From contract scams to polluted water: How Hyprep’s $1bn fund failed to provide respite to Ogoni people

For Geken community in Gokana Local Government Area, one of the four councils that make up Ogoni, access to potable water is a mirage. Except a family buys a bag of sachet water which costs between N250 and N300, they cannot drink potable water.

The rivers, ponds, and other water sources have been polluted by oil companies, especially Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).

In return, SPDC Joint Venture Limited (involving Shell, Total, Agip, and the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) has provided $572 million to an organisation named Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (Hyprep) set up by the Nigerian government to remediate the heavily-polluted environment, restore livelihoods, and provide potable water for the people.Pages 5, 6, and 7 of Hyprep Herald of July 2022

The SPDC Joint Venture Limited contributed $180 million to the project in 2018 and another $180 million in 2019. It further remitted $212 million in 2022. The group promised $900 million by 2022 but did not fulfill it, contributing only 64 percent of the pledge by 2023 ($572 million).

On the other hand, the Nigerian government is failing to provide its own $100 million counterpart fund to fast-track the project.

The Nigerian government told the SPDC JV that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, being part of the SPDC JV, was its own representative. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt as the NNPC itself was partly responsible for the pollution in Ogoni through its own pipelines.

More so, the NNPC is a separate commercial entity and cannot represent the Nigerian government.

The initial budgetary recommendation by the United National Environmental Programme (UNEP) was $1 billion.

Consequently, Ogoni clean-up has become a mishmash of lies, half-truths, and unfulfilled promises on all fronts.

For instance, Hyprep Herald of July 2022, a PR magazine used by the government agency to disseminate information, claimed it had remediated or cleaned up 57 polluted sites in Ogoni. For the purpose of the clean-up, these sites were classified as lots.

The reporter visited 21 out of these 57 lots to confirm if Hyprep’s claims were true. It was discovered that none of the sites said to have been remediated could grow crops, questioning whether the soil was actually remediated.

“Once soil is remediated, it is fit for agriculture,” an expert in geological sciences, Mr Shehu Sani, said. However, that was not the case.

It was also discovered that Lot 46, located at Aleto Ngofa in Eleme Local Government Area, claimed to have been remediated in the magazine, did not exist. The site was said to have been cleaned by a firm named Andelsta Limited chaired by a politician, Mr Emmanuel Ibeshi, yet it did not exist. The traditional ruler of Ngofa community in Eleme Local Government Area, where Lot 46 was said to have been sited, also confimed that it did not exist.

Another site named Lot 042, located at Well 04, Korokoro in Tai Local Government Area, was contracted to Kanny Kay Limited – a company that did not also exist in Nigeria.

Hyprep claimed it had remediated Well 05 (Lot 16) located at Korokoro in Tai Local Government Area, but the reporter found that it was not true.

There were three more companies that received money as contractors of various projects but did not exist as legal entities in Nigeria.

The companies were: Avandale Supplies and Services Limited, Tip Tree Nigeria Limited, and Louizioni Ferreti Enterprises Limited.

There were no fewer than 11 companies that remediated various sites whose status are currently inactive on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) portal.

Lot 012 Debon Megha, one of the sites said to have been cleaned

The CAC is the only legally approved institution that keeps records of all the companies in Nigeria. An inactive company on the CAC portal does not file its annual returns, which is considered a serious infraction in the Nigerian laws.

Awarding government contracts to inactive companies contravenes the Public Procurement Act 2007. The Act states that “a bidder may have its bid or tender excluded if the bidder is in arrears regarding payment of due taxes, charges, pensions or social insurance contributions unless such bidders have obtained a lawful permit in respect to allowance, the difference of such outstanding payments or payment thereof in installments.”

These inactive companies are: Environ Consult & Remedial Services, Environmental Resources Managers Limited, Erathpro, Centennial Investment and Development Limited, and Subadom Global Resources Limited. Others are: Earthquest International Limited, Marm Consulting Sevices Limited, Elizax Bleet Nigeria Limited, Mosito Environmental Limited, Montego Upstream Services Limited, and Klartek Nigeria Limited.

Two of the companies – Oilserv Limited and Slot Engineering Nigeria – did not show any previous remediation work experience on their websites. It was therefore unclear if the companies were actually qualified to handle the contracts, given that previous experience is a prerequisite for getting government contracts.

Hyprep spokesman, Mr Kpobari Mafo, denied that fraudulent, fictitious, or illegal companies got contracts to execute various remedial projects for the government agency.

