As we mark the twelfth anniversary of the submission of the UNEP report on Ogoniland, we wish to sincerely appreciate the Federal Government, especially the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for his unwavering commitment to the implementation of the recommendations of the report. We are grateful to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for undertaking a thorough assessment of the Ogoni environment and producing a world-class report. The UNEP has also stood by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), the body set up by the Federal Government to implement the recommendations of the report by providing technical support to the project and has continued to do so from 2018 to date. The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and its Joint Venture Partners remain committed to making remittances to fund the Project. The Ogoni community, which is the ultimate beneficiary of the clean-up project, has been very receptive and supportive of the project.

The 2023 commemoration of the submission of the UNEP Report on the Assessment of the Ogoni Environment to the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2011 is a watershed, as it marks a smooth transition from one administration of government to the other in its implementation. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari who had officially flagged off the Ogoni clean project on June 2, 2016 formally wound down on May 29, 2023 handing over power as well as the continuation of the Ogoni clean-up project to the new administration of His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. On the occasion of the eleventh anniversary of the submission of the report last year, we announced the modest achievements made in the key operational areas of the project, including remediation, livelihood, the provision of potable water, public health, and the like.

As we celebrate the 2023 anniversary of the UNEP report, we are pleased to state that more milestones have been covered in the last one year. The provision of sustainable livelihoods through training for Ogoni women and youths is a key recommendation of the UNEP report. Within this one year, we started the training of one hundred (100) youths in the mega-skill area of aviation. So far, we have successfully trained thirty of them, with more batches coming on stream. Aviation was not the only mega skill we introduced to the general livelihood trainings for Ogoni women and youths; there are the other three, namely, mechatronics, seafaring, and creative arts. We considered that the world is going digital and that these four skill areas provide pathways to economic prosperity and human capital development. Other livelihood packages are in the process of being unveiled to the Ogoni people. We have carried out a survey of medium-scale businesses in Ogoni, and in the coming weeks, checks will be presented to deserving entrepreneurs to boost their businesses. This is with the intention of bringing sustainability and expansion to existing local businesses. We are currently mobilizing 28 consultants to train about 5,000 Ogoni youths in various life skillsets.

On July 26, 2023, the Barako community in Gokana Local Government Area, Ogoniland, Rivers State, was thrown into a celebration mood as HYPREP turned on the taps to supply potable water to households in the community. The commissioning ceremony was performed by the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Environment, Ibrahim Yusufu. The Barako water scheme is one of the six contracts awarded in phase 1 of the provision of potable water in Ogoni. The Alesa waterworks were the first to be completed and supply water to the area and other adjourning communities. The contractors for the remaining four LOTS are finalizing work on their projects, and not long from now they will be commissioned. To cover more communities, the Project has gone ahead to award additional fourteen (14) water contracts that will supply potable water to fifty-two (52) communities across the four Local Government Areas of Ogoniland. A week ago, the contractors were handed over the sites for construction works to begin. It goes without saying that the construction of the fourteen water schemes will create job opportunities for the youths in these communities and thus reduce the burden of unemployment. In the course of the construction works, plumbing and other relevant skills would be passed on to the locals, who stand the chance of learning lifelong economic skills for their survival.

In remediation, we have made great progress. From the first contracts of twenty-one (21) lots in Phase 1 Batch 1 to twenty-nine (29) lots in Phase 1 Batch 2, We have closed out thirty-six (36) lots, while fourteen (14) lots are at different stages of completion.

The phase 2 remediation of 39 medium-risk sites has commenced. In Phase 2 remediation, the scope of work includes site characterization and remediation of both soil and groundwater. We have also mobilized 34 contractors for shoreline cleanup and 9 contractors to undertake mangrove planting on about 600 ha of shorelines where oil content in the sediment has been reduced by natural attenuation to levels that mangroves can tolerate. Consequently, we have engaged an expert to commence hands-on training for 90 women and youths on how to establish a mangrove nursery. This will reinforce livelihood opportunities and mainstream knowledge of mangrove restoration for sustainability. The trainees will further be empowered with small grants to establish their individual nurseries and sell the mangrove seedlings to the mangrove planting contractors. In addition, the community workers that will work at the shoreline cleanup and mangrove planting sites will be trained and awarded with IMO level 1 and 2 certificates, which will brighten their chances to be engaged in similar works in and outside Ogoniland. We plan to restore three thousand (3,000) hectares of oil-degraded mangrove in Ogoniland. This will involve the planting of about 10 million mangrove seedlings, which will be the world’s largest restoration of oil-degraded mangroves.

We appeal to all stakeholders to drive efforts toward preventing oil spills in the region. Specifically, we urge the youths to desist from artisanal oil refining. As the UNEP report stressed, further oil pollution resulting from oil theft and artisanal oil refining will compromise the effectiveness of the shoreline cleanup and mangrove rehabilitation initiatives.

In April 2023, the Project flagged off the triad of legacy projects: the construction of the Ogoni Power Project to connect Ogoni to the national grid, the Ogoni Specialist Hospital, and the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration (CEER). On July 26, 2023, sites for the above projects were among the over sixty project sites that we handed over to contractors to commence work. We are building a cottage hospital in Buan and have procured medical equipment to strengthen four hospitals in Ogoniland. These human-impacting and legacy projects will address some of the core concerns of health, sustainable livelihood, human capital development, and environmental restoration knowledge development. It must be stressed that all these projects going on concurrently will build or strengthen the capacity of the Ogonis, create local jobs, and boost household income.

As we mark the anniversary of the submission of the UNEP report, we look ahead to more people-centred projects that will revive and restore the environment and livelihoods of Ogoniland. We want to reassure all stakeholders that the Ogoni cleanup project is now in the fast lane of execution and reinforced with frameworks of inclusion, sustainability, and value addition. We have started networking and building linkages and partnerships with notable global environmental management institutions to lay a solid foundation for the CEER, which is envisioned as a regional hub for vocational training and advanced research in environmental restoration.

We are committed to the sustainable restoration of oil degraded lands and wetlands and the creation and promotion of opportunities for sustainable livelihoods in Ogoniland.

Happy UNEP Report Day celebration to all stakeholders!

Prof. Nenibarini Zabbey

Project Coordinator, HYPREP

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