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By Prince Benson Davies
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN),Nigeria’s foremost environmental advocate group has condemned the response by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to its recent report; No Clean Up, No Justice: a decade of failures? as spurious and diversionary, even as it challenged the agency to focus more on delivery of a proper clean up that benefits the people and restoration of the polluted environment in Ogoniland.
In a statement released on Tuesday by their public relations department,ERA/FoEN said that the organization remains resolute to championing a proper cleanup as an environmental advocacy group and continues to speak verifiable truth to power, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the indefatigable and resolute people of Ogoni in their implacable opposition to the genocidal activities of Shell on their lands, rivers, and lives.
ERA/FoEN was born in 1993 from the crucible of the Ogoni struggle. The organization drew inspiration from the Ogoni Bill of Rights and the mobilization of the Ogoni people. Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo and others in the ERA/FoEN family visited Ogoni at that time to conduct action research on the Ogoni mobilizations in the early 1990s to support the struggle for environmental justice. ERA/FoEN, cannot at this pivotal moment in history shirk its obligations to the people of Ogoni alone and responsibility of care for the environment.
ERA/FoEN condemned the bland advertorial response by HYPREP and states that HYPREP response was a cover up and a cheap diversionary tactics to deflect from the reality on ground and an outright falsehood and the confirmation that Shell and HYPREP continue to work with some discredited former members who were removed by the general assembly for foisting division and conflict of interest.
It says that HYPREP advertorial response was an audacious and vexatious judicial overreach on a matter that is subjudice, over which a competent court has granted far reaching orders restraining the former chair of ERA/FoEN board of trustees from parading himself as such and further restrained the former chair and his hirelings from participating in the management of ERA/FoEN as well as maintaining that Godwin Uyi Ojo remains the valid Executive Director of ERA/FoEN. The release adds that the valid subsisting order of court should be respected and focus on issues raised in the report for improvement.
ERA/FoEN believes that the Ogoni people stood on the part of justice when they declared Shell persona non grata in Ogoni until the company has publicly apologized for the genocide it perpetrated in Ogonland, cleanup, remediation and restoration of the ecosystem and pay appropriate compensation to Ogoni people for the death and destruction the company brought to the impacted communities.
ERA/FoEN, therefore reiterates its call for the immediate sack of Prof. Phillip Shekwolo because he was an integral part of creating the unmitigated disaster that is the Ogoni environment by its abysmal failure to conduct cleanup operations even up to the very low standards set by Shell itself according to UNEP report released in 2011. How can those who presided over the failed clean up by Shell also be supervising the same polluted sites under HYPREP years later? This is a huge joke on Nigeria taken too far. The Ogoni cleanup process is not and cannot be a platform to reinforce failure.
HYPREP’s advertorial condemning the call for national assembly oversight function shows that the agency is scared stiff and does not want a repeat of the scrutiny by the NASS officials in October 2020 that led to some level of restructuring in the agency. ERA/FoEN calls on the people’s representatives in the National Assembly to immediately increase its oversight of the cleanup process before the project collapses from this present cauldron of ineptitude, high wire politicking and corruption.
The fate of the Ogoni people and the over 31 million people that call the Niger Delta home hangs in the balance in this decade of ecosystem restoration as declared by the United Nations. The federal government environmental legacy project which is the clean up of Ogoni land with commitments of millions of dollars must not be allowed to fail.
ERA/FoEN states that in consonance with global standard of “polluter pays principle” Shell and the other multinational companies should pay to enable independent and competent experts undertake this multidisciplinary scientific and community building exercise. Shell should neither be on the governing council nor on the board of trustees or occupying the project coordination office superintending a process they failed at when they had the opportunity.
ERA/FoEN, had expressed grave concern in our 2020 report No Cleanup, No justice that HYPREP coordination office lacks basic expertise in all areas that was similar to the 2021 report. ERA/FoEN, calls on HYPREP and the public to study the evidenced based reports that the organization has produced over the last eight years.
HYPREP tried unsuccessfully to deflect attention from the grave concerns that were raised in our 2020 and 2021 reports about the atrocious failure of the scoping exercise conducted by HYPREP that led to the continued presence of hydrocarbon contamination in groundwater at supposedly cleaned up sites.
HYPREP should be thankful to ERA/FoEN for this incisive independent report and focus on how to resolve the issues especially those in Lot 9 with oil bubbles from the back filled areas, Lot 11 that has been abandoned as no work is currently on-going, Lot 16 that is facing ongoing oil spills from the excavated pit that are evident for all to see.
HYPREP should also address its failure to ensure that contractors remove all toxic items utilized in the cleanup process from sites as well as the failure to prevent local people from carting away contaminated sand and other materials from cleanup sites that is similar to importing certain death and destruction into their homes.
There are also issues of lack of capacity and expertise, transparency and accountability to the public and an attempt to short circuit the recommendations of UNEP. These are the issues we expect HYPREP to respond to urgently and redress them as a matter of routine and in readiness for the National Assembly visit.