By Edu Abade
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has restated the resolve of civil society groups in advancing the full implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Assessment Report on Ogoniland to work with the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in achieving the objective.
Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, stated this at a one-day national roundtable on HYPREP organised by the Peoples Advancement Centre (PAC) on July 17, 2023 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The convening had in attendance over 20 civil society, women-led and grassroots groups from across the country in attendance.
Williams said it was good news that the recently appointed Project Coordinator of HYPREP, Prof. Nenibarini Zabbey is an activist, who had campaigned for the restoration of the Ogoni environment as recommended by the UNEP and had published several papers on how the Ogoni cleanup exercise will succeed.
He noted however that even with Prof. Zabbey on the saddle, civil society will not relent in their watchdog role to ensure that the new helmsman at HYPREP succeeds and the goals of the UNEP assessment achieved.
Responding, Prof. Zabbey pledged to work constructively with civil society to address the gaps in the operations of the agency. He announced that the gender disparity in the agency as reflected in only 5 percent women in the agency will be addressed to ensure parity with their male counterparts.
Zabbey also announced that over 500 youths have been recruited and deployed as civil security supporting clean-up sites and facilities even as he added that mangrove restoration will be a priority of his administration to pave way for the livelihood challenges of the locals to be adequately addressed.
He explained that he is set to put in place a framework for inclusion, community engagement and standard operating procedures within the shortest possible time to ensure that the gaps observed by Ogoni people and civil society are addressed headlong.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, PAC Convener, Celestine Akpobari explained that HYPREP as an agency of government was not set up for the love of the impacted people of Ogoniland, but because of civil society pressure exposing the decades-long injustices meted to the Ogoni people.
Akpobari said the convening is targeted at getting the new leadership of HYPREP to stay on course in implementing the UNEP assessment even as he noted that HYPREP had deviated from its original mandate in some cases.
Some recommendations from the roundtable include the need for Federal Government to strictly adhere to the original mandate the HYPREP was conceived to achieve, the need to establish a civil society liaison desk in HYPREP, the immediate need for HYPREP to carry out chemical, air and health assessments as recommended by the UNEP Assessment Report in Ogoniland and the need for the agency to address current observed staff shortages in key areas such as monitoring and operations to enable it to deliver on its core mandate, among others.