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Ogoni UNEP Report: How Buhari Can Succeed or Fail

By Ben Ikari – While it’s appropriate to thank and congratulate Pres. Muhammadu Buhari for his wisdom and goodwill, attempting to keeping his campaign promise to Ogoni by approving series of efforts to fast-tracking the implementation of United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) recommendations. It’s also worth pointing out that the reconstitution of the so-called Nigerian Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) established by Goodluck Jonathan as a diversionary measure from the UNEP report, to include a Governing Council, Board of Trustees and Project Management yet operate as designed by previous administration will not help the situation hence counterproductive as was evident under Jonathan.

Consequently, if Buhari and his team are serious to succeed there is need for the president to take advice only from honest and disinteresting experts of international standing. He’d depart from historical and conspicuous government dishonesty; publish recommendations said to have been given by United Nations official and the ministries of Petroleum and Environment he cited to have led to recent decision. He’d show respect to Ogoni people and comply with all original UNEP recommendations, and commit to resolving this issue once and for all by setting irreversible precedent.

These recommendations include Ogoni Environmental Restoration Council or Authority and Ogoni Environmental Restoration Fund; “Center for Excellence” for teaching, experiment and testing on environmental matters, and touring to be established in Ogoni not Abuja, Port-Harcourt or Lagos, and sustainable development alongside community empowerment.

Any appropriate advice to Mr. President should include that the already corrupt HYPREP should be purged or eliminated for UNEP team, which has required internationally acceptable expertise and the knowledge of work the agency did to bring about the report, to take up the same work the former is commissioned to do without expertise and historical work.

If serious, why create an agency (HYPREP) that will search for experts from around the world to do a specialized work as the Ogoni cleanup and restoration when the United Nations agency (UNEP) which did the assessment studies is willing to finish what it started by handling over to its implementation unit? That is, why allow an agency with no knowledge of the work it’s saddled to manage and carry out work on such sensitive job with scientific and technical bearing while pushing aside the internationally recognized agency, which conducted the assessment and brought about the report the former wants to implement; is there any progressive wisdom in doing so?

What’s wrong with seeing Ogoni cleanup as one of such projects in Nigeria won by a competent and internationally recognized agency or corporation, even though it will sought help from others with similar know-how and also employ locals (Nigerians, but Ogonis first given their situation and being the restorative target) as their certification, expertise and experience allows. Why try to politicize and nationalize Ogoni UNEP report and recommendations despite need for national understanding, cooperation and support? If Buhari and his team will succeed, HYPREP should be redesigned, redefined if not eliminated for UNEP take-over, to be Ogoni-specific and headed or managed by UNEP experts, etc.

In this new arrangement UNEP and co-travelers in charge of HYPREP shall be provided all needed funds, particularly the One Billion Dollars recommended start-up fees by government and co-polluters such as $hell Oil to show seriousness and commitment, and government support. The agency shall be independent of government, individual or corporate and local or national institutions’ intrusion and influence. It shall invite and employ other internationally recognized hydrocarbon pollution cleaning and restoration entities and corporations while collaborating with the Ogoni community, other institutions around the world. Nigerian agencies such as the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), which work is duplicated by HYPREP, and the Ministry of Environment which responsibilities also covers HYPREP’s and NOSDRA’s and should be the only legally fortified agency in this regard, and Ministry of Petroleum Resources among others can play only needed support roles.

Importantly, the redefined HYPREP headed by UNEP shall not bear the current national role of investigating, evaluating and remediating or restoring all hydrocarbon pollution impacted communities in Nigeria. Rather, it should focus on using the UNEP report for which it’s created to implement cleanup and restoration in Ogoni. This way diversion of attention as was obvious under Jonathan and gross failure shall be avoided for success to be achieved. Federal agencies such as NOSDRA can be mobilized by the Ministry of Environment to coordinate and assist the UNEP branch responsible for assessment to conduct environmental and health, social impact studies in other polluted communities of Niger delta  and Nigeria in general since Nigeria has no expertise and technology to conduct such assessment acceptable to the international community hence the invitation granted UNEP in Ogoni.

