Fresh tension is mounting in the Ogoni axis of Rivers State, a vastly polluted oil region as the kinsmen of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, are unrelenting in their agitation for environmental justice.
This time, they are up against the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), an agency of the Nigerian government.
Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 – 10 November 10,1995) was a Nigerian writer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize. He was a leader of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose homeland, Ogoniland, in the environmentally despoiled Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping.
Initially, he was a spokesman, and later president, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by the operations of the multinational petroleum industry, especially the Royal Dutch Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce environmental regulations on the foreign petroleum companies operating in the area.
At the peak of his non-violent campaign, he was tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting, and hanged in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.
For Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, an Ogoni-born environmental justice campaigner and human rights activist, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari does not seem to be aware that HYPREP is losing or has lost its social license in Ogoniland.
Senator Magnus Abe who is representing the people in the Red Chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral Legislature had this to say, ‘’as at today, the security situation in the area does not provide for a meaningful economic or even contractual activity to go on.’’
In a bid to tackle the environmental concerns in the area, Abuja appeared to have remembered a provision in the HYPREP Gazette for the creation of a central representative advisory committee for the Ogoni cleanup, and on April 9, 2019 inaugurated a 10-member Advisory Committee with the HYPREP project coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil as chairman to resolve issues that may arise (or have already arisen) in the course of executing the project.
According to Fyneface, ‘’the new committee is a welcome development if it would live up to its mandate and if its composition would not be another source of crisis in Ogoniland in the days ahead.
‘’Before now, on Thursday, April 4, 2019 while returning from Ogoniland to Port Harcourt by 17:35hours, I saw a beautiful large billboard erected by HYPREP between Kpopie junction in Gokana Local Government Area and Tai Local Government Area’s secretariat of Rivers State with the inscription CLEAN-UP OF OGONILAND CONTRACTORS NOW ON SITE IMPLEMENTING UNEP REPORT followed by THANK YOU ALL FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT! with other write-ups and photographs of activities.
‘’I stopped and photographed the billboard! Shockingly to me, two days later on Saturday, April 6, while returning from Port Harcourt to Ogoniland for a traditional marriage, I noticed that the large beautiful HYPREP billboard had been destroyed and mutilated! I also stopped and photographed it by 12:10pm.’’
Continuing, he said, ‘’when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoni was released on August 4, 2011, we, the Ogoni people and others glamour for its immediate implementation through the establishment of Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority as recommended by UNEP.
‘’In its place, the Federal Government created HYPREP to, not only clean-up Ogoniland but other polluted sites in other parts of the Niger Delta region as time goes on. The mammoth crowd that greeted the flag-off on June 2, 2016 attest to the fact that majority of Ogoni people and non-Ogonis alike welcomed and accepted HYPREP to clean up the area.
‘’However, between 2016 and first quarter 2019, HYPREP seems to be losing its social license in Ogoniland as shown by some observed frosty relationships between the cleanup agency and sections of the Ogoni population despite its efforts so far. The rhetorical question therefore is that, at what point did HYPREP started losing its social license and acceptability in Ogoniland such that some people started attacking the agency and its interests?
‘’In addition to the destruction of this billboard, also recall that on January 16, 2019, a coaster bus hired by HYPREP was set ablaze in Ogoniland during one of its activities to handover sites to contractors. Again, some Ogoni youths are in court with HYPREP to account for some funds ($10million) earlier received and spent without providing emergency measures like drinking water, health audit, etc. for the Ogoni people as recommended by UNEP.
‘’Furthermore, other perceived sources of trouble for HYPREP and seeming withdrawal of its social license in Ogoniland seems to be the award of contracts for the commencement of cleanup and alleged neglect of recommended emergency measures; alleged non-inclusion or consideration of some local contractors as well as its inability to tame some youths who were involved in artisanal refining through alternative means of livelihood as recommended by UNEP to avoiding re-pollution, among others.
‘’These among others are causing the withdrawal and loss of HYPREP’s social license in Ogoniland such that the area is gradually becoming hostile for HYPREP to carry out its mandate and culminates into insecurity that is hampering the Ogoni cleanup that we desired so much.’’
The Ogoni activist wants the committee to immediately swing into action to reconciling sections of the Ogoni population with HYPREP for the smooth implementation of UNEP report on Ogoniland.
‘’Although it is contradictory and ill-conceived for the head of a committee whose “role as a bridge between stakeholders, communities, groups and the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP is crucial” according to Channels television to also be the head of the same HYPREP to be reconciled with the people instead of a neutral person, it is my opinion that HYPREP eases the work of the committee by returning to its drawing board.
‘’This HYPREP can do by implementing the report according to UNEP recommendations starting with emergency measures; being more accountable and open to public scrutiny; avoiding political romances like it did on February 12, 2019 when it ordered contractors to site to commence cleanup the same day that President Buhari was arriving Rivers State to campaign for his re-election and then reduce its media hypes that tell the public more than what is actually happening on ground in Ogoniland!
‘’On the other hand, the government should suspend its planned resumption of oil mining which is already fueling discord in Ogoniland and order the Nigerian Customs Service to release the Ken Saro-Wiwa Memorial Bus confiscated since 2015 to further appease the hearts of the Ogoni people and then open discussion with Ogoni leaders with a view of achieving what it wants at the long-run’’, Fyneface said.