A civil society group, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), has called on the Nigerian authorities as well as all Nigerians to demand accountability from the contractors handling the Ogoni land clean-up project.
The centre and its allies have expressed concern over what the “politicking” that has enveloped the entire clean-up process, which was conceived to restore, remediate and rehabilitate the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta region as a whole. The project implementation is believed to have been adversely affected by weak coordination between the state and Federal Government.
Indeed, environmental contamination caused by hydrocarbons is an epidemic in the Niger Delta region. Several oil spills have negatively affected human health as well as land, air and water resources, leading to extensive socio-economic and cultural impacts on the local communities.
Following widespread national and international agitations, the Federal Government commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to undertake the environmental assessment of Ogoni land.
It is worthy of note that the UNEP released its seminal report in 2011 and suggested that the government should immediately implement certain emergency measures and also undertake the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoni land and the entire Niger Delta. In response to the report, the Federal Government established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to implement the recommendations of the UNEP’s report. HYPREP has been in operation in Ogoni land for over three years.
At an event in Lagos, while assessing the present situation in the region, the executive director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa said there was the need for speedy, effective and efficient utilisation of the money already approved by the Federal Government and the oil producing companies for the clean-up project.
He lamented that nearly four years after the flag-off of the clean-up, and money subsequently approved for same, nothing tangible has been achieved.
“Although a framework for a definite intervention was provided by UNEP, the issues surrounding contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, and industry practice are yet unresolved, thus endangering the lives of millions of hapless citizens in the area. What this means is that the institutional issues as well as recommendations and steps to be followed in carrying out the exercise have become victims of senseless politicking.
“The monitoring tool (key performance indicators (KPIs)) that should be used by stakeholders to assess the quality of work done is not yet released to stakeholders by those handling the project. Conventionally, best practice requires all relevant stakeholders to co-develop the KPI.
“The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) has a statutory responsibility to monitor the remediation process. However, it is unclear whether NOSDRA has taken up this responsibility.
“Indeed, following the COVID-19 restrictions, work had stopped at some sites, while a few are working. However, it is clear from field observations that most lots had stopped work long before the virus reached Nigeria, reportedly over lack of payments, while others are still active, but with reduced staff capacity.
“Evidence also exists that while some contractors lobby to be paid, others, like Lot 5, have locked their sites and embarked on a ‘no pay no work’ campaign, ” he said.
Musa countered the claim by HYPREP that it had achieved 70 per cent completion of the project, tagging the claim hasty and largely premature. He said an independent body should undertake the level of work already done on the site.
He queried where the 360 million dollars already approved for the project is being kept and spent, pledging to continue the advocacy until the project was executed as proposed by all stakeholders.
He urged politicians in the region, especially governors and National Assembly members, to speak with one voice in the interest of the voiceless indigenes being gravely affected by gas flaring and other environmental pollution activities.
Also speaking, CISLAC’s conflict advisor, Salaudeen Hashim said life expectancy has dropped by 11 per cent in the region as a result of environmental degradation, even as people’s livelihood has been completely eroded, leading to high rate of poverty.
He called for environmental justice in the Niger Delta, saying that it was unfortunate that after many people have sacrificed their resources and lives, certain persons were now acting as saboteurs to the struggle.
“Bad governance, corruption, weak institutions, state/companies collusion, impunity and breakdown of social contract are some of the factors responsible for the lingering problems in the region over many decades.
“The consequences are militancy such as kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, bunkering and so on,” he said.
Hashim recalled that military and civilian governments had, at different times, established different bodies to fight the environmental deprivation in the region, regretting, however, that the people have remained highly impoverished.