The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has called on the newly inaugurated Governing Council and Board of Trustees for the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to urgently establish the Centre of Excellence to provide capacity building for HYPREP staff and the Ogonis.
Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, who made the submission in a statement on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 against the backdrop of the recent inauguration, stated that the Centre of Excellence would also document lessons learnt for the replication of the clean-up when the entire polluted Niger Delta is restored.
He described the Centre of Excellence as the “major pillar of the clean-up process”.
According to him, the establishment of the Centre of Excellence was sidelined in the past four years, “thereby shortchanging the Ogonis of the opportunity to build capacity and skills of the youths”.
He added that ERA/FoEN had surmised from majority of Ogonis and reports of its team of monitors around the project areas that HYPREP was not working with optimal capacity. “The agency had almost completely derailed from the goals and objectives set out in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ogoni environmental Assessment report of 2011 leading to unnecessary delays and poor remediation work due to some unqualified contractors,” Dr Ojo stated.
ERA/FoEN and its partners, Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Amnesty International and community groups in a report titled: “No Cleanup, No Justice”, issued in 2020 had called for the complete overhaul of the HYPREP structure because of the lack of synergy between the operations of HYPREP and the UNEP report recommendations on the one hand as well as the needs of local communities in Ogoni on the other.
ERA/FoEN says it welcomes the federal government decision to listen to genuine voices of the people and groups monitoring the cleanup process. While hoping that sufficient consultation was carried out before the new governing council and board of trustee members were appointed, the group says it expects that the members have the capacity and expertise to oversee a complex and multifaceted undertaking like the Ogoni cleanup process.
“The new board and the governing council should avoid any potential conflict of interests in the award of clean up contracts and procurement process that has been a major issue bisecting the clean up process,” ERA/FoEN submitted.
Dr Ojo said: “The federal government environmental legacy project in the last four years has been a story of misplaced priorities, politicised clean-up, personal interest of board members overriding the interest of delivering a world class cleanup process and the critical need to save the lives of our people affected by environmental devastation. The slow pace of the clean-up and faulty procurement process are key areas that the present crop of managers should urgently address.”
In a press statement endorsed by Mike Karikpo, Porgrammes Director of ERA/FoEN, the also welcomes the announcement that the federal executive council has approved over N6 billion to ensure the provision of clean portable water for Ogoni communities.
According to the organisation, this was one of the emergency measures recommended in the UNEP Ogoni Environmental Assessment report that HYPREP was expected to pursue aggressively at the launch of the project “but which it regrettably refused to do despite ERA/FoEN’s consistent advocacy about the lasting impact this would have on other aspects of the project”.
ERA/FoEN expressed concern that the goodwill of the people and a lot of time has already been lost by HYPREP, adding: “Clear milestones, workplans and key performance indicators have not been delivered by the agency, leaving their operations lacking transparency and accountability.”
It calls on the federal government to ensure that the problems that bedeviled the agency in the last four years with the award of contracts for clean-up to unqualified companies, political hangers-on and members of both the governing council and board of trustees of HYPREP do not reoccur.
ERA/FoEN also calls on the Federal Ministry of Environment and HYPREP to make the contractual terms and costs for the over N6 billion water projects public so that local communities, civic groups and even the international community can monitor and evaluate the success of “this very important and people-oriented aspect of the project adequately”.
Ojo demands for a more inconclusive and participatory project design and implementation process to, according to him, ward against the short comings experienced in the last four years.
“It is critical that there is community and civil society participation in drawing up a short-term and long-term Workplans, Key Performance Indicators and milestones for the next five years of the project. Any progress from the clean-up should be seen in the scope and quality of environmental remediation and recovery, improvement in the fishing and farming occupations and livelihoods of the Ogonis,” he said.
ERA/FoEN also calls on the federal government to urgently appoint a substantive Coordinator for HYPREP and immediately replace Prof Phillip Shokolo, the Shell nominee at the HYPREP coordination office who presently acts as interim coordinator in the absence of a substantive coordinator.
“Shell is a major culprit in the ecocide that the Ogoni environment and society is experiencing. It is inconceivable that a Shell nominated staff that was part of the Shell operations responsible for the pollution of Ogoniland is presiding over HYPREP activities and the clean-up and remediation process,” added Dr Ojo.
President Muhammadu Buhari has on Friday, March 12, 2021 inaugurated a 13-member Governing Council and a 10-member Board of Trustees of the Ogoni Trust Fund on Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).
The Minister of Environment, Dr Mohammad Abubakar, is the Chairman of the governing council while Mr Michael Nwileaghi is the Chairman of the board of trustees.