Ogoni Clean Up, On Course – HYPREP Coordinator

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Dr. Dekil

Dr. Marvin Dekil, the Project Coordinator of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), is a renowned environmentalist and hails from Ogoniland in Rivers State.
In this exclusive interview with our Acting Production Editor, Donatus Ebi, Dekil offers an insight into the core mandate of HYPREP, particularly in respect of the clean up of Ogoniland, among other issues.
Excerpts.
What is HYPREP’s core mandate?
HYPREP has the mandate of the Federal Government of Nigeria to do two things. One is to remediate impacted sites across Ogoniland. Two is to restore the livelihood of the impacted communities. I am the Coordinator of the project. And we have since started. The project coordinations office started in Port Harcourt in March, April, this year. I was appointed in January. Since then, we have commenced massive sensitisation across the four Ogoni LGAs of Gokana, Khana, Tai and Eleme. We have also opened project demonstration sites across the four LGAs as well. The beginning of the project starts with emergency measures. So, we have also commenced the process for bringing potable water to the impacted communities. We did set up a committee that went to all the local governments and identified where all the water projects are and whether or not they are functioning. This we did in collaboration with the Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources, Shell, NDDC and Niger Delta Basin Development Authority. We have advertised for competent water consultants, engineers to come in so that they can do a quick assessment and costing for these facilities, with the hope of getting them back to life and providing water to the communities.
We take sensitisation seriously, because people need to take ownership of the project. They need to understand what we are doing. It is important to also add that the project is a highly scientific one, technical and scientific, the procedure, the process for doing remediation in the field is one that is going to take a lot of planning. It is also going to take time. And so, we have since commenced the process, the desk work, which is what is needed for us to hit the field. The process is ongoing.
Is HYPREP essentially about remediation of Ogoniland?
HYPREP is a project of the Federal Government, directed at addressing the oil-related issues in the entire country, with a particular reference to the Niger Delta. We have started with Ogoni, because an assessment has been done in Ogoniland by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which we are now implementing. It is the effort of the government to address the environmental issues in the country, especially in the Niger Delta. That is what HYPREP is all about. It is not essentially set up for remediation in Ogoniland.
What would you say are the achievements of HYPRET so far?
The first achievement is to talk to the people; let the people take ownership of the project, which is sensitisation, that is ongoing. We have been to communities in the four LGAs. We have been to Bodo. We have met with the Bodo Council of Chiefs. We have met with the King. We have met with the women leader there. We met the youth leader and they understand what HYPREP is about and they also understand what it is not about.It is not about sharing money.  It is not about compensation.
It is about addressing the environmental concerns of the people and giving them their livelihood. That is what it is about. We have consulted with the K-Dere Council of Chiefs and Elders. We met with the Paramount Ruler there. We met with the women. We met with the youth. And we have also been talking to the people of Kpor. We met with the Paramount Ruler. We met with the youth leader. We met with the Council of Chiefs. We met the women as well. That is in Gokana. We plan meeting more other communities in Gokana. We have been to Eleme Local Government Area.
We met with the King there and his Council of Chiefs. We met with the women as well as with the youth. We explained to them the commitment of the Federal Government to cleaning up impacted sites in Ogoni and across the Niger Delta region, starting with Ogoni, we are in now. We met with the Council of Chiefs and leaders in Ibubu and we also opened a demonstration site for companies which are willing to participate in that project.
These are companies that are doing this remediation or demonstration at no cost to government. So, we have appealed to the people to understand the need for them to support the companies. We have also started the process of looking at the water facilities in these communities as we do the sensitisation, so that we could do assessment, costing and restoration of the water.
Within this period, we have also had a stakeholder engagement with the Ogoni leadership from across the four LGAs, where we sat and discussed, and they explained their concerns and we explained measures taken by the government to address these concerns including the very important role of sensitisation in our engagement process.
What is the response of Ogoni people to the project?
The response has been immense. The Ogoni people have been very supportive. They are willing to support and they have provided their support. The leadership has given us its guarantee for peace and support throughout the duration of the project.
Has the Ogoni clean up started?
The process has started. The process starts with the desk work which we are doing now. It starts with the sensitisation so that the people know what the project is about. It starts with the implementation of the emergency measures, as contained in the UNEP Report, which has to do with the provision of potable water for the people.
So, the project has started. It is on course. You are seated here in our office. You have met with our people, staff deployed from the Federal Ministries.
They are all here. People from the Ministry of Justice. People from the Office of the Auditor-General and the Office of the Accountant-General. The entire support staff needed, they have been deployed from Abuja and they are right here in the office. And so, the technical team, we have put together. We have done some training of Ogoni scientists, to ensure that the communities participate fully in the remediation process. We have to provide training to the locals, people with Science Degrees,. People with the requisite background so that they can participate technically in the project.
Can you please give us an insight into the scale of the clean up project?
The scale of the project is in the public domain. If you look at the UNEP Report, you can identify all the sites. It also identifies the extent of contamination in each of the sites. The next thing we would do is to capture previous places that were not previously captured and also do a scoping, which would allow us know the current state of each of the sites before we design the remediation plan.
Are you assuring that the Ogonis would be better off at the end of the exercise?
The remediation is about restoring the environment. The impact of oil spill on Ogoni communities or on any impacted environment for that matter is obvious, because it affects the people’s agricultural, economic and social lives and all of that. So, if you could restore impacted sites, then, all of that would have been restored, and that means that the people will certainly have a better life. We are also appealing to those who are into illegal refining to please, stop this act. We have been engaging with this group and they have given us their support to stop the act. We are planning a workshop to sensitise them on the hazards of that illegal activity on their health as well as on the environment and the need for them to embrace new skills, which we are willing to offer.
And we have been talking to them so that we partner together and structure a training programme for them.
What are the challenges facing HYPREP?
The challenge we have is one of letting people understanding that this is a technical and scientific project that you wouldn’t expect result to be overnight. That it takes planning. So, you continue to engage the people and let them understand the need for a thorough, structured process aimed at delivering the project to the people. That again is what people need to understand. We are appealing for patience to enable us do a thorough job.
What is the next line of action from now?
The next line of action is already out there. We have advertised for specific services, environmental experts to help us with the scoping and mapping of sites not previously captured. We have advertised for health impact experts to help us with the health impact assessment that is needed to see if there is a relationship between the disease patterns and oil pollution in Ogoniland. We have also advertised for water engineers and consultants to help us proffer solutions to the water situations, as part of the implementation of the emergency measures of the project.
As the Coordinator of the project, what would you tell the Federal Government?
I would like us to commend the government for its commitment and the resources deployed to this project. It is something that requires not only the Federal Government. We should be talking to the oil companies. We should be talking to the Ogonis. We should be talking to the regulators. So, all the stakeholders involved, we need to get their assurances. We are appealing to everybody to bring in their resources, their skills and cooperation for the successful implementation of the project.
What is the role of RSG as the host government?
Well, in the previous project, I was fortunate to be part of the initial assessment carried out by UNEP. Rivers State Government played a huge role in that process. We are expecting same this time. So, we hope to engage more actively with the state government. We are appealing to the government to come forward and provide the kind of support it provided last time. We are, indeed, open to all our stakeholders, which Rivers State Government is one of them.
My message to the Ogoni people is that this project is for them. They should embrace it and lets get the maximum out of it.