Being text of Press Conference organized by Social Action on 3rd of August 2016.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media, thank you for honouring our invitation.
The 4th of August 2016 marks the fifth year since the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP released a report on its assessment of pollution impacted sites in Ogoniland. After decades of local and international campaigns by thousands of climate groups and activists against environmental despoliation of Ogoniland and the Niger delta by oil companies, the Nigerian Government in 2007 invited the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to carry out scientific assessment of the impact of oil pollution on parts of the Ogoni environment. UNEP completed the assignment and submitted its report to the Nigerian government on August 4th, 2011. As has now become common knowledge, the report showed extensive and deep-seated contamination of soil and water in Ogoniland with benzene and several other harmful crude surfactants. These the report found, had significantly compromised livelihood sources and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants. At one location, the investigation found that the community’s water drinking source contained cancer causing benzene- 900 times higher than safe levels. So alarmed was UNEP about the scientific findings that it recommended that inhabitants of the area immediately stop any further usage of water from all sources in the sites, while the government immediately commences a clean-up exercise. It also noted that it may take up to thirty years to clean up and restore the Ogoni environment to its original state.
We recall that the immediate response of the government at the time was not with the kind of emergency which the situation required. In fact, other than setting up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Programme, HYPREP in 2012, little else was done, not even to respond to the emergency measures which UNEP recommended including providing the people with alternative sources of safe drinking water.
At this time last year, President Muhammdu Buhari announced plans to commence and fast track the implementation of the UNEP report on the clean-up of Ogoniland. On Thursday June 2nd, 2016, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo officially flagged off the clean-up with an elaborate ceremony in Ogoni. The actions of the current federal government headed by President Buhari indicates that it takes the recommendations of UNEP and the environmental plight of the Ogoni people seriously. This is highly commendable. However, there are certain policy gaps and issues which if not immediately checked, could derail the entire process.
A major source of concern is the fact that the agency tasked with the responsibility of coordinating and implementing the clean–up – HYPREP- is still not backed by any legislation. The problem with this situation is that it may not be possible for the agency to draw allocations from the annual appropriation. Also, according to the UNEP Report, the full restoration of soil and water in Ogoniland would take between 25 and 30 years. This means that the clean-up process will continue beyond the lifetime of the current government in Nigeria. While the current Nigerian federal government seems committed to the clean-up process, the same cannot be said about a future government. This fact underscores the need to propose and pass a legislation that ensures continued government support for the process.
Another source of concern is that of the relationship between HYPREP and other federal agencies responsible for pollution control and community development. This has not been clearly defined. Federal agencies such as the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), National Environmental Standard and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), etc. do not seem to be aware or involved in the plans for the clean-up. From experience, we know how complicated and conflict ridden it could be when agencies tasked with similar responsibilities lack the requisite clarity and coordination.
We are also concerned about the role which companies principally responsible for the pollution in Ogoniland have been given in the clean-up process. Rather than being seen purely as the polluters and be held liable for the clean-up, Shell and NNPC are rather being empowered to lead the process through their membership of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of HYPREP. These two agencies are first and foremost polluters, and have a horrible record with clean-up. The more prudent approach will be to compel these companies to pay for the clean-up, while other responsible agencies including UNEP coordinate the actual clean-up.
It is also important to note that while the government has held several meetings with various interest groups on the clean-up process, the process of consultation has not been adequate or exhaustive. The multifarious expectations from the clean-up process is evidence that many people expect the process of implementing the UNEP report to become something its isn’t, and this could lead to a problem of unrealized expectations which could seriously undermine the process.
Similarly, the structures have not been instituted which makes the people part of the process as monitors of milestones and standards as well as actual agents of the clean-up. If this is not done, the type of community ‘buy-in’ and ‘ownership’ which is required for a smooth implementation process may not be achieved.
Finally, there also appears to be no clarity or understanding with regards to how the clean-up will be funded. As part of it recommendations, UNEP had stated that the full restoration of polluted sites in Ogoniland would take an initial capital injection of $1 billion. It proposed that the funds should be contributed by the polluting oil companies and the federal government into an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland. While it is understood that Shell and the Nigerian government will jointly contribute the funds, the modalities for doing so are not however clear. It is also not clear who pays what? On the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of its website Shell responds to the question “Who will pay for the restoration of Ogoniland?” by stating that “the UNEP report recommended the creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland to be co-funded by the Federal Government, NNPC and the SPDC JV. SPDC [Shell] is committed to supporting and contributing its share to the Environmental Restoration Fund once a satisfactory framework and governance structure are fully established by the government”. The Nigerian Environment Minister however expressed a contrary view. According to her, “the $1 billion is a commitment that the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) has made to provide. So, it is with SPDC.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems the government was all too eager to fulfil a promise to clean-up the Ogoni environment it made during the election campaigns, and failed to provide the needed clarity or establish the necessary frameworks to do so. In line with the above, we make the following recommendations;
1. As a product of a thorough and structured consultation process which should include civil society organizations, the federal government should develop and publish a draft plan for the implementation of the UNEP Report.
2. The institutional framework for the clean-up of Ogoniland should be clearly and properly established. The relationship of any new agency with other government agencies should be clearly spelt out.
3. Civil society should be represented in all governance structures relevant to the clean-up to ensure compliance with the objectives.
4. The funding plan for the cleanup of Ogoniland should be made public.
5. A Bill proposing a legislation aimed at establishing legal frameworks for the structures and funding of the clean-up process should be immediately sent to the National Assembly.
6. Through a thorough and structured consultation process the Ministry of Environment should develop a blueprint for the commencement of clean-up activities in other pollution impacted sites in the Niger Delta.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the briefing paper being presented today by Social Action delves more deeply into the issues that have been raised here. It examines developments prior to and following the flag-off ceremony. It analyzes crucial processes and highlights institutional lapses that threatens to mar the entire clean-up process, while presenting recommendations for policy changes.
Thank you for your attention