The environmental agency Abuja created has a bad record. It is even believed to be relaxing the clean-up benchmarks
The Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is only the latest iteration of Nigerian government agencies charged with using oil revenues to compensate for the effects of its extraction in an area inhabited by some of the poorest people in Africa, whose farms and fishing waters are adjacent to tens of billions of dollars' worth of hydrocarbon reserves.
With the publication of the UNEP report in 2011, then-President Goodluck Jonathan set HYPREP up in 2012 at the Ministry of Petroleum Resources under Diezani Allison-Madueke. Allison-Madueke was arrested in London by the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency in 2015, although never charged. In Nigeria she has been charged with the theft of tens of billions of dollars from her ministry during her tenure, but no trial has taken place (AC Vol 58 No 7, The great oil chase). Within a year, HYPREP was mired in scandal.
It started with a car crash. HYPREP's National Coordinator, Joy Nunieh-Okunnu, was seriously injured when her car plunged into a river and was submerged for five hours on 1 May 2013 as she was returning from a site visit in Bayelsa, Jonathan's home state. Nunieh-Okunnu survived but three other occupants did not: Zaaki Labbo, Aloy Agunwa and a Mr. David. A PricewaterhouseCoopers staff audit showed that although they were on HYPREP's books they were not formally employed. Nor were two-thirds of HYPREP's 201 staff. It is common practice in Nigerian public institutions to give people jobs, but seldom formal contracts, and often to pay them late, if at all. The practice enables employers to use jobs as patronage and the threat of non-payment to ensure employee loyalty although it often prevents the agency functioning effectively. There were dark rumours following the crash that Nunieh-Okunnu was caught up in a power struggle between Abdulkadir Musa, who was deposed as permanent secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum, and Allison-Madueke.
The unpaid HYPREP staff appealed to Bukola Saraki, who was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology at the time, saying that they had not been paid for two years, and many were destitute. The then Group Managing Director of NNPC, Andrew Yakubu, approved N2.5 billion ($15.6 million) to cover their outstanding salaries.
These scandals meant that HYPREP was mothballed until its relaunch by Buhari in 2016 under the then Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, who is now Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. HYPREP was inactive until Shell and others paid $10 million directly to Mohammed's Ministry in 2017. During this time, no actual clean-up work was done.
From its inception, HYPREP's role has overlapped with those of other agencies, particularly the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), although it only has money to work in Ogoni. The official Nigerian federal government gazette of 12 December 2016, Vol 103 No 176, re-established HYPREP under the Ministry of Environment, the preamble mentioning Ogoni and the UNEP report in its second paragraph. By page 2, HYPREP's mandate is 'Ogoniland and other impacted Communities' and its role is to 'investigate, map and evaluate' oil spills referred to it by NOSDRA.
In the space of a few legalistic paragraphs, HYPREP's mission was thus expanded from cleaning up the environment of Ogoniland to cover not only the territory of the Niger Delta, where another 30 million Nigerians live, but also the entire country. Two government agencies are supposed to keep track of oil spills, with neither in overall charge of the monitoring work. HYPREP also overlaps with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Consultants in three main areas of responsibility have all been appointed by HYPREP as preliminary steps before contracting companies, but none have the adequate experience, experts familiar with the issue say. When questioned about this, HYPREP representatives have claimed –astonishing experts familiar with this type of work – that this is irrelevant, and that the companies concerned can sub-contract the technical work to companies that do have the relevant expertise. HYPREP remained silent on what the point is in hiring a company that is only going to sub-contract the work to someone else.
The three main areas of work have been subdivided into Communications, Project Management, and Monitoring and Evaluation. The Communications portfolio went to a company called Alliance Boots. Project Management is very active, Africa Confidential is told, whereas the Monitoring and Evaluation section is dormant because no significant remediation work is being done. It appears that HYPREP only has one phone line, which is rarely if ever answered. Alarm at the slowness in HYPREP getting on with its work, despite the $10 million shot in the arm, has been increasing.
As Minister of the Environment, Amina Mohammed (who is now Deputy UN Secretary General) appointed Marvin Dekil as Project Coordinator, making him de facto HYPREP boss, in January 2017. Although he is Ogoni, he has been heavily criticised for failing to educate the public about the project, let alone answer questions from the media. Sources close to the clean-up programme say Dekil is completely out of his depth. He has come under a storm of criticism from Ogoni groups and others for lack of transparency and for having no experience in managing such a massive project. Nobody could say why Mohammed appointed him, but other experts fear that the same lack of expertise will be applied to other key posts within HYPREP.
Now that the actual clean-up is meant to be going ahead, there are complaints from experts involved in the process that the plots of land have been subdivided into contracts so small – $80,000 to $1 million – that no single contractor can do the work properly.