Failed water promise

Aside failing to carry out clean soil and environmental remedial services, Hyprep has also not provided potable water to Ogoni people seven years after the clean-up exercise was launched.

The 2011 United National Environmental Programme (UNEP) report had identified serious water contamination in Gokana, Khana, Tai, and Eleme local government areas – four local government areas that make up Ogoni – located in the southeast of Rivers State, Nigeria. As one of the emergency measures, UNEP had recommended that the Nigerian government should provide adequate drinking water sources, especially to those whose drinking water was polluted.

The U.N. agency had also recommended that there should be signs in areas where hydrocarbons “were observed on surface water warning people not to fish, swim or bathe in the area.” Water treatment and clean water provision were also prescribed by UNEP.

Hyprep’s website is full of commissioned water projects around Ogoni, but none of the 12 communities visited by the reporter had drinking water provided by Hyprep.

The communities visited are: Mogho, Bodo, B-Dere, K-Dere, Deken, Korokoro, Bera, and Lewe. Others were Kpor, Gbe, and Wiyaakara, Aleto Ngofa. The 12 communities were spread across the four local governments that make up Ogoni. None of the communities had been provided potable water by Hyprep.

Bodo river from which water was collected for laboratory sample

“Our people have been drinking benzene-polluted water. All we have are private boreholes, and there is no effort from Hyprep to provide safe water for our people,” said the President of Ogoni Peoples Assembly, Pastor William Probel.

Dirty and dangerous water

The communities have been drinking and bathing with polluted water despite millions of dollars provided for that purpose. The reporter took a water sample from Bodo Jetty, one of the major water sources in Gokana Local Government Area into a laboratory to understand the type of water used by the community.

The laboratory test was led by a senior lecturer at the Department of Microbiology and Brewing, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, South-East Nigeria, Dr Onyekachi Udemezue. The test was carried out at the government-accredited Springboard Research Laboratories, Awka, Anambra State. A physiochemical analysis was carried out “to confirm the water compositions or identify defects.”Water test result

It was found that the water failed chloride, nitrite, hardness, lead, mercury, arsenic, and aluminum tests. Overall, the water failed all the basic tests, meaning that it should not be drunk or used for domestic purposes. 

Cancer, kidney, heart diseases

Dr Udemezue explained that the water was turbid (cloudy or muddy) and could be harmful to fish and aquatic life. He said the water was tending towards acidity, which could aggravate ulcer and affect the body functions.

“The level of nitrite in the water makes it carcinogenic (cancer-causing), and it is as good as what people call ‘poison’. Even those swimming in it are not safe. The level of chloride in the water could damage the liver and the kidney. You may find out that the people there could be having these kinds of problems,” he noted.

“Life expectancy could be low. Also, we found lead in the water, which could lead to cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, liver, and kidney diseases. A lot of those using the water would be having eye and mental issues. There is also mercury in the water, which could lead to liver and kidney problems. Mercury in the water could affect neurological coordination because it is heavy metal, just like arsenic and lead. In fact, nobody should even use the water for washing clothes because it will have serious effects on the clothes,” he said, in his analysis.

An Abuja-based medical practitioner, Dr Jeffery Ajoko, further explained that lead in water was harmful to the skin, noting that it could cause renal failure and organ damage.

“If there is oil or lead in water, it can lead to organ damage and may even cause cancer,” he noted.

Fish result not good enough

Pieces of fish were also taken from the same Bodo Jetty water source for laboratory examination. The research, which was also led by Dr Udemezue, was aimed at determining whether the fish eaten in the community was contaminated. Sequencing was done at the Bioscience Center of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria.FFish test results

Sequencing usually “tells scientists the kind of genetic information that is carried in a particular DNA segment,” according to the National Human Genome Institute of the United States. The laboratory research was undertaken at Bioformatics Services, Ibadan

Apart from pollution in the pieces of fish, it was discovered that they had candidata, which, according to Udemezue, could have come from those using the water source. There were also bacteria in the fish, which were harmful to health.

“Generally, what you found in the water would also be in the fish,” Dr Udemezue added.

Drinking poison

Torbari Michael Gbeanvee is the paramount ruler of Geken community. His wife and children had no safe water to drink, and the rainfall was usually acidic. He said the entire community numbering more than 1000 did not have safe drinking water.Geken paramount ruler, Torbari Michael Gbeanvee

He told the reporter that Hyprep promised to provide potable water to the community but had not fulfilled its pledge. “In fact, there is a water station from the state government that is existing in the community, but it has now been abandoned. Hyprep came in 2022, asked us to provide land, and we did, but they have not provided water as promised. They said they would commence work on the water system between June and July last year, but they did not do that.”Drinking and bathing water at Geken

He disclosed that as a result of the contamination and impurities in the water, his community members were suffering from diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, scabies, and worm infections.