For Buhari to succeed, he has to understand, acknowledge and respect the fact that UNEP report and recommendations, though new pollution sites might be captured in the cleanup process, aren’t about the investigation and evaluation of polluted communities Niger delta communities which are two core responsibility of HYPREP as mandated. It’s about the cleanup and restoration of Ogoni land and people. Therefore, HYPREP lacks the mandate and capacity to coordinate UNEP report work in Ogoni except redefined to suit. If Buhari will succeed, using the redefined HYPREP as a springboard for Ogoni cleanup and restoration of the land and people is the necessary measure that should bring about focus on Ogoni work and timely completion and not divert attention from it.

Meanwhile, assuming Buhari is serious to be believed, this should be a new dawn that demands new thinking and actions not limited to hard decisions of keeping away corrupt minded Nigerians, especially politicians, and ministries-Shell Oil (though the company will pay all required funds) who will not do anything different from what they’ve done to frustrate the project take-off. It’s a beginning that could set Nigeria and Ogoni on a positive and amicable path while honest discussions are held and actions taken on the creation of a state for Ogoni that will assist in the work, help manage and sustain work that will be done and preserve, protect the environment since Nigeria has proven the lack of interest and ability to protect said land and environment.

Because only the true owner of  a land or asset knows how best to preserve, protect and invest in his or her land and asset there is incontrovertible need for an Ogoni State which will be viable, or any political autonomy arrangement by whatever name called that will afford Ogonis the right and freedom to manage their own affairs (like other groups in Nigeria) including the preservation and protection of their environment.

Therefore, if Buhari and his government will succeed, and because this project will serve as precedent for cleanups in Nigeria especially Niger delta’s polluted communities  and model for Africa hence not another big man’s or woman’s face and connection jamboree, only the above mentioned experts can lead and plan work, manage resources and advise the president and his team. Nevertheless, there is need for community involvement, and some of the bodies approved by Mr. Buhari, shall cater for such need which will bring about community partnership hence collaboration and support.

Studies have shown that process matters almost as project completion if not more than the latter. Where the process isn’t right from the beginning or planning stage the propensity exist on a higher note that the end may not be right. So Buhari should ensure to marry a formidable process including using UNEP experts as managers/leaders of an Ogoni-specific HYPREP, not Nigerians if the agency will not be scrapped for UNEP to take full and independent charge with appropriate funding and support mechanics. He shouldn’t listen to anyone or entity without the scientific, technical and management expertise going forward else he will fail like Jonathan. Only credible and honest-disinteresting experts of international reputes should advise the president and implement the Ogoni project.

The government and other co-polluters must not give Ogonis and the global public reasons to see recent Buhari’s cleanup announcement and subsequent actions as another build-up leading to deception or a moneymaking and embezzlement or corruption trap as HYPREP under Jonathan was accused, thus a dead on arrival project as common in Nigeria. The government, co-polluters must show that there is enough money equal to One Billion Dollars recommended start-up  fee for the work even though they will continue to source for funds from around the world. Of course, people and governments of goodwill and supporters, friends of Ogoni will be open to assisting in any way possible. The start-up amount can be easily sourced by all the polluters including the Federal Government and Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) indicted in the UNEP report as one of the major polluters.

Contrary-wise, Buhari and his team will fail in Ogoni and grossly so like Jonathan, if the aforementioned suggestions and steps aren’t taken seriously and implemented alongside other well thought and result-driven measures the experts in this regard (hereinafter referred to as UNEP experts and those of other reputable entities) shall offer.

If HYPREP is granted a voluptuous work scope covering all hydrocarbon-related pollution in other Niger delta communities, allowed to be headed and coordinated by Nigerians, thus  investigating and identifying pollution sites and making recommendations to government with remediation efforts, the Ogoni project will be given less attention and suffer setback. This may lead to poorly done work or uncompleted project if started at all. Then the Buhari’s announcement and efforts will become another wasteful endeavor, lies, disrespect and insensitivity to the need and demand of the Ogoni people who have contributed so much in natural and human resources including blood but given nothing back but exploitation, pollution, deceit and death.

Ben Ikari, is an authority on Ken Saro-Wiwa and Ogoni struggle; international human rights and environmental justice advocate, author of Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP-The Story and Revelation.


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