A Senate Committee on Tuesday expressed disappointment over the slow pace of work on the Ogoniland Clean Up project despite the release of $360 million.
The panel, chaired by a former deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, was disappointed that two years after the release of funds, not a single site out of the sixty-five contaminated sites marked for clean-up was certified “clean”.
Ogoni area of Rivers State has, over the years, been destroyed by oil leaks leading to the destruction of surrounding waters and farm lands. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) after scientific study, recommended a total clean-up of the environment saying the extent of water and environmental pollution in the Rivers communities was alarming.
Although the report was released during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, in 2011, the administration did little to carry out the clean-up.
President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after his assumption of office in 2015, launched the clean-up exercise.
An investigation by PREMIUM TIMES in 2018 showed that despite official claims, the clean-up was yet to start.
The former Minister of Environment, Ibrahim Jibril, had, in November 2018, said his ministry has reached the final stage of procurement processes that will lead to award of contracts to 21 firms so the exercise can finally begin.
Appearing before a Senate panel, the Chairman of Ogoniland Board of Trustees (BoT), Olawale Edun, confirmed that $360million was sitting in the purse of the BoT, out of which $43 million had been released to the Hydrocarbon Pollution Environment Project, the agency set up to supervise the clean-up.
The Project Coordinator, Marvin Dekil, also confirmed receipt of the money.
He, however, said the money was not the challenge as he blamed the slow pace of work on technical factors and a “sluggish procurement process.
The $360 million was contribution from multinational oil companies in the last two years to the $1 billion the UNEP report had said was needed to clean up Ogoniland.
Mr Edun came under fire from the Senate panel over expenditure it claimed was paid to a consultant; an action members of the Senate panel believed was contrary to extant laws.
Disappointed at the situation, the Senate panel asked that the supervising Ministry of Environment come forward with new strategies to rescue the situation.
The Minister of Environment, Mohammed Abubarkar, who also expressed displeasure at the situation, pleaded for more time to work out new plans on how to get the Ogoniland clean-up project on proper tracks.
This excuse for the slow pace of work in the oil-rich area, comes about a year after an ex-senator said serious security challenges in the area was hindering the work.
Magnus Abe, who was asked if work has started in Ogoni land, said despite the award of contracts to the contractors that would carry out the clean-up, the exercise would be stalled due to the security challenges in the area.
“I am aware that contracts for the clean-up of Ogoni land have been awarded. Right now, as we speak, the security situation in the area does not provide for a meaningful economic or even contractual activity to go on.
“Every day, at least six people are killed in one community or the other. There is no day that they are not killing people. Many residents of the various communities have abandoned their homes and ran away due to violence. So, in that kind of atmosphere, it will be difficult for me to say there is any contractor somewhere in the bush alone, working,” he said.