Wednesday, January 28, 2015 3:42 pm
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
Apart from environmental degradation, the Ogoni of Rivers State complain that despite their contributions, they do not benefit from the current political equation at the state and federal levels
Ogonis have fought many battles. Mainly found in four local Government areas of Tai, Gokana, Khana and Eleme of Rivers State, they are not new to fighting battles. They have been at the forefront in the struggle for political and environmental justice, fairness and equity. Lately, however, in the political equation of Rivers state Ogoni people are at crossroads. That is notwithsatanding their pioneering role in the non-violent struggle for the rights of the minorities in the Niger Delta for self determination and control of their natural resources that have attracted the attention of the Nigerian state to the region.
Ogoni people also asserted that President Goodluck Jonathan is a hefty beneficiary of their years of agitation for political justice for the minorities for which a generation of prominent Ogonis paid supreme price. The same thing has happened in Rivers State
It is for this reason that at the state level, the Ogoni have been complaining of political marginalization in Rivers State. Since the state was created on 27 May 1967, the Ogoni people have not produced the Governor, Deputy Governor, the Speaker of the House of Assembly or Chief Judge of the state. Getting to the twilight of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s government, an Ikwerre from the upland part of the state, the Ogonis floated a project tagged ‘Ogoni 2015 Governorship Project’, championed by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and Kagote, an umbrella body of Ogoni ethnic nationality. The target of the proponents of the Ogoni Governorship Project was to actualize the long held dream for the Ogoni to produce the next Governor that would succeed Amaechi when he exits on 29 May, 2015.
Both MOSOP and Kagote canvassed for all the political parties to consider fielding qualified Ogoni sons and daughters as their governorship candidates as based on fairness, political justice and equity in order to create a sense of belonging to the Ogoni.
Based on the set out goal, the Ogoni encouraged their sons and daughters to pick forms of intent for the governorship seat in the various political parties of their choice. In the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Lee Maeba, a two-time senator; Prof. Don Baridam, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt; Gabriel Pidomnson, for Secretary to the State Government, SSG, and others.
Under the All Progressives Congress, APC, the only Ogoni son in the race was Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, representing Rivers South East. Senator Abe had Dakuku Adol Peterside, member of House of Representatives representing Andoni/Opobo Nkoro Federal Constituency. The zoning of the APC governorship candidacy to the Rivers South East where both Peterside and Abe come from zeroed the choice to two of them. The zoning was in tandem with the insistence of Amaechi that an Ikwerre brother like him should not succeed him for fairness, equity and justice. Interestingly, Abe and Peterside are very close loyalists of Governor Amaechi. While Abe was former SSG under Amaechi, Peterside was the Commissioner for Works.
Contrary to the expectations of the Ogoni, Peterside from Opobo and an Ibanni-Ijaw, was picked by the APC as its governorship as against Abe. As if the disappointment by APC was not enough the process of dumping all the Ogoni candidates in PDP, and all other candidates from other ethnic groups who contested for the governorship ticket of PDP was anything, but dignifying. All the candidates accused the party of skewing the party’s machinery in favour of Wike, the former Minister of State for Education, an Ikwerre, from Rumuepricom in Obio-Akpor Local Government to emerge as the party governorship flag bearer despite the protests from a coalition of 16 other governorship candidates of the party alleging lack transparency.
The outcome of party primaries in both APC and PDP that did not pick any Ogoni as a governorship candidate and not even as deputy governorship candidate was very shattering. This was expressed in a non-violent public protest against the two major political parties, the state and federal governments. Understandably, angered by the perceived betrayal of Ogoni project by the two major political parties, the Ogoni people recently, took to the streets of Port Harcourt, the state capital to ventilate their disappointment carrying placards and banners depicting the level of discontentment.
As early as 6.30am on that day, the protesters marched from Rumuola to Isaac Boro Park. Some of the placards read:“End of Political Marginalisation of Ogoni People Today”, “Ogoni Demand Political Justice,” and “Political Slavery Is A Crime NYCOP Insists,”. Expectedly, the protest was led by the President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) Psaro Pyagbara, who addressed them when they later terminated their protest at the Port Harcourt version of the ‘Freedom Square’. They declared that there was an organised conspiracy and political marginalisation of against the people of Ogoni in Rivers State. He said that there was a conspiracy against the Ogoni man and his people would continue to resist it until justice was done. He explained that the protest march, which started at Rumuola Junction and terminated at the park, was to demonstrate to the world the determination of Ogoni people to fight against internal colonialism and political slavery.
