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INVESTIGATION: How Buhari administration awarded Ogoni cleanup contracts to unqualified firms

In what seems like a parody of the clean-up of the heavily polluted Ogoni land, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation has revealed that almost all of the 16 companies awarded contracts for the first phase of the exercise by the Buhari administration have no experience whatsoever in the remediation of oil spills.

Our investigation showed that the bulk of the successful companies were set up for businesses such as poultry farming, cars sales, textile dealership and fashion, palm-oil production, building design, and construction.

Our investigation further revealed that Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), the agency in charge of the coordination of the cleanup, even flouted its own rules in the award of the remediation contracts, as many of the 16 companies fall short of the minimum prequalification requirements.

Invitation of UNEP

Following the invitation of the Nigerian government, in 2011, the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP carried out an assessment of the oil pollution in Ogoni and surrounding communities.

The study found an unprecedented concentration of benzene, a carcinogen, in the outdoor air and drinking water in the area. In Ogale, a town in Eleme Local Government Area, for Instance, the UNEP study found the benzene contamination to be over 900 times above the World Health Organisation’s guideline. Similarly, water samples taken from seven wells in the area were adjudged to contain 1,000 times the recommended level of hydrocarbons in Nigerian drinking water, which is three micrograms per litre.

UNEP stated that in many of the locations, there was contamination of groundwater that constituted a serious threat to human health and the viability and productivity of the eco-system.

The report stated that the contamination of Ogoni and neighbouring communities was so severe that clearing the pollution will take up to 30 years. It recommended an initial capital injection of $1 billion to be paid by the Nigerian government and oil companies to fund the cleanup.

Despite the severity of the contamination and the millions of lives at risk, the Nigerian government ignored the urgency in the UNEP report and dilly-dallied for five years until June 2016 when Mr Buhari, who was represented by his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, flagged off the cleanup amidst fanfare at Bodo.

But three years after the pomp of the flag off, the government has only taken baby steps towards the actual clean up.

Remediation contracts

In February, HYPREP announced that 16 companies were awarded the contract for the first phase of the remediation of the oil spill in Ogoni, after what it described as a competitive bidding process.

This newspaper also learnt that the Ministry of Environment awarded contracts for project management, communication and public relations, and monitoring and evaluation processes to Associates Ltd and A.G. Partnership Ltd, Alliance Boots Limited, and Foxtrot O & G Company Nigeria Limited respectively.

Weeks after a request by PREMIUM TIMES, HYPREP finally released the names of the 16 companies awarded the clean-up contracts and details of the remediation task they were expected to carry out.

The 16 companies are: Louizont Ferretti Enterprises Ltd, Environmental Resources Managers Limited, Asonic Associates Limited, Mosvinny Nigeria Limited, Rey & Reina International Limited, Pacrim Engineering Ltd, Basic (Nigeria) Technology Limited, and Newpal Nigeria Ltd.

Others are Amazing Environmental Solutions International Limited, Earthpro Unique Integrated Ltd, Nautilus (Nigeria) Engineering and Construction Limited, Tiptree Intertrade Nigeria Limited, Navante Oil & Gas Company Limited, Secura Investments Limited, Shamsa Resources and Services Ltd, and Odun Environmental Limited which changed from Global Environmental Management Limited.

So far, a total of N714.45 million, which is 15 per cent advance payment for the remediation task, has been released to the companies, Marvin Dekil, HYPREP’s coordinator, told PREMIUM TIMES.

He added that of the $1 billion estimated by UNEP as what the cleanup would cost, HYPREP has only received $180 million.

Unqualified contractors

An analysis of the companies’ registration details filed at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) revealed that only one of the companies has anything remotely to do with the remediation of oil spills.

For instance, the registration details of Basic Nigeria Technology Limited, which was hired to do oil spill remediation job at the Oboolo site, revealed that it is in the business of oil palm plantation and refining.

The company was set up to “carry on business as manufacturers of palm oil products including palm oil milling, edible and vegetable oil refining including the ownership, sale and dealership of such refineries,” details filed with the CAC stated.

Mosvinny Nigeria Limited, which was allotted a site in Debon, is in the business of “agricultural farming, mechanized farming, poultry farming, livestock breeders, animal husbandry and agricultural services in all its ramifications,” its registration details showed.

Louizont Ferretti Enterprises Ltd, which was contracted to do the cleanup at Buemene Korokoro, is in the business of “supply services and maintenance of oil field equipment, dealers in all types of cars, fashion house, imports and exports, trade, general merchants, general goods, buying agents dealers, dealers in textiles materials and merchandise of different description whether consumable items or not and general maintenance of office equipment.”

Rey & Reina International Limited, which was allotted another section of Debon, was set up to sell and distribute general goods.