One international expert in pollution remediation told Africa Confidential, 'Normally, you would expect contracts on a project like this to be around the $100m mark and large areas put under the control of that company. Technical experts in this field could cost $200,000 a year in salary, but HYPREP has divided the plots up to such small sizes, that the work cannot practically be done.' Every site has been broken into – often arbitrary – subdivisions to be done by different companies, based on a map provided to HYPREP by UNEP, which HYPREP then broke into smaller plots. The contracts have been deliberately kept small so that they fall below the threshold for compulsory audit and competitive tender, Africa Confidential was told.
Another alarming feature of the contracts is that the Project Managers unilaterally lowered the pollution standards so that contractors can find the goals easier to reach. From a statutory maximum of 50mg of hydrocarbons per kilogramme of soil, the level has been raised to 1000mg of hydrocarbons per kilogramme of soil. The managers have no authority to do this, as the standard is set in Nigerian law. In spite of this, we hear, NOSDRA has gone along with the arbitrary reduction of the cleanliness standard and written to HYPREP approving the 1000mg/kg level. Experts have told Africa Confidential that this loosening of standards would probably fall foul of a future legal challenge.
Employment of Ogoni in the restoration of their farms and fishing waters is a crucial factor that could determine how both the clean-up and the resumption of oil and gas production is received in the region. None of the 16 named companies appear to have Ogoni directors, or offices in Ogoni, in spite of public undertaking that the majority of workers employed would be Ogoni. HYPREP's Dekil has said in public statements that no Ogoni are involved in 'Phase One' of the scheme, but that there are plans to build their 'capacity' in due course.
Despite this, one of the contractors has told Africa Confidential that their contract stipulates that they must employ Ogoni, and that another contractor (possibly one of the additional five contractors so far unnamed, formally or informally) has an Ogoni managing director who employs people of Ogoni ethnicity. How these contradictions can be resolved is just one of the problems afflicting HYPREP and the government.
Who are the contractors?
Speculation continues in the Niger Delta as to the identities and expertise of contractors hired by HYPREP to carry out the clean-up. This uncertainty led Vivian Belonwu-Okafor of non-government organisation Social Action to write to HYPREP in June, making a Freedom of Information request for the list of 21 companies.
A spreadsheet had appeared that lists 16 of 21 firms contracted to undertake 'Phase 1' of the $900 million clean-up for HYPREP, which is projected to run till 2022. HYPREP and the Nigerian government haven't put this information in the public domain, and international partners in the clean-up have told Africa Confidential that there's no good reason for the information to be withheld.
All of the companies exist, in that they're registered in Nigeria or internationally. One, Pacrim Engineering, is based in Los Angeles. A 5 May piece in Nigeria's Premium Times based on the leaked spreadsheet questioned the authenticity of several firms' credentials. There's no clear way to contact five of the 16, so suspicions are high about their qualifications. Louizioni Ferreti Ent. Ltd, which Premium Times says deals in oil-field equipment, Tip Tree Nig. Ltd, Rey & Reina International Ltd, Mosvinny Energy Ltd, and Shamsa Resources & Services Ltd, which, according to the Premium Times, is based in Maiduguri, northern Nigeria, and is a training and consulting firm, cannot be reached. Of those who can be contacted, only two companies replied to Africa Confidential's inquiries. Both confirmed that they had begun clean-up work, with one saying they saying it began in February and another expecting to complete the job in a few months.
Fegalo Nsuke, one of at least three people claiming to be the President of the Ogoni civil society group Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which is split into many factions, claims that 'members of the governing council [linked to the Ogoni Trust Fund] have awarded contracts to companies in which they have interests. It has been more about personal interests and political patronages than real concerns to clean Ogoniland' (AC Vol 60, No 7, Clean-up or cover-up?). Nsuke's remark is probably directed at another claimant to the MOSOP Presidency, Legborsi Pyagbara, who sits on the HYPREP Governing Council. Pyagbara was challenged for the MOSOP leadership partly over allegations of embezzlement levelled at him by rivals, including Nsuke. He denies any wrongdoing.
All of this all adds to the general confusion and problems with the presentation of HYPREP's work, confusion which is worrying international parties involved in the clean-up. While Shell, other oil companies, UNEP, and the British and Dutch governments all have roles in the process, as funders, observers and advisers, Africa Confidential understands that they work entirely independently of one another. The UNEP report which alerted the international community to the environmental emergency in Ogoni arose partly from the 1996 visit of Malaysian lawyer Param Cumaraswamy, sent as Special Rapporteur by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate the aftermath of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants.
Almost a quarter of a century after Saro-Wiwa and thousands of other Ogoni died in a stand-off with the Nigerian military and oil companies over their poisoning of their environment, the international community seems unable to muster the collective resolve to clean up the worst pollution on Earth.
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