Recent news making the rounds is that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and their oil company partners, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Total Exploration and Production of Nigeria (TEPNG) and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC),
have “disbursed” a total of $360 million for the clean-up of the Ogoniland. This claim is reported to have been made by the Chief Operating Officer for upstream operations of the NNPC during a hearing on the clean-up at the Nigerian National Assembly on Monday, February 17, 2020.
Even before this announcement at the National Assembly, dusts have been raised over how that colossal sum could have been spent on the Ogoni clean-up without corresponding results. Some usually respectable voices have been raised, alleging massive corruption in the way the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is handling the contracts. In fact, one report claimed that “it was unfortunate that an overwhelming $350 360million, an estimated N128,000,000,000 meant for the cleanup has been largely misappropriated due to the massive corruption in HYPREP.”
While this article cannot respond to the charges of corrupt practices, it is important to deal with the delicate issues of distorted perception that presentations of this sort can generate. Let us refresh our memories about the funding architecture of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. Following the UNEP report of 2011, it was decided that a total of $1 billion should be contributed towards commencing the clean-up of Ogoniland by the entities that polluted the area. Out of this sum, 90% is to be contributed at the ratio of Joint Venture holdings by the polluting partners while the balance 10% of the funds would come from a rather nebulous cohort including the refineries.
It is a pipe dream for anyone to imagine that $1 billion would be enough to restore Ogoni environment to its pristine state. The pollution is incredibly widespread and horrid. The cash and other resources needed to do the job will be humongous. There is no doubt that the clean-up could be faster than it has been. There is also no doubt that certain emergency measures could and must be undertaken. There is no reason why anyone in Ogoni should be drinking contaminated water after a report, from no less an agency like UNEP has clearly confirmed the fact of such contamination. However, whatever is done must be done right and must be understood within the overall context.
Citizens have a right to be emotive over the clean-up exercise because this is a matter of life or death for the present generation and for generations yet unborn. Pollution is an intergenerational crime. Indeed, some places in the Niger Delta will require several lifetimes to recover because the harms that have been inflicted can best be described as ecocide.
One of the problems with the clean-up is that some people see it as merely a business opportunity rather than as a duty to ensure that this intergenerational crime is redressed. Indeed, the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta could possibly provide employment for a large proportion of Nigeria’s unemployed youths if they are suitably trained and drawn into a comprehensive clean-up corp. In fact, the squabbles over the Ogoni clean-up contracts is a huge distraction at a time when we should be clamouring for an audit of all places in the Niger Delta (and elsewhere) with hydrocarbon pollution.
Chasing after an extremely difficult and complex clean-up without adequate technical and financial capacity is a disservice to our communities and peoples. We have seen the poor clean-up exercises carried out at locations where new spills occur. It took UNEP to expose the lie in oil company claims that they had remediated polluted places in Ogoniland. The poor efforts at covering up, rather than remediating, contaminated areas were all exposed by the UNEP report. A pursuit of the clean-up as “jobs for the boys” or where jobs are given out based on a sense of entitlement or as political patronage cannot portend anything good.
The nature, depth and complexity of the pollution of Ogoni requires the application of best skills and safe technologies sourced from any part of the world. The exercise should be pursued as an ecological emergency where the fact that a company has not previously operated in Nigeria should not be a primary stumbling block. Some of us are convinced that this is the approach that is needed as the clean-up moves to more complicated lots.
If HYPREP stands firm on the quality of project delivery, as we believe they should, and if jobs are let on the basis of local capacities only, the outcome may be massive delays as jobs that should be completed quickly will have to be redone repeatedly to meet set milestones and indicators. We have seen this in simple construction projects given out to less than competent contractors. The outcomes have been shoddy deliveries, delays and abandonment of sites. Neither HYPREP nor the Ogoni people can afford that scenario.
Back to the matter of cash. When the NNPC chief announced that the polluters had disbursed $360 million, the impression people get is that HYPREP has spent the cash. Few understand that the funds contributed or paid by the polluters are held by an Ogoni Trust Fund and are not directly in HYPREP’s expenditure accounts. Indeed, the expenditure so far has not reached up to 10% of the contributed sum. Moreover, the NNPC chief may not have told the world exactly when they disbursed the 2019 tranche of the funds to the Ogoni Trust Fund. If the sums were paid at the end of that year how could anyone think or believe that the money has been spent or has been spirited away in the clean-up process?
The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raise the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleaned. And, by extension, whether the Niger Delta will ever be cleaned.
Nnimmo Bassey is Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)