Maiduguri-based Shamsa Resources and Services Ltd, which was set up to “carry on the business of management training, finance and development consultancy services in all aspects of the development sector, to plan and conduct survey and study, project management, business analysis and change implementation,” was also allotted a remediation job at Debon.

Shamsa, through a resolution, reached on March 16, 2018, a few days before the tender advertorial was placed in the dailies, removed as one of its directors, Fatima Maude Kyari. But it retained Dawud Abba Kyari and Ahmed Tijani Gubio and also appointed Mohammed Saleh Kamfut as a director.

PREMIUM TIMES could not confirm if the Kyaris named in the company’s board are relations of the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari.

Flouting Registration Rule

Our investigations also revealed that HYPREP flouted its own prequalification requirements in the award of the contracts to some of the companies.

One of the conditions set by HYPREP in its advertorial is that interested companies must have a minimum of five-year experience in hydrocarbon remediation. None of the companies seems to have met this condition.

Pacrim Engineering Ltd, which is allocated a remediation site at Nkeleokan Alode, seems to be the only company set up for oil spill recovery and clean-up services. But it was only incorporated on June 25, 2018, more than two months after the announcement of public tender by HYPREP.

Newpal Nigeria Limited, Rey & Reina International Limited, and Earthpro Unique Integrated Ltd were all established less than five years to the date of the advertisement.

Newpal, which was incorporated on May 16, 2013, is two months short of the mandatory requirement. Earthpro, which focuses on the business of environmental consultancy services, was incorporated on March 3, 2016; while Rey & Reina International Limited, with focus on the sale and distribution of general goods, was incorporated on March 10, 2014.

HYPREP keeps mum

When PREMIUM TIMES commenced its investigation, it got some cooperation from HYPREP whose coordinator, Mr Dekil, even granted an interview to this reporter.

However, after getting details of the beneficiary companies, Mr Dekil and HYPREP spokesperson became evasive.

Efforts by PREMIUM TIMES to get HYPREP to speak on why it awarded the contracts for the clean-up to unqualified companies and why it flouted its own prequalification were unsuccessful

HYPREP’s head of media, Ekaete Umo, in a telephone interview with this reporter, promised to get a response from her boss, Mr Dekil. An email with our enquiries was also sent to Mr Dekil and copied to Mrs Umo. However, despite confirming that she got the email, more than two weeks after the email was sent, HYPREP has failed to comment.

On April 26, in a terse response to a WhatsApp message, Mr Dekil wrote; “Thank you for reaching out. The media team will contact you.”

As at the time of filing this report, no response has been received from HYPREP.

Tension As Government Foot Drags

Meanwhile, while the government foot drags, tension over the delay is boiling over across Ogoni land. The people are suspicious of strangers, and even journalists are not welcome with open arms.

The people will no longer tolerate what they describe as a new form of imperialism where “our oil continues to be explored illegally and our ugly stories rewritten and told by propagandists,” a resident said.

It took the intervention of two youth leaders – Yamaabana Legborsi and Stanley Kpee – before this reporter was allowed access to some of the highly polluted communities.

Five days earlier, a mob of irate youth had set ablaze a luxurious bus conveying some officials of HYPREP at the market square in K-Dere, Gokana Local government.

They would have burnt the occupants of the bus too but for the intervention of some elders.

“Everyone is angry because we are being treated as pawns on the chessboards of politicians,” said Mr Legborsi, who is the president-general of the Ogoni Youth Federation (OYF).

The extent of the distrust in Ogoni is so much that locals no longer view visitors as sympathisers but as people using them to gain global attention, Mr Kpee said. He added that a tour around the affected community would usually translate to the payment of “good cash” before it is granted.

Mr Legborsi alleged that HYPREP is run like a secret cult. He said he had to file a case against the agency at a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to “compel HYPREP to make open details of its activities including funds received, companies hired, among others.”

“We don’t even want to hear anything about HYPREP or clean-up anymore, except they are ready to implement all the recommendations of UNEP as outlined in the report,” said Mr Kpee, reiterating Mr Legborsi’s frustration.

At the compound of the Michael Tekuru, the chairman of Gokana Council of Chiefs, stood a monument erected to commemorate the flag-off of the clean-up three years ago.

The monument stands at the bank of Bodo-Bonny River.

But instead of joy, as the plaque was may have been intended to evoke among Ogoni people, it is it now a reminder of the neglect the area continues to suffer.

Gabriel, the son of Mr Tekuru, who took PREMIUM TIMES on a guided tour of the polluted area around the river was visibly angry as he narrated how four fish ponds were destroyed by spills in 2008 and 2009. The ponds were the main source of livelihood of more than 30 families.

