One-time Lagos State Commissioner for Finance Mr Wale Edun was yesterday in Abuja inaugurated as Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Ogoni Trust Fund.
The Governing Council and the Trust Fund are two organs of teh Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), which will drive the clean-up of Ogoniland.
The exercise is expected to take 20 years, according to a United Nations Enviroment Programme (UNEP) Report.
President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Edun-led Trust Fund BoT and the Governing Council chaired by Environment Minister Hajia Amina Muhammed at the Presidential Villa, Abuja
The President said the exercise was starting five years after the UNEP report was released.
Edun who is also one of the founders of STANBIC IBTC and Chairman of Vintage Press Ltd, publishers of The Nation, promised that the fund would be efficiently and transparently managed.
Speaking during the inauguration, Buhari said the next five years would address emergency response measures and remediation, while the subsequent years will aim to restore the ecosystem in the Delta.
The President urged Ogoni communities to ensure security for the project and prevent a recontamination of their land when completed.
He said: “Today marks another milestone in the commitment that this administration has made in ensuring the implementation of the UNEP Report in Ogoniland and other impacted sites. This is a very important endeavour that has direct impact on the lives and livelihood of our brothers and sisters whose environments have been severely degraded by years of unchecked pollution from oil exploration activities.
“It is exactly five years today, on the 4th of August 2011, the UNEP submitted an extensive report on its environmental assessment of Ogoniland. That report, which was commissioned by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not only document the problems that existed, but also contained recommendations on how they can be addressed, both in the short and long terms.
“Five years on, the project is yet to properly take off. It would appear to have experienced a series of false starts, while the local communities continue to suffer from the problem, which has existed long before the report. This all adds to the picture described in the UNEP Report as ‘a landscape characterised by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame’.”
Thanking members of the council and BoT for accepting to serve on the project, he said since it took off two months ago, efforts have been made to create a robust mechanism for its implementation in the long term.
According to him, the governing council and BoT jointly form an essential part of the governance framework.
“The governance framework we lay today, following extensive consultations, will form the bedrock for sustainability for years to come,” the President said.
On the use of the Fund, he said: “In addition to the management and administration structure, other systems and controls are being put in place to ensure that the funds devoted to this project are used for their purpose.
“Indeed, a project of this magnitude requires extensive planning, scientific analysis, community involvement, and genuine partnerships. As a result, it will require patience and understanding of the key stakeholders as we move forward. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the project remains on course, as we face the challenges of high expectations and the current conflict in the Niger Delta,” Buhari stated.
The project, he said, would serve as the “gold standard” for the clean-up of similar polluted areas in other parts of the Niger Delta, and the world.
“I use this opportunity, through you, to call upon the local communities especially our youth, who will be the direct beneficiaries of this effort, to work with us in ensuring the security of the project and persons implementing them. Even more so, that we prevent the recontamination of the polluted sites in Ogoniland.
“In appointing each and every one of you, I expect that you will give your utmost commitment to ensuring the highest standard of transparency and accountability in this important task,” the President added.
Hajia Muhammed said the committees would clean up Ogoniland and extend its work to the whole of the Niger Delta in due course.
She said the funding structure includes the $1 billion for the first five years, and funds to be raised by the council.
Speaking to State House correspondents at the end of the inauguration, Edun said: “Our role as members of the BoT is handling any funds for the Ogoniland clean up and any other fund to be raised by the Governing Council. We are going to be held to the highest standard of transparency, accountability and even efficiency.
“No matter the constraints, we will always find a way of providing funds so that the all important cleanup is funded. We will be using the best practices and expertise that we can find.
“By the inauguration of this BoT, we have the singular opportunity, working as a team, working in conjunction with others to intervene decisively within the context of the UNEP 2011 Report on Environmental Assessment in Ogoniland.
“This is real privilege and opportunity that we intend to seize boldly with initiative and with great determination.
“Now, we are entrusted and we recognise the very great responsibility we have to manage the funds that have been contributed now, and are going to be contributed in future.
“These are significant funds and we recognise the responsibility to manage them efficiently, to manage them transparently and that is exactly what we intend to do.”
Shell Petroleum Development Company Managing Director Mr. Osagie Okunbor said the oil giant would perform its role in the project.
Also speaking with State House correspondents, Senator Magnus Abe, an Ogoni indigene, said: “It is significant because it is what the past administration had refused to do. So with what has happened today five years after the report was submitted, we are well on our way. The BoT is meeting right now as we speak so they have hit the ground running and then we believe before the end of the year things will begin to happen.
“The UNEP report specifies a billion dollars and Shell has announced that money is available. So, initial fund for the cleanup of Ogoniland is available but that money may not be enough that’s why Wale Edun, world renowned financial expert was brought in as the chairman to give confidence to the investors and donors that any fund that is brought out would be well utilised”.
On guarantee for security during the clean-up, he said: “We see that the Ogoni representation on the board and governing council is quite extensive. We have a lot to do in terms of not only making the place conducive for this work to go on, but also in educating our people on why we have to make the place conducive for experts of all shades and countries to be able to come in and work there.
“But I think the whole of Nigeria also has something to learn from what has happened, the oil industry itself must reform its ways so that they don’t continue to behave in the way they were behaving that led us to where we are today.”
The man Edun
Edun has a background in Merchant Banking, Corporate Finance, Economics and International Finance, at both national and international levels, as well as in Public Finance. A former Young Professional at The World Bank/IFC, he is the Chairman of Chapel Hill Denham Group, Lagos, a leading investment bank. He was twice appointed Commissioner of Finance in Lagos State between 1999 and 2004. In addition, he was, from inception, an Executive Director of Lagos merchant bank, Investment Banking & Trust Company Limited, now Stanbic IBTC. He is a director of several other private businesses. Edun is an International Trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation and Founder and Chairman of Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame, a registered non-profit youth development organisation that runs amateur boxing in Lagos in conjunction with the Lagos Amateur Boxing Association, as well as being involved with other not-for-profit organisations. He obtained his Masters Degree in Development Economics from the University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom and a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Economics from the University of London, Queen Mary College, United Kingdom. He is married with three children. The Nation