Stories by Adewale Sanyaolu
Nine months after President Muhammadu Buhari, flagged off the clean-up of Ogoniland when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, represented him at the event, stakeholders are beginning to ask questions why it is taking the Federal Government longer than necessary to commence the full implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommendations, submitted to it in August 2011.
Worried by the delay in the implementation of the report, the Ogoni Scientific Community, under the umbrella of the Ogoni Environmental Foundation (OEF), a registered not-for-profit forum of Ogoni scientists and engineers (home and abroad) working in different sectors of environmental research and management with extensive global reach and collaborations, noted that there are some deviations from the procedures stipulated in the UNEP Report, which is the document that outlines the framework for implementation.
‘‘Posterity and divinity will not forgive us if we keep silent on this sensitive issue, as grievous rewards await any group, organisation or persons who fail or see this situation of our people as an opportunity for them to make money or show disregard to God without putting humanity as the focus and do the right thing by allowing the restoration interest of Ogoni people to be their paramount goal,’’ OEF President, Prof. Friday Sigalo said.
The UNEP Report
In 2006, the Federal Government commissioned UNEP to carry out an environmental assessment of Ogoniland. Field work commenced in 2009 and UNEP delivered its report to the government in August 2011.
The report highlighted significant environmental impacts from oil pollution in parts of Ogoniland relating to a variety of causes. It called on the Nigerian government, the oil and gas industry and communities to begin a comprehensive clean-up of the region and take coordinated action to end all forms of illegal oil bunkering, crude theft and artisanal refining of stolen crude oil causing oil contamination in Ogoniland.
Most of UNEP’s recommendations, including the creation of an environmental restoration fund, were directed at the Federal Government and required it to take the lead in coordinating the activities of the numerous stakeholders involved. The report also contained a number of findings and recommendations relating specifically to SPDC as operator of the SPDC JV.
OEF raises fresh concerns
OEF, while thanking the Minister of Environment and her team for appointing one of the best environmental scientists, Dr. Marvin Dekil, as the HYPREP Coordinator, reasoned that the project coordinator ought to have assumed duties as soon as possible and immediately initiate a robust consultative process that will produce the clean-up and restoration template, with unambiguous goals, objectives, milestones and timelines.
‘‘Needless to mention the importance of sustained and proactive sensitisation outreach among the Ogoni population and other stakeholders in order to be able to manage the divergent expectations from the clean-up programme.’’
Currently, OEF disclosed that there have been over 148 new spills in Ogoniland (after the UNEP study) reported on SPDC website and duly captured by National Oil Spill Detection Response Agency (NOSDRA). These scientific studies, it said, should go on concurrently with robust stakeholder engagements and community-level sensitisation to achieve maximum understanding of the process by the concerned citizens and, ultimately, secure their buy-in and collaboration.
On the other hand, OEF said it was aware of a planned pilot test and ground-breaking event slated for this February 2017, at the instance of the Minister of Environment, who is set to resume her new job at the UN by March this year.
The group maintained that while her passion to firm up the clean-up process before her departure to the UN is understandable, it is necessary to tread cautiously by taking steps that would not undermine the net effectiveness of the project.
OEF advised that by the appointment of HYPREP Coordinator, the technical committee earlier appointed by the Minister should be dissolved, and her parting efforts should be channeled at securing adequate and sustainable funding for the project.
‘‘Most importantly, the attempt to deploy foreign bacteria or chemicals in the name of technology to carry out free trials in Ogoni environment is a derailment from the letters of the UNEP report.
“Technically, what is fundamental at this stage is to commission ground-truth survey of sites studied by UNEP and baseline assessment of polluted sites in Ogoniland, which were not covered by the UNEP study or were polluted post the UNEP study.
“It must be stressed that the alluvial and fluvial environments of Ogoni are ecologically dynamic and findings published seven years ago by UNEP may not represent the present situation,’’ OEF said.
SPDC takes the lead
Documents in possession of Daily Sun indicate that SPDC has initiated and progressed action to implement all the recommendations directed to it by the UNEP report while the 15 SPDC JV sites specifically mentioned in the UNEP report have been re-assessed, and where further remediation was required due to re-pollution incidents, such sites have been remediated and certified by regulators.
The document explained further that SPDC has completed an inventory and physical verification of assets for de-commissioning and has performed a comprehensive review of its remediation techniques, and made a number of changes in line with industry best practice while SPDC has also shown leadership by delivering the emergency measures identified in the report related to drinking water in collaboration with Rivers State government.
‘‘Accelerating implementation of the UNEP recommendations was identified as a priority by the newly elected Buhari administration in 2015. In August 2015, a roadmap was agreed between the government, UNEP and SPDC JV, which included a governance model and funding framework for the Ogoni Restoration Fund recommended by UNEP,’’ the document stated.
As the UNEP report stated, treating the problem of environmental contamination within Ogoniland merely as a technical clean-up exercise will ultimately lead to failure. Ensuring long-term sustainability is a much bigger challenge – one that will require coordinated and collaborative action from all stakeholders.
To this end, the UNEP report also calls for a coordinated effort between government, oil and gas companies and communities to bring an end to theft and illegal crude oil refining. Communities are urged to take a proactive stand against individuals and groups engaged in these activities. It also noted that crude oil theft, sabotage and illegal refining are the main sources of pollution in the Niger Delta.