…the federal government must ensure that it tinkers with the current structure of HYPREP in far reaching ways that can, at the very least, re-establish confidence in its capacity to undertake a credible cleanup process. How this can be achieved is not far fetched, the emergency measures, including the health audit and the provision of potable water must be the take off point – not least with the war on COVID-19 only now getting started in Rivers State.


The Ogoniland cleanup project is at the forefront of Nigeria’s battle to save its environment, but it would appear that several breaches to the masterplan for the remediation, originally outlined in the United Nations Environmental Programme report of 2011, have left the project sailing like a ship shorn of its sails on a high sea. Slow. Very slow; if not drifting. And definitely lacking in definite direction.

I have sat in on recent virtual fora in the past few weeks, designed to assess the level of work done and to proffer solutions that could assist in critical ways to restore environmental pride to Ogoniland.

What I’ll tell you is that there is money available to execute the project. There is also a viable road plan outlining its navigation. Communities are eagerly looking forward to positive action, having suffered many years of oil pollution and soil contamination – but there is an agency – Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) – which the federal government is now kind enough to admit has not moved the job as fast as it should have in the past four years.

“We noted that out of the $1 billion for the first five years of Ogoni Clean-Up, HYPREP had received $360 million and out of which HYPREP said it has spent just about $44 million in the past four years. Thus, if HYPREP said it has spent only about $44 million in the past four years out of the $360 million it has so far received then, it would take HYPREP till 2042; about extra 22 years more of spending $44 million every four years, before it would be able to exhaust the remaining $956 million and complete the first phase of Clean-Up that UNEP said would take just five years,” was the summation of Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, a youth leader and panelist, at one webinar organised by Kebetkache Woman Development and Resource Centre in Port Harcourt.

At the same forum, Dr. Patience Osaro-Jiji, a frontline Ogoni women’s leader and activist, pointed out poignantly that Ogoni communities now see HYPREP, the body tasked with the cleanup, as no more than “another oil company.”

In her submission, “First, the clean-up, remediation and restoration project is community based. This means any adopted strategy should focus on the community context, and an understanding that the people involved have suffered long term impacts as a result of oil spills… Second, the community people perceive HYPREP as another oil company. As a result, HYPREP is not trusted to solve the Ogoni problem. Based on these, HYPREP would require an intensive enlightenment and sensitisation programme, building the trust and confidence all through the project life-cycle. The implementation of the emergency measures could have been a signature statement, to communicate ‘trust HYPREP’ to the local communities. Also, HYPREP needs to adopt grassroots mechanisms to communicate their activities. For example, women organisations in communities, religious groups, age-grade social gatherings and other similar groups are familiar channels to communicate its activities.”

The federal government’s promise to retool HYPREP for efficient service now has many watchers looking in its direction. It is one that stakeholders may not have all the patience to wait for in the coming days, because it sure has the capacity to turn things round for the better.

Without a published work plan, and bereft of key performance indicators, it has been extremely difficult to tell what HYPREP’s real goals have been in four years and how it might have come by those (if any). It is this scenario that fits well into the accusations that contracts have been awarded more for political considerations than for competence, and why skipping the emergency measures outlined by UNEP have been done without the least shred of compunction.

Clearly, the preliminary five-year deadline is already gone for good. HYPREP has failed on that. In its place, we should worry about the very future of the project itself. The federal government must take a broader approach to ensuring that the HYPREP that emerges from the restructuring of the current one will be so designed as to protect it from falling into the failings of the current set up.


Kebetkache, in its statement, pointed to the fact that, “the first set of 21 contractors were given 6 months to complete remedial work. None of the contractors in the Phase 1 met this contract term. As a result, contractors had to apply for extension which, COVID-19 notwithstanding, is not achievable. Remediation of legacy sites as found in Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta can only be achieved within 24 to 60 months minimum, and this should apply to Ogoniland. This therefore underscores the competency of the contractors whom should understand that remediation of legacy sites is different from oil spill containment or clean-up that can be completed in 6 months. Duration of remediation will take longer in Ogoni because of contextual issues such as long rains (8 months – May to December). Thus, even when disregarding the impact, the COVID-19 restrictions will have on the clean-up, it is unlikely HYPREP can meet the preliminary five-year deadline in Ogoniland.”

