As tension rises in Ogoniland area of Rivers State over the ongoing cleanup, some irate youth have burnt down a mini bus belonging to Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), the agency saddled with responsibilities of the cleanup exercise.

The incident occurred at K-Dere community of Gokana Local Government Area. The motive behind the latest development is not known, but there has been some discontent in some quarters over the manner the project is being handled.

On Monday, the Gbo Kabaari Ogoni, the Ogoni Elders’ Forum, said the ongoing cleanup in Ogoniland of Rivers State is “opaque” and geared towards "scoring cheap public relations“ by the Nigerian Government.

Bennett Birabi and AlubaBari Desmond Nbete, Chairman and Secretary of the forum, respectively, stated this while briefing journalists on Monday at Ernest Ikoli Press Centre in Port Harcourt.

The group expressed sadness at the process so far, noting that nothing had been done about emergency measures.

A statement by the group read: "We consider it very sad that, as we speak, not only has nothing absolutely been done about any of these emergency measures, the national and international visibility of the Ogoni issue has been fraudulently exploited to score cheap public relations benefits at every opportunity. In this respect, we recall that the cleanup was flagged-off in the glare of local and international press since 2016 and till now nothing practically has been done on the ground.

"Also, in 2017, the then Environment Minister, Amina Mohammed, similarly at an impressive public event that was widely reported in the press did a so-called 'ground-breaking' ceremony of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre at the School-to-Land Farm in Bori, a site that is now overgrown with bush.

“Rather than commencing the implementation of the UNEP recommendations with the proposed emergency measures, what we have come to observe, and much to our chagrin, is that after each tranche of funds release by the oil companies on the clean-up project, the expenditure pattern has not only been opaque, but also done in such a manner that not only undermines the smooth implementation of the project, but is completely out of sync with the UNEP recommendations.

"In this regard, we recall that after the first announced release of the sum of $10million by the International Oil Companies (IOCs), it became known that about N1billion contract was awarded to each of three consultancy firms of doubtful profiles and pedigrees and in a manner that looks more like patronages.

“Similarly, the recent announcement of further release of funds from the IOCs has been followed by a spree of clean-up contract awards that, amongst other things, debase and negate the concept of local content. In our view, the extreme politicization of the contract awards, resulting in the exclusion of competent indigenous contractors from Ogoni and other parts of the Niger Delta, is as insensitive as it is unacceptable to our people. It is, therefore, not surprising that the award process has sparked off a considerable wave of discontent throughout Ogoniland capable of derailing the project."

The forum also took a swipe at the Nigerian government for the presence of soldiers in the region, just as they called for improved efforts aimed at ensuring development in the region.

The statement continued: "In a desperate attempt to ostensibly stem the tide of anticipated protests over the exclusion of competent indigenous contractors, the Federal Government has taken umbrage under an ill- advised decision to draft soldiers to Ogoniland ostensibly to provide 'security services' for the clean-up and remediation project. We make bold to say that the best security that can ever be provided for any project in our community, and indeed anywhere else, is to fully involve the affected people in the implementation of the project.

"It is for this reason that we had, by our letter dated 19th November, 2018 to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, requested a reversal of the decision on military deployment so as not to justify any fears that the planned militarization of the area is only a ploy to spark-off violent crisis in the area as an excuse for a force majeure on the clean-up project.

“Based on credible information available to us that the current clean-up exercise is only but a preliminary phase intended to show that something is being done, we wonder why it has been given priority over the emergency life-saving issue of provision of potable water. As stated earlier, observing that Ogoni communities were daily consuming water contaminated with benzene and other carcinogenic materials in concentrations over 900 times above the acceptable maximum as stipulated in the WHO guideline, UNEP had recommended that the provision of alternative safe drinking water to the communities, amongst other measures, be undertaken as a priority emergency measure before anything else.

“As our people are still condemned to drinking, bathing and fishing in the heavily contaminated water, we wonder if the current exercise is not a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Or worse still, if the health and lives of our people are not being sacrificed on the altar of ‘political exigencies’ and patronages to certain privileged few!

“In the light of the foregoing, believing that the current clean-up exercise is a genuine effort at addressing the age-long environmental degradation of our land, and not a mere political bill- boarding, we fervently demand that these issues be addressed in order to ensure that the project is not delivered dead on arrival!”

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