There has been rising concern over the much publicized Ogoni cleanup as a result of issues and controversies surrounding the 25 year long exercise as people are calling on government to revisit and implement the report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) of 2011 on Ogoni cleanup.
The reason behind the concern is not farfetched. Preliminary report by the UNEP released in 2011, requested that emergency measures related to the people’s health should be adopted prior to the exercise; ironically, this was not followed.
Investigations by Civil Society Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) revealed that sources of drinking water which ought to have been provided to the people prior to the cleanup, based on the UNEP report, were not provided for and the people continue to drink poisonous water leading to them dying young; it is reported that an average of 40 people are buried in Ogoni every month; life expectancy ratio in Ogoni according to report is between 41 and 43, lower than the national average of 67.
Children, the investigation noted, are born deformed due to the consumption of hydrocarbon poisoned water, the samples of the water are said to be at least 1,000 times higher than the Nigerian drinking water standard; women suffer miscarriages; artisanal mining leading to secondary pollution continues rising; and spillage from oil companies are also on the increase.
Research into Ogoni cleanup by UNEP was said to have started in 2006. Some of the findings were as follow: Pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons are extensive in land areas, sediments and swampland. Most of the contamination is said to be from crude oil; in 49 cases, UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5m.
At 41 sites, the hydrocarbon pollution reached the groundwater at levels in excess of the Nigerian standards permitted by National Laws; at Nisisioken Ogale, in Eleme LGA, close to NNPC products pipeline, an 8cm layer of refined oil was observed floating on the groundwater which serves the community wells;
Oil pollution in many intertidal creeks is said to have left mangroves denuded of leaves and stems, leaving roots coated in a bitumen-like substances, sometimes 1cm or more thick… extensive pollution of these areas has impacted the fish lifecycle; it is noted that when an oil spill occurs on land, fire often breaks out, killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land. These are just a few of the observations.
The report, which took three years to complete was released in August 2011 with a conclusion that the cleanup will take 25 to 30 years to accomplish with an estimated take-off cost of $1billion.
Several recommendations were made to the government, these include creation of Ogoniland restoration authority; creation of environmental restoration fund for Ogoniland; coordination of multi-stakeholders efforts and carrying out institutional and regulatory reforms. To the multiple stakeholders, they are to provide emergency measures for drinking water and health; rehabilitate the environment; carry out pipeline surveillance, environmental and health monitoring and put in place oil spill contingency plan. Operators were to revisit and where necessary, remediate identified sites; review remediation techniques; repair, maintain and decommission non-producing facilities; while the communities were to speed up access to spill response and take proactive stance against theft and illegal refining.
The Federal Government established Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) in July 2012 and re-established it in June 2016 with an oversight function of overseeing the cleanup. In August, the Governing Council and Board of Trustees were inaugurated and by February 2017, the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre was set up in Bori.
Between April and August, 2018, the Ogoni Trust Fund and Escrow Account was opened in Standard Chartered Bank of London for the board of trustee of HYPREP and credited with $177million out of the $200million per annum to be released. Port Harcourt Refinery is to balance up the $23million to make up the $200million. Mobilization of contractor and hand-over of 16 polluted sites that would be cleaned up took place December 2018.
The UNEP report recommended that some emergency measures be put in place prior to the cleanup exercise. These include: Ensure that all drinking water wells where hydrocarbons were detected are marked and that people are informed of the danger; Provide adequate sources of drinking water to those households whose drinking water supply is impacted.
People in Nsisioken Ogale who have been consuming water with benzene over 900 times the WHO guideline are to be listed on a medical registry and their health status assessed and followed up.
Others include: Post signs around all the sites identified as having contamination exceeding intervention values warning the community not to walk through or engage in any other activity.
Inform all families whose rainwater samples tested positive for hydrocarbons and advise them not to consume the water and mount a public awareness campaign to warn the individuals who are undertaking artisanal mining that such activities are damaging to their health and lots more.
However, all the emergency measures are supposed to have been implemented before mobilizing contractors to site, but the reverse is the case. HYPREP, which is supposed to be an independent agency, is now attached to the Ministry of the Environment and bugged with bureaucracies, politicization, perception of corruption; lack of transparency and accountability; complex and sluggish decision making process; internal crisis of choice between Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta and several others.
The water provision and alternative means of livelihood, which started not too long ago are either perceived to be delayed or inadequate or poorly implemented. These have given rise to conflicting claims, distrust and suspicion, a feeling of exclusion, establishment of pro and anti establishment community stakeholders, restiveness, flash of violence and dissenting opinions.
On the part of government, there is the FG-State dichotomy and antagonism, partisan interpretation to the cleanup process, personalization of issues: The effect is distractive propaganda, low complementarities.
Questions that should prick the minds were raised by the CISLAC investigation as to if we clearly appreciate the meaning of the term ‘emergency’ as envisaged by the UNEP Report? If the magnitude of the alternatives were adequately researched and understood; for instance: quantity of water as alternative to all the barred sites; What about livelihoods, alternative to fishing and farming?
What incentives are put in place to deal with artisanal mining to outweigh the risks; How can we leverage resources of the State and LGAs (Environment, Water Resources and Rural Development, Health, Women Affairs, Energy and Natural Resources), National Orientation Agency? How would re-pollution be dealt with (more spills beyond artisanal refining)?
They are saying that the duty of care point of view upon which the emergency measures are based imposes not just a moral but a legal obligation to prevent harm or compensation of victims.