by the then Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed. Yet, this facility is one of the most crucial in commencing the clean-up exercise.
A statement from HYPREP’s website reads: “On 16th February 2017, the ground-breaking ceremony was performed for the construction of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre in Bori New City in Khana Local Government Area in Ogoniland”. However, there are concerns about the delay in the commencement of the ICMSC and what it portends for the project.
Another statement from HYPREP’s website gives us even more cause for concern. The HYPREP’s Milestones document that formed part of their media briefing on Saturday January 26, 2019 stated: “We have adopted an updated site remediation strategy which divides the sites into three categories; category A – complex, category B – less complex and category C – sites that require further investigations. The work of remediation in less complex sites does not require utilisation of the ICMSC. We have since commenced feasibility studies for both ICSMC and Centre of Excellence. We are adopting international bidding process to get the best of expertise and technology for the construction of both facilities.”
That the clean-up process does not require ICSMC is malicious falsehood and such a manipulation will likely affect the integrity and quality of the clean-up process.
From HYPREP statements, the following questions naturally agitate the mind of any interested observer in the light of claims that contractors have been mobilised to clean up and requested to deal with wastes from their project area.
- The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the ICSMC has already been done in Bori in 2017 but the site is currently abandoned and overgrown with weeds. This presupposes that the necessary condition precedent to any construction project had been completed e.g. feasibility studies, architectural, structural and mechanical drawings, etc.
- Why then is HYPREP still as recently as last week looking to perform feasibility studies and adopt international bidding processes to get the best experts for the ICSMC?
- Interestingly, only category B, less complex sites made up the 16 sites showing that complex and heavy polluted sites have been left out. This makes the initiative as superficial, make-belief and unserious. For example, what facilities and processes have been put in place by HYPREP to ensure that waste generated by remediation contractors even from their project sites are properly treated and appropriately disposed in the absence of the ICSMC that is crucial to this exercise. When will this ICSMC be built before the real clean-up of heavily polluted sites could commence?
Federal Ministry of Environment cutting corners in the Ogoni clean-up process
In a recent engagement with Amnesty International, the Federal Ministry of Environment confirmed that there are currently no plans for ICSMC. The FME argued that communities are interested in clean-up right now and all activities cannot be simultaneously undertaken. This indicates that the FME is oblivious of the nature of contaminated land waste – a major source of worry to civil society organisations and contaminated management experts in Ogoniland.
In HYPREP’s advert for remediation, one of the items highlighted was for prospective contamination remediation companies to possess ability to manage their waste. This could mean that different companies would adopt different approaches to managing waste from remediated sites. This approach is different from the thinking that led to the recommendation of the ICSMC by UNEP.
The ICSMC is expected to be a facility for receiving and treating waste from remediated sites. All remediation approaches that would require ex-situ treatment would generate significant hazardous waste. Thus, given the nature of contamination in many sites in Ogoniland, the UNEP report envisaged that managing generated waste could be challenging, hence recommended an exclusive facility for waste management. Experts expected this Centre to be in place before awarding any remediation contract – because it is the only effective mechanism to manage generated waste in the clean-up process. This recommendation was mainly to manage cross environmental contamination and ancillary pollution of plausible receptors, create sustainable jobs and transform Ogoniland to a global hub of skilled manpower and expertise on contaminated land remediation.
It is our hope and the prayer of all Ogonis that the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre and the Centre of excellence which were facilities that were both highly recommended by the UNEP report will not be abandoned and the laudable objectives behind it defeated.
On several monitoring visits in 2018 including a visit to Bodo on November 11, 2018, our team including campaigners from Europe, Asia and Africa witnessed first-hand how contractors handling the initial Free Phase oil removal operations under the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI) dumped bagged potentially toxic wastes around three sites in Bodo community.
Ogoni Centre of Excellence is jettisoned
The Ogoni Centre of Excellence has not been built and highly relegated. According to the UNEP report, the clean-up of Ogoniland is not exclusive to environmental restoration but includes social and livelihood restoration. This Centre is expected to train the required local manpower to participate in the clean-up exercise and ensure that Ogoni youths secure jobs with contractors. The Centre was also expected to increase tourism to contaminated sites for students and researchers globally. For this reason, UNEP in their preliminary cost estimate for the first five years allocated substantial funds to the establishment of the Centre of Excellence.
HYREP’s 2017 Year Book has no mention of the Centre for Excellence. Similarly, the 2018 HYPREP Milestones updates, due to pressure from civil society groups such as ERA/FoEN, only carries a cursory mention of the Centre with the vague statement that feasibility studies are being considered for it.
Clearly, the Ogonis feel that they have been short-changed and taken for a ride.
- The Federal Government should comply with the UNEP recommendation on emergency measures to provide the Ogoni communities water for drinking and other uses. In the short term, the Port Harcourt Water Corporation should play its statutory role of ensuring that “every citizen of the state has equal access to safe, adequate and reliable water supply”. HYPREP recourse to a comprehensive water scheme to embrace all the Ogoni communities is a welcome development but should translate from talks to immediate action because people are dying daily from drinking polluted water contaminated with heavy mental such as benzene. According to UNEP report, the pollutants in Ogoni water are cancer-causing and kill over time.
- HYPREP and government should develop a five-year work-plan that indicates short-, mid-, and long-term goals of the project lifecycle and ensure transparency of the process.
- HYPREP should urgently commence the development of the Centre for Excellence and ICSMC as no meaningful clean-up will be done without it.
- A quarterly transparency and accountability meeting open to all stakeholders should be initiated. Such a platform should be used to gain trust and confidence and validate the integrity of HYPREP.
- HYPREP should set up a database for the information on the remediation process.
- HYPREP should develop a robust economic empowerment package/programme for local community members involved in artisanal crude oil refinery.
- Government should ensure that at least $200 million per year is provided timely and sustainably to avoid the situation of shortfall that occurred in 2018.