* Says Ogoni Trust Fund account is different from Project Coordination Office account
* With IOCs, UNEP, ministers, MOSOP, sitting on the money, nobody can pinch it
* So far, only $30m has been put to use; Coordinator cannot sign out up to N2.5m
The $360m or N110Bn said to have so far been released for Ogoni clean up is sitting pretty in the appropriate bank account whose headquarters is in London, so declared an official of the agency created to handle the funds. This comes in the wake of speculations that such huge amount had been released by the federal government but was swept into private pockets, leaving Ogoni high and dry.
Those who recommended the release of $1Bn in 2011 to help clean up Ogoni may have known very well that if strong structures were not erected to receive and deploy the funds, that looting would replace cleaning. Thus, an Ogoni Trust Fund (OTF) was created to warehouse the funds before ever a dime would be released, and a Project Coordination Office (PCO) account was created to receive approved sums for day to day project execution.
Several mechanisms were put in place to ensure that processes were followed for any drawdown. What is critical is that the OTF has persons like the managing director of Shell and other IOCs, UNEP representative, MOSOP, ministers, etc. This seems to create confidence.
In fact, Shell officials recently told newsmen that it is not easy to spend $1Bn, and that the task at hand is how to spend, not money to spend. With N110Bn sitting pretty to be spent, this assertion must be true. At another meeting with MOSOP leaders and some NGOs, there was suggestion that the conditions for release of funds and the bureaucracy around it is too difficult to carry out speedy action. They appealed for waivers to allow work move on, else, the masses would think the clean up was a hoax, because all funds and no action is nothing. Another major issue may be inadequate information to stakeholders including the mainstream media. This seems to make knowledge of efforts to stop at the Aba Road office of the agency and at the project site, whereas those who fought for the Ogoni struggle are mostly in the media and in the NGOs.
Isa Wasa, Head, Communications/Community Engagement Unit of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), who made effort last week to reach a section of the mainstream media, explained in detail.
The on-going environmental clean-up of hydrocarbon impacted sites in Ogoniland is hinged on the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report of 2011. The report recommends an initial take off grant of $1Bn to be lodged in an Ogoni Trust Fund Account for the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland and restoration of livelihoods of people in impacted communities.
In implementing the recommendations of the report therefore, the Federal Government of Nigeria set up the HYPREP to be responsible for the interpretation and implementation of the UNEP Report; and to ensure that the clean-up funds are not mismanaged. The Federal Government also set up the Governing Council to formulate policies for the project and the Board of Trustees to manage the funds of the project and the Project Coordination Office (PCO) to drive the day to day affairs of the project.
The Federal Government through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on behalf of the Joint Venture Partners has so far released into the Ogoni Trust Funds, domiciled with the Board of Trustees of HYPREP, the sum of $360m out of which the Project Coordination Office (PCO) has only spent less than $30m. The PCO receives releases from the Board of Trustees to fund projects and activities that it generates and nothing more. The PCO does not operate nor have access to the Ogoni Trust Fund Account which has so far been credited with $360m. In fact, the Project Coordinator can only approve money from the PCO Account that is below N2.5m.
The truth and simple explanation is that no money is missing or misappropriated but that since the PCO is the face of the project the average man thinks that when money is said to have been paid by the International Oil Companies (IOCs), it goes to the PCO account. This is not so. The $360m is lodged with the Board of Trustees and the banker is the Standard Chartered Bank of London.
The funds came in two tranches of $170m each in 2018 and 2019. The Group Managing Director of Shell will not sit on the Governing Council to superintend over the looting or misappropriation of his company’s contributions to the Ogoniland clean-up project. Same with officials of the UNEP, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and the representatives of the oil producing communities on the Governing Council and Board of Trustees.
HYPREP said it is committed and focused, and that it needs cooperation. Observers however say it has to work harder to gain this trust. Its word must have to stand above that of rumour mongers.