“When other villages have oil spillage, we feel the pinch. If it rains, we can’t put anything outside to collect water because the water is contaminated. When pipelines explode elsewhere, the rains become acidic and everywhere is polluted,” he added.

The reporter visited the palace of the traditional ruler of Lewe community, His Royal Highness Chief Lebaton Sibe. His community was bound by Bodo, Geken, and Gbor – all communities in Gokana Local Government Area. According to him, Hyprep had been in his community four times with the promise of providing some potable water to his people, but the government agency had not delivered it.Traditional ruler of Lewe, Chief Lebaton Sibe

“Our people get their water through the streams. There are taps, but none is working yet. Hyprep has come to do scoping to identify impacted areas, but no work has been done so far. We were impacted by the 2008 spillage, which happened in Bodo. It contaminated our water and destroyed our shorelines.”

The traditional ruler said there were lot of air-borne and water–borne diseases in his community.

“The water we use is often black when it rains and it is covered by soot,” he added.Non-functioning tap at Lewe

Kpor is also one of the polluted communities in Gokana Local Government Area. Like other communities, it did not have water when the reporter visited. Villagers confirmed that Hyprep had visited the community twice, promising to provide water but failed to live up to its promise.

The traditional ruler of Kpor, His Royal Highness, Mene Avalobavi, said his community had no water and remediation work had not started.

He said, “Hyprep added our community as one of those that would be remediated. They have come to do some scoping. We have examined some of the sites that were polluted but they are yet to start work. They have set up a tap, but it isn’t producing running water yet,” he added.Traditional Ruler of Kpor, His Royal Highness, Mene Avalobavi

A villager. Ms Josephine Deko, said she had had a series of skin diseases due to the type of water she had used for bathing.

“I am not the only one suffering from this. There are also others who are going through this, especially women,” she added.

Under-five hospitalisation high

Investigations showed that there was a crisis situation among under-five children at two major general hospitals in Bera and Bodo, two communities in Ogoni in January 2023. Medical sources said the high rate of hospitalisation in early 2023 overwhelmed the few staff at the hospital.

One of the health workers, who did not want her name mentioned, said: “Most of the children had issues with dehydration, and we had to admit them between five and 10 days. There were also issues with food poisoning.”

A villager, Ms Dania Ikechukwu, explained that two of her children spent two days at Bodo General Hospital, even though the place did not have good medical facilities.

“They were stooling and vomiting. It turned out to be food poisoning due to the type of water we drink,” she disclosed.

Right in front of Bera General Hospital, there was a giant water tank. However, it was not functional. As a result, children in the community were being forced to drink polluted water. The situation was the same at Bodo General Hospital, where a health worker said, “it was a crisis situation early in 2023 as we did not have enough facilities.”

At Korokoro in Tai Local Government Area, the reporter did not find any water facility provided by the reporter.Non-functional Bera water tank

At Wiyaakara in Khana Local Government Area, the situation was the same. A woman, Ms Regina Whyte, said her family had suffered water-borne diseases three times.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “infant and under-five mortality rates have remained steady in Nigeria, at 74 and 117 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively. At these mortality levels, one Nigerian child of every 13 born dies before reaching age 1, and one in every eight does not survive to their fifth birthday.”

UNICEF said 70 percent of water at the point of consumption in the country was contaminated and that children were the most affected.

An Ogoni-based medical practitioner, Dr Francis Berebon, explained that there was a need to improve the health and well-being of Ogoni natives.

“Water-borne diseases are a recurring problem. The issue is gastrointestinal problem is a major problem,” he said.

He said Hyprep should expedite action to effectively clean up Ogoni to reduce negative environmental impact on the people.

“Provide adequately treated clean water. Also, parents should they present their children in hospitals in good time. Doctors in hospitals in Ogoni should also have facilities to work with,” he noted, adding that “Ogoni people have suffered enough. If something is done in Ogini, it will have a domino effect on other areas.”

Chairman, Wiyaakara Council of Chiefs and Elders, Hon Goddy Nwikpo, said Hyprep had not lived up to its expectation, pointing out that a lot needed to change.

This story was first published by Dataphyte, which also funded the investigation

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