By Innocent Eteng
The Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) has justified criticisms by stakeholders that the cleanup exercise in Ogoni is taking a slow pace. It further encouraged them to be more critical.
This came as stakeholders drawn from civil society organisations (CSOs), oil companies and host communities gathered yesterday in Port Harcourt for a one day dialogue themed “Building Trust and Common Ground for a Sustainable Cleanup”.
The dialogue was organised by the Centre for Peace, Development and Child Welfare (CEPEDECW) in collaboration with HYPREP. The aim was to engage with delegates on the progress made so far on the cleanup and the challenges faced and expected.
HYPREP member and founder of the NGO, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, said it is necessary that the people ask questions now that the cleanup is on the preparatory stage and even more when the exercise commences proper.
“Definitely, there are many reasons why people should say that the process is slow or at every anniversary of the UNEP report, about what has been done. These are all legitimate. Actually, it is very encouraging that people are anxious and that people are critical. We need to be even more critical when the cleanup begins. People would have to question everything.
“Were the best contractors sourced or consultants selected? Were the best methods being used? Are we seeing the results that we want to see? These are the many questions people would need to ask,” Bassey said.
However, Bassey said despite the criticism, it is important to understand that the exercise requires a lot of preparations that will aid a sustainable cleanup.
“What use will it be to rush to begin cleanup without having a prerequisite preparation? It is like building a skyscraper, it will take you a long time before you finish the foundation and when you finish the foundation and close, nobody sees the foundation anymore, what people see is a painted superstructure.
“I believe that every step is extremely essential because it is a learning process for everybody. Nowhere in the world has any cleanup of this magnitude been carried out because nowhere have we found in any concentrated region as much pollution as we have seen in the Niger Delta. Do not forget that Ogoni is just one part of the Niger Delta.”
Adding: “There are pollutions ongoing elsewhere in Bayelsa, many parts of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom, Ondo State and this needs to be tackled. So it is extremely important that proper foundations are laid and that we all learn and understand the process so that by the time it begins – I believe that if any politician wants to play politics with the Ogoni cleanup, it will be impossible.
“If a proper foundation is set, it would be impossible for anyone, maybe the next government that will come to power after the elections, somebody will come and say ‘it was not my agenda’. If things begin and where they begin properly, let us see which politician will say the environment is not his or her concern,” Bassey said.
At the dialogue, stakeholders agreed that much is already on ground and being done by HYPREP that is empowered by the federal government to monitor the cleanup. They however said the problem is that Ogoni people and other stakeholders are not well intimated about the pace of work.
To this end, Abel Agbulu of Pax Viva Foundation (a faith based Ecumenical Coalition for Community Peace Building), said there is need to constantly let the people know what is being done.
“In the engagement today, the element of communication and clear communication featured almost where the whole discussion fell. And it is so amazing that a lot has been done but there are no visible portals where references can be made.
“So one of the very strong points that came from the CSOs engagement today is that this thing should be put out there for people to see and appreciate the success so far and also the challenges so far.
“So I believe with this closer collaboration with the CSOs and the project drivers, there would be a better project in the long run. A 30-year project is not a one day project, but what is worth doing is worth doing well. But let the people know what has been done so there would be full participation,” he said.