Dr. Marvin Dekil, Coordinator of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPRER) in the Federal Ministry of Environment has said that many local community youths are being engaged in the Ogoni clean –up project as contractors have mobilized to site.
Dekil spoke during a HYPREP Sensitization and Town Hall Meeting at the Eleme Civic Centre, Ogale where he stated that youth engagement and empowerment was a critical component of the clean-up project as recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme.
He urged the people to support the programme as a way of showing appreciation to the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for embarking on the clean up exercise, pointing out that the environmental challenges that the Ogoni people face have been there for over 40 years. He stressed that it was the first time any government has taken practical steps to clean up the area.
His words: “The bottom-line is that the President has started this and we should appreciate what he has done and give it our support. We all know that this project is all for the youths, its youths friendly, the entire technical team, the entire workforce that HYPREP hires, 90 percent of them are Ogoni youths.
“If you look at the engagements of all the people we are training, they are all Ogoni youths, every site we are working on, we have at least 20 youths employed and this is going to happen in the 22 companies. So if you look at 20 x 22 that will tell you the number of opportunities that this project is bringing only on the labour side and there are technical people involved too. So that’s to show that there’s a lot of opportunities that this project is bringing to us”.
He said as the clean up exercise goes on, more persons will be engaged during the more complex stages of the project.
“I also want to let you know that what we are doing is actually the best thing which is the less complex stage of the work, more intense and more complex part of the work is coming which will require more people and offer more opportunities for us as a people but the other important information for you, is for you to capture the business benefit of this project and for those who are business men and women, please look out for when HYPREP advertise, so that you could also take advantage of the project. It’s true that there is provision for local participation, but you have to meet this standard which is the minimum standard. Please you can come over to the office; we’ll give you a list of those requirements that allow you to comply with the minimum standard in order for you to participate in this project. I think this is an opportunity for us to talk to ourselves and tell ourselves where we are getting it right or wrong and where there’s need for improvement”.
Earlier, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Esther Agbaro who represented the Honourable Minister of Environment, Suleman Hassan Zarima commended the peaceful disposition of the people and urged them to support the programme, assuring that the Federal Government is determined to deliver on the project.
Her words: “I want to first of all appreciate all you great people of Ogoni land for your resilience, for your passion, your commitment and sacrifice for your land and people. You will all recall that in January this year, the honorable minister was here to present and handover to you the contractors who will be carrying out remediation work in your community.
“Today the story is better as we begin to see the forming of a rainbow across Ogoni land, the contractors are mobilized to sites, equipments are on ground and they are working. I think all of you on this high table, we are coming from one of the sites and I can tell you that good work is going on.
“As the work is going on, it means that there is cooperation to ensure that the work is properly completed. Our youths are engaged at different levels at each of these sites, a quite number of them are involved in the ongoing work from what we saw at one of the sites we visited today.
“HYPREP and the federal government are aware that youths form a greater part in our communities; the cleanup project has consciously imbedded youth engagement and empowerment as the critical component of this project.
“Recently 15 youths graduated from 3months training on the fabrication processing machine in IITA Onne. This is a process of reactivating economic activities and making our youths contribute positively to the growth of the community, the process to train the male set of 400 participants is at advanced stage, these are happening because you our royal fathers, elders, men, women and youths are committed to the substance of this project”.
She further stated that HYPREP will continue to engage the people as the clean up exercise is carried on. “HYPREP is people based, this place and wonderful people of Ogoni land has a very important part of this project. Last week, the honourable minister inaugurated the Central Representative Advisory Committee Crack to interface between the communities and HYPREP and to bridge information gaps and that’s where we have Dr. Abraham Olukpe representing this community.
The inauguration of crack is also bringing on board prominent sons and daughters of Ogoni land to participate in the decision making, in the implementation process of the clean up. This goes to show transparency and accountability by the Federal Government. If you look around you will find some of them amongst us. You can see people that are on this high table, they are all represented in one group or the other that is committed in this clean up. Beyond what you see and know, the crack members are your eyes and ears on the project at this very moment. I can confidently tell you on behalf of the honourable minister that portable water will soon be flowing in Ogoni land. The prospects for the provision of the World Health Organization standard water have reached an advanced stage.
“HYPREP with a strong collaboration with the Rivers State Commissioner of Water Resources have commenced assessment of existing water facilities in Ogoni land as well as conducting the marking for the installation of new water facilities. HYPREP will ensure that the clean up exercise is carried out in line with the UNEP report and international best practices. I urge you not to relent in your support for the project; I bring you some assurance from President Mohammadu Buhari GCFR that the Federal Government is fully committed to the clean- up of Ogoni land and the restoration of the livelihood of the people”.
