Ogoni Clean-up: Why HYPREP matters

By Joseph Kpoobari Nafo

Recently a Non-Governmental Organization, Environmental Rights Action, ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria – through its Executive Director, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo – called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to scrap the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation, HYPREP. With all due respect, I am surprised that a learned person like the good doctor – an expert who is knowledgeable about the science behind environmental remediation/restoration processes – should come up with such a misplaced demand.

HYPREP is not averse to constructive criticisms that can add value. However, ERA and its boss know that the commencement point of a standard remediation exercise does not start with visually impressive, crowd-pleasing deployments of earth-moving equipment to sites. ERA knows that fairly lengthy and low-profile routine preparations – delineation and scoping, for example – need to be undertaken first. Or is ERA asking us to ignore best practices and do a substandard job for the long-suffering people of Ogoni, whose lands, swamps, surface and under-ground water have been massively polluted for decades? Does ERA not share our view that Ogoni people – whose health and livelihoods have been seriously damaged – deserve a modus operandi that will deliver sustainable results? In other words, ERA telling HYPREP to turn a blind eye to proper procedures and go straight to the actual clean-up is a disservice to the people of Ogoni whose welfare it claims to be concerned about.

The UNEP report was submitted to the Federal Government in 2011, but left unimplemented until 2016 when President, Muhammadu Buhari decided to put it on the front burner. And HYPREP has, since then, diligently and doggedly worked towards actualizing Mr. President’s vision for Ogoniland. If something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well and HYPREP is carefully managing a complex and time-consuming process that cannot be concluded overnight.

Let me assure doubters that no day, week or month has been wasted – and that significant progress has been made – since HYPREP Project Coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil, enthusiastically embraced this challenge.

We are currently at the scoping and delineation stage and have advertised for companies to do remediation, carry out health impact studies and provide potable water for impacted Ogoni communities, in accordance with the procurement law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We now have to wait for that process to tail out because we cannot afford to breach the law. Complying with extant laws should therefore not be seen as delaying the process or lacking capacity to drive the clean-up process, as ERA is alleging.

As for ERA’s insistence on a name change, let me paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and ask, “what is in a name?” Does a rose not smell the same whatever you call it?  It is true that the UNEP report advised the Federal Government to establish an “Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority.” But this nomenclature was just a suggestion and the Federal Government chose another equally appropriate name, HYPREP. At any rate, all that really matters is what the clean-up vehicle does and achieves; and ERA’s focus on name-changing is trivial and diverts attention from more important matters.

The pollution in Ogoniland is only a microcosm of the environmental devastation in the Niger Delta region and in the wisdom of the Federal Government an eventual success of the Ogoniland clean-up would be used as template for the remediation of the rest of the region and in that case an Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority will not be appropriate at that point. The same reason the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC is not named after individual communities that produce oil but given a generic name after the region. ERA failed to explain to the world how a mere change of name will in itself fast-track the Ogoniland clean-up and thus its position is but a fallacy.

ERA also falsely claimed that the Federal Government was not “following the recommendation of the UNEP report” and did not have “the political will to commence the clean-up of Ogoniland.” But ERA’s claim lack merit.

It must be stated categorically that the Federal Government showed the needed political will to flag off the project in 2016 and followed it up with the setting-up of governing structures (Governing Council, Board of Trustees and the Project Coordination Office) to superintend the affairs of the project. In the same vein,  it also included the administrative cost of the project in the national budget for 2018?

The President personally inaugurated the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees. What other show of political will on the part of the Federal Government does ERA wants to see to believe that the administration of President Buhari is committed to the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland?

Again, if ERA lacks “confidence in HYPREP”, its pessimism is not shared by all Ogoni people. On 3rd August, 2018, several Ogonis – from all walks of life – gathered at HYPREP’s second Stakeholders’ Forum in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, which was televised live. Many pledged their support for the project and the process and only pleaded that local Ogoni contractors should be considered in the award of contracts. Land is scarce and precious in ogoniland and if communities willingly donate large portions to the project as they have done, then, there could be no further testimony of support and confidence in HYPREP than that. ERA’s submission is also not the position of the United Nations system (UNITAR, UNOPS, UN Environment, WHO) or the position of International Development Partners such as the Department for International Development, DFID that are closely cooperating with HYPREP.

ERA says “HYPREP cannot do the project because they lack the machinery and they do not have the capacity to drive it.” Is that not deliberate misinformation intended to discredit HYPREP or what is called “give a dog a bad name to hang him”? Is HYPREP expected to have the machinery to do the work or to award contracts to competent contractors with necessary technical know-how and the facilities to carry out remediation, health impact studies, livelihoods training and provision of potable water for impacted communities?

Now it is abundantly clear that ERA’s call for the disbandment of HYPREP is ill-conceived and anti-Ogoni.

ERA threatened that “CSO’s are planning protest against HYPREP.” But they miss the point. In implementing the project, the Federal Government adopted a multi-stakeholder approach where Ogoni community, International Oil Companies, Niger Delta Community, the nine Oil Producing States and Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, all have roles to play.

The Governing Council is chaired by the Honourable Minister of State for Environment, Mr. Ibrahim Usman Jibril, who has demonstrated capacity and competence in piloting the affairs of the project. Meanwhile, Chief Wale Edun, an accomplished financial expert, is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees; while the Ogoni community is represented on the Governing Council and Board of Trustees by Prof. Ben Naanen, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, His Royal Highness, Chief Bebe Okpabi, and Dr. Peter Medee.

Other distinguished members of the Governing Council include Prof. Roselyn Konya, the Rivers State Commissioner for Environment, Retired Permanent Secretary Dr. Timiebi Koripamo, Pamela Esiri, the National Security Advisor and the Ministers of State for Petroleum Resources, Budget and National Planning and Niger Delta Affairs.

Civil Society Organizations like ERA are also represented on the Governing Council and Board of Trustees by Barrister Anyakwe Nsirimovu and Nnimmo Bassey respectively. Shell is an active participant and UNEP plays an observer role. With a powerful team like this supporting HYPREP’s determination to forge ahead and fulfill the dreams of the Ogoni people, failure is not an option.

HYPREP remains focused on the clean-up of Ogoniland and will not be distracted by unfounded criticisms.