The Federal Government has announced that it would engage the youth of Ogoniland for environmental surveillance in the on-going clean-up of oil polluted sites in Ogoni being carried out by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).
The Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, made the announcement on Monday at a one-day stakeholder engagement programme on the clean-up of Ogoniland, held in Bori, Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Ikeazor also announced that there would be a health audit of Ogoni people to ascertain the effect of prolonged exposure to hydrocarbon on the health of the people, to determine the kind of interventions that needed to be done.
She gave the assurance that the Ministry of Environment will continue to engage with the people of Ogoni on the project, while also appealing for the collaboration with all stakeholders to make the cleanup project a success.
“You call it security, but I call it environmental surveillance. So, we are going to engage the youth of Ogoni on environmental surveillance, to protect all the sites that we are cleaning. No one can protect the sites more than the people. The more we have our young people securing these sites, the better for us.
“For advertisement of contracts, I have made sure that due process will be followed. The bids will be open to all qualified Nigerians,” Ikeazor said.
“We might have to look at other sites that are contaminated but are not under our scope; so that once we finish the clean-up, we will be sure that we have finished everything. Not just cleaning the polluted sites that are under our scope while there are still other areas that are contaminated.
She spelt out her vision for the project and the Ogoni people.
“My goal is to ensure that the clean-up project is owned by the Ogoni people and the more indigenous people acquire the required skills and ability to participate in this cleanup, the better for us.
“I have directed the Project Coordinator of HYPREP to go ahead with the advertisement for the setting up of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, as well as the Centre of Excellence and I hope it will come up next one year,” she said.
In his remarks, the Chairman of Ogoni Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers, HRM King Godwin Gininwa, tasked the Federal Government on the establishment of a University of Environment in Ogoniland the bill of which was recently passed by the Senate.
King Gininwa also called for speed on the pace of the on-going clean-up exercise as well as award of contracts and jobs to the people of Ogoniland, to enable them benefit from the project, having suffered for so long.
“We will cooperate with you to make the project a success. However, our people have suffered enough; therefore, they should be made to benefit from the project in terms of jobs, contracts. Ogoni people should be considered first when awarding contracts,” the monarch said.
Also speaking, a former President of the Movement for the Survival the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, called for the employment of youths in the project as well as training of Ogoni youths in requisite skills.
“Money spent on security should be channeled into youth employment. Ogoni youths should be employed to secure HYPREP project sites, and by so doing improving the local economy and lives of the people,” Mitee said.
Project Coordinator of HYPREP, Prof. Philip Shekwolo in his opening remarks had briefed the stakeholders on the achievements of the project in the areas of remediation, provision of potable water, livelihood trainings among others.
He noted that since oil exploration began in the area, there have been many deaths and that if the audit be carried out, it would put to rest the argument on whether oil contamination is responsible for the many deaths in land.