Expectation gap threatens $1Bn Ogoni clean up project as survey reveals hunger for compensation over remediation

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– But expert says UN Report did not provide for cash rewards

Hunger for compensation for Ogoni oil spill impacted communities over clean up may threaten the $1Bn United Nations recommended exercise. A painstaking survey on the best way to handle clean up of the 66 Ogoni oil spill impacted communities has rather shown signs of problems ahead as the people have put need for compensation ahead of clean up and remediation.

The report however warns that compensation was not recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which handed a $1Bn clean up task to federal government in 2011.  The Muhammadu Buhari administration flagged off the exercise in 2016, setting up structures that would receive and handle the fund.

The non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducted the survey, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), led by Kabari Sam (PhD), fears that the expectation gap may cause anger in Ogoni areas should the exercise begin proper. In the survey, the communities clearly indicated desire for cash compensation but put clean up last in their scale of preference.

Presenting the report to NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) from Ogoni at Swiss Spirit Hotel in Port Harcourt on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, Sam named other priorities by the Ogoni communities over clean up as adequate funding of the clean up, skills training of the youths, and employment.

The community people also said they expected improved standards of living from the clean up exercise, and indicated that mere clean up would not satisfy them.

CEHRD said the discovery has raised concerns that the Ogoni areas may remain volatile even after clean up due to mismatch of expectations. Sam said whereas the communities want cash compensation, jobs, skills, social amenities, good life, etc, the mandate to the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP 2) did not include compensation.

The experts said this has necessitated the need to seek common ground and negotiations between the 66 impacted communities and HYPREP to ensure that the outcome of the clean up would satisfy all parties.

Sam said it was important to initiate schemes to convince the communities that working out compensation would bring chaos because it would be based on impacted parcels of land which would exclude majority of the people whereas pollution proper affected everybody.

He said clean up and remediation would throw up a healthy environment that would restore and support farming, fishing, water, and new economic lifestyle. He said training the Ogoni youths would create skills that would boost their economy for decades over immediate cash.

Most of the NGOs agreed that compensation should have been built into the UNEP Report from the onset but supported advocacy to convince the communities to drop the demand for compensation. They however demanded for transparency, steady communication, and inclusion to make the people trust HYPREP and the FG.

The deputy clerk of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Dumnu Lekie, an Ogoni, urged the NGOs to seek ways to bring faster implementation of the UNEP Report and reduce fresh demands that may delay the exercise further.

He said a better environment would be a legacy to the future and that all efforts should now be geared towards resolving the crisis that has lingered for over 30 years.

Some of the CBOs said they were going home to appeal to their youths to focus on the clean up and drop the demand for compensation so as to make things easy. They however called on the FG to quicken the clean up exercise and job creation from the scheme to convince the communities that the exercise was not a political trick.

(First used in BusinessDay)