Social Action, a Port Harcourt based Civil Society Organization have today convened a town hall meeting in Port Harcourt to review UNEP report recommendations implementation.
The town hall meeting had in attendance representatives from Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), representatives from different Civil Society Organizations in Rivers State as well as traditional and youth leaders of affected communities from Ogoni.
Speaking to pressmen, the Budget Analyst of Social Action, Mr. Prince Ekpere said the program was scheduled to convene principal officers relating to the Ogoni clean-up, indigenes of affected communities and major stakeholders and Civil Organizations in Rivers State to review the Ogoni clean-up exercise.
Continuing, Mr. Ekpere said the concept of the meeting is to bridge the gap between what it is supposed to be from what it is currently.
He said ” there is an alarming discrepancy between what the community people are saying, what the UNEP report said and what HYPREP is also doing.
” So, the town hall meeting is to bring everybody together on the same platform to understand the gaps and on how to fill it.”
“HYPREP have said over and again that they do not have a work plan. And we understand that work plans are not easy to come by, it has to be designed, developed and adopted as a working document. Social Action is willing to support them in the work plan, Social Action is also interested in seeing how HYPREP can be more transparent and open”
“Lack of transparency does not mean you are not doing something, it’s just that you are not carrying other stakeholders along. It is important that they carry stakeholders along, for inclusiveness and reduced suspicion.
” There is a lot of suspicion, what HYPREP is doing nobody knows, nobody can say this is what HYPREP has done even if they are doing a lot.
So this transparency effort will make them to be more visible to the people and also make information available to the people as well”
On his part, Dr. Ebimaro Sampson, the director M and E at HYPREP, said the Ogoni clean-up exercise is a monumental project, adding that HYPREP alone cannot do it so HYPREP needs the support of reliable intellectuals.
Continuing, Dr. Ebimaro said so far in some affected communities in Ogoni Land, contractors have started erecting biocells to kickstart work.
He also added that 21 eligible sons of Ogoni have been taken to Switzerland by HYPREP to be trained in order to enhance their technical capacity on the clean-up exercise.
He said also that 99% of HYPREP staff are sons of Ogoni.
According to him, some communities that projects are yet to commence is because most lands to be remediated are in dispute, either because of families and communities have dispute over ownership of a particular land.
“This affected land cases are in court, project will commence in those areas as soon as the land disputes are settled in court”
“HYPREP may be slow but not too slow, HYPREP will definitely give reference to non impacted communities but more on impacted communities because this has to do with livelihood. The interest of Ogonis must be protected, the interest of government must be protected. Government is not concerned that the project is done”
Also, Celestine Akpobari, a former local government chairmen of Gokana Local government area of Rivers State said ” one thing is to decide to do a thing another thing is to do and do it properly. It is the pressure that civil societies mount on this exercise that will determine the extent with which we will achieve desired result”
Also, Mrs. Martha Agbani, executive director Lokiaka Community Development Center, a civil society organization, pointed out that environmental issues are human right issues and so there should be a reconsideration of training 1200 Ogoni women, as was previously proposed by Amina, the former minister of environment.
She said that the training will help them in enhancing their livelihood as well as that of their families and communities.
She advised HYPREP to speed up the clean-up exercise in Ogoni land.
Also, Sabastin Kpalap, one of the facilitators of the town hall meeting also urged HYPREP to speed up the Ogoni clean-up exercise.
Comrade Noble Obari Nworlu, the Youth President of Ogale in Ogoni said that seven companies (contractors) are presently in Alode community and that they have commenced work. He said some of the companies are building their biocells.
He said ” my fear is, as we are cleaning, the government should also look at it not spoiling again”
Also, comrade Akpobari Patta, the president of Bodo-city Youth Federation used the medium to call on government and civil societies to investigate SPDC on the actual allegations against Bodo community on vandalization of their pipes.
Comrade Patta alleged that SPDC awards surveillance contracts to persons who in turn sabotage their pipes and in turn SPDC will apportion blames on innocent citizens of Bodo community.
He said the allegations by SPDC are completely not welcomed and that they are deforming the characters of the people of Bodo community.
He added that all efforts by him to see SPDC’s pipeline manager and the manager Ogoni restoration has been futile.
He said that SPDC should desist from blaming the people of Bodo for sabotaging their pipes instead lay blames on their rusted pipes and their surveillance contractors.
He said “community people can’t move in to vandalize oil pipes when SPDC flooded their community with the presence of diverse security agents to monitor their pipes but rather SPDC should put their blames on old and rusted pipes and their surveillance contractors”
Also, Mr. Irikefe V. Dafe, the executive director of Foundation For Conservation of Nigeria Rivers, said that ” HYPREP may be slow but it is the first of its kind in Nigeria and we should bear with them.
” This is one of the largest remediation effort in the world, we should expect that it should perform very well and put a standard in place. I advise HYPREP and those who are in contract with them to set a standard that can be replicated anywhere in the world”