Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Dr Zaki Ahmed- Labo and Dr Aloysius Agunwa were staff of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) when they had an accident on May 1st 2013 at the Mbiama Bridge along East- West road, Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State. Sadly the accident claimed their lives, cut short their mission in life and left their families with anguish. Six years after that fatal crash, the Ahmed- Labo and Agunwa families have not been paid any compensation for dying in active service nor have they been paid for the services they rendered while in the land of the living. It is not only the dead the HYPREP management have allegedly visited pain and suffering on, hundreds of the workers many recruited from the Diaspora have also suffered the same fate of not being paid a kobo.
The story of HYPREP started when the Federal Government decided to implement the United Nations Environmental Report (UNEP) on the Ogoni cleanup. It founded HYPREP to commence the First Phase of the clean-up. HYPREP was therefore established on the 20th day of July, 2012 as a special unit under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Due to the international dimension the Ogoni-cleanup attracted, the exercise had to be handled up to international standard and so invitation was extended to Nigerians in Disapora to come back home and work their country. Many of them responded to the clarion call with a sense of duty to fatherland, left secured lives and returned to render services only to be left emotionally bruised and traumatised after being disengaged without pay.
“The core group of the officers on the project were members of the Diaspora who were urged to come back home due to the Technical nature of the Project and also the high competence standard demanded at the inception of the Project. It is therefore unfortunate that most of the staff left secured jobs to come home only to be denied their earned entitlements with some losing their residency permits, families broken and mortgages recalled. The litany of woes is better imagined than experienced” wrote Henry Ilamah in letter to the Chairman Board of Trustees (BOT) HYPREP TRUSTFUND.
According to investigations after several appeals and series of letters, President Mohammadu Buhari in 2016 directed the Minister of Environment set up an Inter-Ministerial Ad-hoc Committee to address the issues of outstanding salaries of staff of the defunct HYPREP with the Minister of Labour and Employment , Dr Chris Ngige as Chairman.
“On January 23, 2017 submitted its report with recommendations on how best government should address the outstanding salaries of the defunct HYPREP. It also recommended payment of salaries of staff of the defunct HYPREP which was graciously approved by Mr President in June 2018, to be paid from the HYPREP funds under the Ministry of Environment” Ilamah stated
Sadly like a familiar development in what has come to define the Buhari administration, the approval by the President for the payment of the outstanding salaries of the defunct HYPREP Staff have not been paid. In fact relevant officials at the Ministry of Environment expected to implement the recommendations of the committee as approved by Buhari have so far behaved as if such approval like that existed.
After waiting for a response and with no hope on the horizon, Ilamah on behalf of the workers wrote another letter to Buhari reminding him of the approval and the refusal of the Ministry of Environment to implement his directive.
The letter reads in part “Mr President, we refer to our earlier letter of appeals dated 19th January, 2016 , 20th March 2018 and December 2018on the above subject. Mr President Sir, you may wish to recall that the former Honourable Minister of Environment set up an Inter-Ministerial Ad-hoc Committee to address the issues of outstanding salaries of staff of the defunct HYPREP with the of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment as Chairman. Mr President Sir, permit us to report with sadness that, over 12 months after the approval of Mr President for the payment of the outstanding salaries of HYPREP staff, the new HYPREP and the Ministry of Environment has refused to comply with Mr President’s approval.
We therefore seek and crave the indulgence of Mr President to:
NOTE that staff of the defunct HYPREP including two (2) deceased has not been paid their salaries since January 2013.
COMPEL the new HYPREP and the Ministry of Environment to honour the approval of Mr President through the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President by paying the outstanding salaries of the defunct HYPREP staff.” Again after waiting for a response from the President with none forthcoming, the workers again in another letter dated September 4th addressed to the new Minister of Environment, Mohammed Mahmoud titled ‘LETTER OF APPEAL FOR INTERVENTION ON THE NON PAYMENT OF STAFF SALARIES OF THE DEFUNCT HYDROCARBON POLLUTION RESTORATION PROJECT, (HYPREP) recalled the several appeals made to the Ministry of Environment over the years which has not yielded any fruit.
The letter signed by Adejoh Sam Okedi lamented and wondered why the directive of President Buhari is being ignored. “An Approval was given to HYPREP by the Ministry of Environment, with concurrent authorisation by the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees. 7. The Project Coordinator, HYPREP, has refused to effect payments despite the President’s Approval, The Approval from the Federal Ministry of Environment, and concurrent Authorisation by the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees. We seek and crave the indulgence of the Hon Minister to:
I. NOTE that staff of the defunct HYPREP including two (2) deceased have not been paid their salaries since January 2013. This is despite the Presidential Approval in June 2018 for Payment.
II. Intervene and ensure that the Project Coordinator of HYPREP comply with the approval of Mr President, the Approval of The Federal Ministry of Environment, the concurrent authorisation by the Governing and Board of Trustees of HYPREP by paying the outstanding salaries of the defunct HYPREP staff.”