Chief Godwin Bebe Okpabi, a BoT member of HYPREP and Oneh Eh Eta Ogale said:
“Ladies and Gentlemen for me as an Eleme and Ogoni man, first of all, in an occasion like this, I must give gratitude and highest respect to our sons and daughters of Ogoni which were led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, who died during the struggle alongside with others and I say may their souls rest in peace.
Having said that, my next gratitude will go to President Mohammadu Buhari for taking the bold step to ensure the implementation of this report, all underlined will be you and I, the Ogonis in this phase of the project in Eleme. This is opportunity for us to gain from the response, the attentions that the whole world has given to us now, the pollution in the whole Niger Delta is enormous but like I said earlier, the peaceful struggle of our sons and daughters and the cooperation of all of us and the gallantry and leadership of Mr. President, the cleanup is physically here now, so all of us must cooperate with HYPREP.
“The drivers of HYPREP are all Ogonis, so we must give cooperation, we don’t have to give any reason, particularly the youths. We here and the Governing Council and the Board, we are doing everything that we can to make sure that, apart from the physical clean up that we arrange some sort of livelihood programs that can look at training you for farming and other vocations. We are also looking at begging and pleading with the ministry and laws that created the agency to see how we can engage our youths. So, many of you by the grace of God will be engaged as House Security Personnel and in other auxiliary services. We’re looking for this situation because we are so many, so my appeal through the youth President of Eleme is that we want 99.9 percent of the youth cooperation. You must shun any lucrative instigation for you to make trouble, no matter how lucrative that instigation is, shun that instigation so that there’ll be peace in your communities.
“HYPREP cannot come to your communities to clean up when the tension is high. Like Project Coordinator said, today in Eleme we have about 8 sites between Alode and Obolo, I want to thank the youth President of Alode for the smooth running of the remediation, I am calling on the communities as we speak, there’s activities to get some sites ready in Ogale, Aleto and Akpajo, so I want to appeal to our sons and daughters in this communities to allow peace to reign.
“There’s initial One billion US dollars that we have split into a five year program, 200million US dollars per year, there are various things that will be done as clean up is going on, water is going on, so please my sons and daughters I plead with you from the bottom of my heart with a gallant voice of a leader that loves you, all this goes to all the communities”, he said.
Hon. Philip Okparaji, Eleme Local Government Chairman at the event said: “Why they are actually here is to educate us that the cleanup has started in Eleme. Today we have gone to the site at Obolo, we saw what they are doing, we saw our boys, they are working in Alode and I believe, like the Permanent Secretary said, the project is all about empowerment of our people.
“When we are doing the UNEP, we went to Onne, we went to a lot of sites in Ebubu, we went to Agbonchia there is one monopole very close to Iriebe people at Akpajo, we went to even Aleto but today let me thank the Federal Government for the cleanup of Ogoni land specially Obolo and Alode in Eleme Local Government. Convey our gratitude to the Federal Government for what they have started and we believe that they will complete the cleanup of Eleme land.
“Fundamentally, environment has become a human right issue, everybody now wants a decent environment, and you can’t come and pollute our environment. We need a decent environment and now Federal Government is ready to restore the natural land the way they met the land of Eleme and other Ogoni land, just like our chief, Chief Bebe Okpabi have said, this struggle that was started in 1993 but today Federal Government is responding to the elites and aspiration of Ogoni and Eleme people. We want to thank the Federal Government just like chief said, we need your cooperation for whatever they are doing but we, the government, and we will give them the maximum support in terms of security.
We’ll be there to assist, like we went to the site and we told them, we need to employ our youths, we don’t need to go and bring people from outside because we have competent hands that can work. We have competent people that are qualified to work with the company, Federal Government has given the remediation of sites, so I want to assure you that we’ll give you people our maximum support, like chief have said that we should not involve in anything we called lucrative engagement. I think as people we are very decent, we are law abiding people, we won’t take laws into our hands, but we will continue to cooperate assiduously with the contractors to achieve at the end of the day the set objectives by the Federal Government”, Okparaji stated.
The event was well attended by stakeholders drawn from the traditional rulers, the elites, the youths and women of Eleme where participants were encouraged to ask questions and make their contributions and inputs.
The HYPREP team upon arrival in Eleme visited the Palace of the Acting King of Eleme, His Royal Majesty, King (Dr.) Philip Osaro Obele as first point of call to pay homage to the royal father, thereafter they visited the Eleme Local Government Council where they met briefly with the council chairman, Hon. Philip Okparaji before proceeding to one of the sites where the clean-up exercise was ongoing at Obolo in Ebubu Eleme.