Clearly, the preliminary five-year deadline is already gone for good. HYPREP has failed on that. In its place, we should worry about the very future of the project itself. The federal government must take a broader approach to ensuring that the HYPREP that emerges from the restructuring of the current one will be so designed as to protect it from falling into the failings of the current set up.

At another webinar organised jointly by Journalists Against Delay in Ogoniland Cleanup (JADOC) and the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, it became clear that without sustained pressure on government and its partners, the affected communities may remain without a voice, and left to endure holding the short end of the stick for the foreseeable future.

This is what can be done. If the federal government does not consider due process a luxury, then it should urgently reconsider its own failing in setting up the current HYPREP by gazette. The new HYPREP should be backed by proper legislation. That’s how to ensure that the cleanup process will not begin and end as some gesture of President Buhari’s benevolent whims. This must really be taken as a matter of first principle.

The second matter is that issues requiring primacy must be given their place. To make a success of the cleanup process, the emergency measures suggested in the UNEP report must be followed. Four years of failure have made it clear that cutting corners does more harm than good.

This is how Kebetkache addressed two of those issues:

“Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre and the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration is yet to be built. These centres were expected to play key roles in the remediation of recalcitrant hydrocarbons, management of toxic and hazardous waste, development of capacity for the remediation project and the creation of sustainable jobs in Ogoniland and the wider Niger Delta. These aspects of the project currently pose significant risks to the realisation of the project goal. What is currently missing and worth highlighting is the toxic waste management plan in the different communities where remediation is being conducted. It is general knowledge that hazardous waste will be generated as the remediation begins, however, it is not clear how contractors intend to address issues related to effective hazardous waste management. This is critical to the success of the remediation works, even as the likelihood of dumping such waste in community dumpsites is very high. This has implications for re-contamination. Also, it is unclear where and how waste generated from the lots during remediation are handled or managed.”

The insulation of the new body from political or partisan interference is of utmost importance. Perhaps this will help the Governing Council and Board of Trustees to rise up to their responsibilities to ensure informed decision making in HYPREP… Until the federal government makes good its promise to restructure HYPREP, the dirt in the cleanup process will only keep piling up.


The issues are quite enormous and may not be exhausted at once. But one thing is very certain, if the federal government summons the courage to reshape HYPREP in very good time, and ensures it returns to ‘first principles’, it would indeed have taken bold steps in cleaning up the cleanup process.

In the result, the federal government must ensure that it tinkers with the current structure of HYPREP in far reaching ways that can, at the very least, re-establish confidence in its capacity to undertake a credible cleanup process. How this can be achieved is not far fetched, the emergency measures, including the health audit and the provision of potable water must be the take off point – not least with the war on COVID-19 only now getting started in Rivers State. Anything short of this will amount to suspicion and tension.

Ongoing artisanal refining and its implications for repollution is simply unacceptable. This is something UNEP not only specifically advised against but also gave guidelines on how to avoid.

All subsisting contracts must be reviewed to ensure that incompetent ones are identified and removed. It must also be that contractors are paid immediately milestones are achieved. To have contractors who are owed, in spite of available funds, is really, really below the mark.

Then a needs assessment is also of the essence to help with designing a plan for restoring livelihoods. Too many promises without fulfilment has done great harm to the psyche of the people already.

That a programme of this kind will be running at any given time without quality control measures only goes to show the height of non-compliance with best practices.

The insulation of the new body from political or partisan interference is of utmost importance. Perhaps this will help the Governing Council and Board of Trustees to rise up to their responsibilities to ensure informed decision making in HYPREP.

Until the federal government makes good its promise to restructure HYPREP, the dirt in the cleanup process will only keep piling up.

Cyril Abaku is a journalist based in Lagos.