Clean-Up: Ogoni Elders want end to HYPREP’s propaganda, call for overhaul, restructuring of project

Okenyi Kenechi

Gbo Kabaari Ogoni, a Forum of Ogoni Elders and Leaders has raised concerns over the performance of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP; the Federal Government Agency responsible for the cleanup and remediation of the contaminated Ogoni environment.

The Leaders in a world press conference in Port Harcourt on Monday regretted that HYPREP has continued to reinforce failure and engage in propaganda to cover up its failures at the expense of the health and lives of Ogoni People.

They pointed out that HYPREP embarrassingly scored zero in eight out of 10 items in the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, performance evaluation indices.

The Forum chaired by Senator Bennett Birabi, said some of the issues it had earlier drawn the attention of the public to have now snowballed and assumed very complex dimensions.

According to the Forum: “This glaring and woeful state of failure has now come to the national and international limelight, thus vindicating our position and the fear we earlier expressed.

“It is pertinent to note that Amnesty International and other credible organizations commented disapprovingly on the activities and performance of HYPREP. In fact, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), whose mandate it is to actively monitor and ensure compliance of the remediation project with international best practice has also ventilated the abysmal failure of HYPREP so far”.

The Forum which includes other eminent Ogoni sons like the former President-General of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Ledum Mitee and University Don, Dr Desmond Nbete said it was not only appalled by the scorecard and flamboyant failures of HYPREP but traumatised by the huge opportunity costs associated with such failures.

“In our view, when UNEP recommended the 10 areas for which funds for the project should be expended, it emphasized that these were to be taken as a package and implemented in clusters starting with emergency items and not to misleadingly pick and choose what is considered to have huge potentials for making media headlines.

“It was thus clear that taken as such, that is, as a package, the clean-up project was to provide employment for our teeming unemployed youths and, in effect, help to drastically address issues of insecurity in our land.

“This is because, those youths that are not engaged, for instance, for the emergency measures, or alternative employment for those in artisanal refining, or clean-ups, could be absorbed in any of the other areas above.

It observed that as presently structured, HYPREP cannot function efficiently to deliver on an important and colossal project such as the Ogoni clean-up. It added that HYPREP has no life of its own but exists at the mercies of the President.

“The UNEP report which necessitated the establishment of HYPREP highlighted the raging environmental emergency in Ogoniland. HYPREP, as presently structured, is heavily laden with unnecessary byzantine bureaucracies. The two layers of governance — the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees — as well as the complicated ministerial bureaucracies and their overarching and competing influence, all struggle for the attention and control of the agency that ought to be focused on implementing the scientific and socio-economic recommendations of the UNEP Report.

“Worse still, this complex governance structure is largely composed of political appointees with indefinite tenures of appointment, as well as representatives of oil companies that polluted Ogoniland in the first place. With the majority of members being direct and indirect representatives of the complicit JV-structure that led to the pollution, the executive decisions for the clean up can easily and remotely be influenced by these interests.

“Perhaps, equally worrisome is the fact that persons who have been part of the problem in the first place are now being put in charge of critical aspects of the equation”, it said.

On contracting processes by HYPREP, the Forum said it had raised concerns about the opacity, BlackBox secrecy, and total lack of transparency in the agency’s contracting processes.

“Recent events and revelations have now proved us right. Remediation contracts were reportedly awarded to companies with no iota of experience on remediation, and this has become quite obvious on the field. This calls to question the prequalification process. Remediation is a serious scientific process, and should not be given to newbies on the job”.

The Forum also observed that the scoping process showed a lack of understanding of the complexities and dynamics of remediation activities.

It said: “Adopting a generic scoping template, despite the variability of pollution levels and environmental dynamics could be responsible for the poor scoping by HYPREP. The task of planning and scoping lies with HYPREP and its project management consultants and we are of the opinion that in order to ensure that this project is properly managed, this role should be revisited to reflect best practices”

The Forum also frowned at the failure of the agency to implement the eight emergency measures, including the provision of safe drinking water for communities with contaminated water sources which were recommended by UNEP, saying the continuous refusal to implement those important measures is a threat to corporate existence and sustainability of the Ogoni People.

It also called for the speedy declaration of Ogoni Wetlands as a Ramsar Site, decommissioning of Oilfield Facilities, implementation of Public Health Monitoring, health follow-up and air quality monitoring as recommended in the UNEP report.

The Forum further maintained that its position is for the recommendations in the UNEP report to be implemented transparently, adding that the opacity of HYPREP’s activities and the histrionics of its inefficiencies are at complete variance with the recommendations of the UNEP report as well as global best practices.

According to the leaders: “Unfortunately, rather than address these issues which we have raised repeatedly, and which other reputable organizations have corroborated, HYPREP has invested much of the time and resources at its disposal in radio and social propaganda.

“As elders, we will not compromise the health of our people, and the non-implementation of these emergency measures amounts to deliberately undermining the health and wellbeing of Ogoni people, and indeed all residents of Ogoniland.

“As a people, what we need is the clean-up of our environment and not the unending propaganda and rhetoric by HYPREP. Our prayer is simple: The Federal Government should, as a matter of national urgency, put an end to the current sophistry epitomised by the failed clean-up efforts in Ogoniland.

“We call for the comprehensive overhaul, re-jigging and restructuring of the project across all levels of the current nested structure. This is the first step to getting the clean up on track”