From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
An International group, Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid (CORDAID) has urged the management of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to be more responsive and accountable in the cleanup of Ogoniland.
Cordaid, a Dutch NGO based in the Netherlands and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help communities in Nigeria understand the issues around them and to engage with those issues positively, gave the advise at the weekend, during its end of programme dissemination event held in Port Harcourt
Speaking during an interview with The AUTHORITY, Dr Akin Oke, Programme Coordinator of Cordaid in Nigeria, stressed the need for transparency in dealing with community issues. He said HYRPEP should always inform stakeholders on their cleanup activities for clarity.
He thanked the civil society groups, their partners, stakeholders in Rivers and Bayelsa state, as well as the federal government of Nigeria for their efforts in ensuring that their advocates were adequately responded to.
Oke said: “In 2016 when we came onboard there was no functioning HYPREP inbterms of a resource project of it. The governance processes around the remediation of Ogoniland was not in place, there was no funding stream and these are the key issues we have advocated for over 4 years. Today, you have the number of sites in Ogoni that are being cleaned, stages of the cleanup, you have a functing HYPREP that has an office and funded to do it work properly.
“We want to thank our civil society organizations, our partners, we thank our government, stakeholders both in Rivers and Bayelsa States, as well as at the federal level because we also have the Federal Ministry of Environment working with us to ensure that what ever we advocate they respond to our advocacy.
“For us is not a question of time to pull out, as an organization our rule is to improve the capacity of people to take care of themselves. The role of Cordaid is like a catalyst, now people understand what is at stake. We are not the once doing the cleanup, it is the people themselves taking responsibility.
“For us in terms of what should happen going forward, we think HYPREP for instance need to be more accountable to the people. They should do more of communicating, inform stakeholders on the cleanup activities.
“For instance, you have something called the EGASPIN, that is the standard by which the Nigerian government agreed that for remediation of a particular plot of land that has been impacted by oil, these are the levels of hydrocarbon you want to see in that soil when it is clean. Those things needs to be communicated with, inform stakeholders and also when you are handing over let that process be seen to as haven been completed to a logical conclusion.
“Again, HYPREP based on relentless advocacy, has started going out to also engage and we must admit that marked improvement in their level of engagement with communities. But they needs to be also accountable because the fund they are using for all these work is government fund, is public fund and the people who should benefit should see the effect on their lives, transforming the environment, transforming their communities”.
Also responding to questions from journalists at the event, Bayelsa state Commissioner for Environment, Hon. Iselema Gbaranbiri, commended Cordaid for their intervention and innovative in the state, adding that their presence has attracted a lot of developmental benefits in Bayelsa in the past four years.
Represented by Ere Wakedei Davidson, Director, Climate Change Department, Ministry of Environment, Yenagoa, said the international organization has positively impacted on the Bayelsa people, thereby reducing concentration on illegal refinery to agriculture.
“We have had a long history with Cordaid and we are quite pleased in terms of their modality in engaging the people and bringing the issues of the environment to the fore, making community participation sacrosanct and inclusive development.
“I am happy because of a value reorientation, the issues of artisanal refinery that has been a major problem in Bayelsa State is lessening and is a plus to Cordaid, especially the Zarama area, wonderful testimonies are coming out from that area in Bayelsa state.
“Also, in terms of agric intervention, Cordaid have had a profound effect on Bayelsa state. Only we are saddened to know that this is an end to circle activities and we could have want that Cordaid extended their activities for another five years in Bayelsa state because we can visibly see the role Cordaid played”.
On her part, Chief Constance Meju, Chairman, Centre for Environment, Human Right and Development (CEHRD) and Board member Kebetkache Centre, recalled that without Cordaid intervention, HYPREP was not opened to stakeholders on the cleanup exercise.
Chief Meju said: “Is really a pleasure working with Cordaid, it has helped us to address some issues in the community that we feel are necessary in Ogoniland. It was all about community engagement and all the partners are working to get Ogoni people understand the issue at stake.
“The focus is actually on the Ogoni cleanup and CEHRD is particular about specific. We produced the baseline report on Ogoniland which has elements of what will be sustainable for the people. It has helped us to create awareness, that has been very key and especially for us the partners, everybody hard to understand the issue at stake.
“We want to thank Cordaid for its intervention and also said that it should not pull out yet, without Cordaid, HYPREP would not have listened to anyone. There were many attempt to get HYPREP to talk to the people, to say what it has in it mind without success but with the Cordaid intervention which has brought about high level of peace and progress in the area”.