“As you can see, is there any living thing here? Can you point to any? This is how much we have been ravaged. So, if anyone tells you clean-up is going on anywhere, you can now see it for yourself that nothing is going on,” said Gabriel, an American returnee.

Gabriel described recent activities in the area as a “drama being acted by HYPREP” for the purpose of winning vote during the recently concluded general elections.

No Deceit Again

“At my age, they can’t deceive me again. We have been deceived for far too long,” Nubari Tabu, an elderly fisherman who is frustrated at the dwindling fish stock from the river, said.

After spending six hours on the Bodo-Bonny river the previous Saturday, Mr Tadu could only manage to catch a handful of oil-coated tilapias, which he sold for N3,500, a price too steep for a riverine area.

In its 2011 report, UNEP had recommended the provision of alternative source of water for Ogoni people, among other emergency recommendations. But several people who spoke to this reporter said people still drink from the same source of populated water as HYPREP has not met that recommendation.

“You can see that the land is caked everywhere, and where you have water, oil is floating everywhere. Farming or fishing is no longer achievable here. Yet, they are telling lies everywhere that everything is okay,” said Harry Akara, the president of Ejamah Youth Council.

Mr Akara’s uncle, Daniel Amasi, showed this reporter the polluted well in his compound. He said on weekly basis, he spends more than N2,500 on water alone.

“We buy water from distant places because, as you can see, what we have as water in my well is pure oil. Oil spillage has destroyed us here, and we are just like walking corpses,” Mr Amasi said.

“The Remediation is a Fraud”

Several Ogoni residents who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said they have lost hope that the Buhari administration would carry out the remediation of the oil spill.

Gbo Kabaari, a group of Ogoni elders, in a statement in January described the remediation as a fraud. They said none of the emergency recommendations in the UNEP report, such as comprehensive medical examination of everyone that has consumed the contaminated water or eaten its aquatic sources of food, has been provided.

The group lamented that the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre in Bori, a hydrocarbon remediation and research centre, has been overtaken by weeds after the celebrated groundbreaking ceremony in 2017 by a former minister of environment, Amina Mohammed. Ms Mohammed is now a deputy secretary-general of the United Nations.

“We consider it very sad that, as we speak, not only has nothing absolutely been done about any of these emergency measures but also the national and international visibility of the Ogoni issue has been fraudulently exploited to score cheap public relations benefits at every opportunity,” the statement claimed.

The European Coordinator of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Lazarus Tamana, blamed Mr Dekil, an Ogoni indigene, for the delay in the take-off of the clean-up. He said the HYPREP coordinator has betrayed the trust the people had in him.

“He has turned against the people, telling lies all over the place,” Mr Tamana told PREMIUM TIMES.

“Remediation has started”

However, Mr Dekil, in an earlier interview before he stalled on further comments, told PREMIUM TIMES that despite concerns and frustration of the people, the remediation of the pollution has started and is on course. He said the Buhari administration was committed to the clean-up.

“Between April 2017 when we came on board and now, we have done extensive work including the scoping of the contaminated environment, sensitisation of the communities and procurement activities,” he said.

“We have addressed some of the emergency measures by carrying out medical outreach in two phases. We have attended to about 20,000 patients, carried out about 400 surgeries, and have trained about 50 scientists in two phases as well. We started with 15 scientists who carried out remediation demonstration across the four local government areas, and we trained an additional 35 scientists in collaboration with NDDC.

“But the most important thing at this point now is that through a very transparent and open process, we have introduced 16 companies to 16 sites across the four local governments, and we have actually commenced the remediation work. We have also commenced the livelihood project with 15 trainees at the IITA who would be there for three months. They are being trained in agricultural skills.

“So, we have commenced remediation works; we have done livelihood projects, we have done medical outreach and we have done training of youths including the scientists working on this project.”

To further show the commitment, Mr Dekil said HYPREP has invited UNEP once again to be part of the clean-up process.

He said HYPREP was committed to implementing the UNEP report but the time of the implementation has informed the changes in the strategies.

According to him, when the report was submitted in 2011, UNEP would not have envisaged that its implementation would only start eight years after.

“When the report was written, it had projected that the implementation would be immediate. But, unfortunately, that did not happen. Now, eight years after, we are just commencing the process. So, I doubt if the strategies that were to be deployed eight years ago would still be the same today,” he explained.

“The reason is that what constituted emergencies then might still constitute emergencies now and might not. Therefore, in implementing these remediations, we have to review that, and the remediation of those lands which is the core of those recommendations would have to be done immediately.”

He, however, added that UNEP did not visit the Ogoni for people to have water but for comprehensive remediation of the polluted soil.

On the issue of major polluted sites, Mr Dekil said HYPREP was still working out the possibility of engaging international oil spill clean-up companies, and that the process would take some time.

“That is why we have started with the small ones,” he said

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