As far as Pyagbara is concerned, an injustice has been done by denying his people their right to occupy the seat of governor of the state. He urged all the political parties to address the issue in the interest of justice and fair play. Pyagbara called on the Federal Government to look into the Ogoni demand for direct representation at every institution in the country as well as the political future of the people as the Ogoni could not afford to wander in a political wilderness for the next 24 years. According to Pyagbara, “The Rivers State Government should undo the total betrayal of the Ogoni and define what role it has for the Ogoni man in the political setting of the state”. He lamented that the political system in Rivers State had defaulted on the promises made to the Ogoni people.
Pyagbara also warned that the rejection of the Ogoni people is a continual rejection of the peoples’ vote and charged the Ogonis to guard their votes jealously and be ready to use them to determine their political future. He lamented the collapse of the “Ogoni 2015 Project”, which was targeted at adequate representation of the Ogoni at the governorship level and appealed for a rethink by the political elite in the state in the spirit of rotation, federalism and affirmative action of the federal character principle.
Pyagbara drew the attention to the clause in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which states that “Ogoni should be guaranteed adequate and direct representation as a right in all Nigerian national institutions.” As Ogoniland has high rainfall, any delay in cleaning up an oil spill leads to oil being washed away, traversing farmland and almost always ending up in the creeks. The impact of oil on mangrove vegetation has been disastrous. Oil pollution in many intertidal creeks has left mangrove -nurseries for fish and natural pollution filters – denuded of leaves and stems with roots coated in a layer of bitumen-type substance sometimes one centimetre or more thick. Some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in reality severely contaminated underground and action to protect human health and to reduce the risks to affected communities needs to occur without delay. In one place, Ejama Ebubu, the study found heavy contamination from a spill that took place more than 40 years ago “despite repeated clean up attempts”.
Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate: the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s own procedures have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues. The Ogoni community is exposed to hydrocarbons every day through multiple routes: in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes in high concentrations. Hydrocarbon contamination was found in water taken from 28 wells in 10 communities adjacent to contaminated sites. At seven wells the samples contained benzene (carcinogen), a cancerous chemical that is at least 900 times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO), required potable water standard. Local communities are aware of the pollution and its dangers but state that they continue to use the water for drinking, bathing, washing and cooking as they have no alternative.
According to the UNEP report, in the 41 sites sampled, the hydrocarbon pollution has reached the groundwater at levels in excess of the Nigerian standards. The five highest concentrations of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons detected in groundwater exceed 1 million micrograms per litre – compared to the Nigerian standard for groundwater. The fisheries sector is suffering due to the destruction of fish habitat and highly persistent contamination of many creeks. Where entrepreneurs have established fish farms for example their businesses have been ruined by an ever-present layer of floating oil.
However, any political party that ignores the Ogoni vote does it at his own peril. It was not surprising, therefore, that Peterside and Wike made significant appearance at the 2015 Ogoni Day celebration on 4 January in Birabi Memorial Grammar School field in Bori. Wike who arrived earlier had assured Ogoni people that if elected he would right the wrongs the people had been suffering. And he would be a Governor to all Rivers People.
The arrival of Peterside to the arena with his supporters received standing ovation from Ogoni people. The reason, according to Celestine Akpobari, an Ogoni Environment Rights activist, is that Ogoni regard Dakuku as a “home boy”, because he grew up in Ogoniland and his parents lived in Ogoniland. He was also with the Ogoni people during the Ogoni struggle”.
When Peterside took over the microphone, he said that he watched the Ogoni fight for justice, equality and human rights while growing up as a child on the streets of Bori, the Ogoni political headquarters, and this helped to shape his political world view. While addressing a crowd, Peterside described his visit as “homecoming”.
Peterside, who was the representative of Rivers State Governor and Chairman, praised the Ogoni for remaining resolute in the search for a better and cleaner environment. He recalled that when the debate on the UNEP Report for the clean-up of Ogoni land was on the floor of the House of Representatives, his voice stood in total support of the Ogoni.
The APC flag-bearer, who received resounding ovation maximized for great political effect when he reminded the people that, as Commissioner for Works he, for the first time, constructed the network of roads in Bori. He recalled what it was growing up on the streets of Bori, fetching and drinking water from Ogoni Rivers and streams; cultivating their farmlands made rich by natural manure.
Peterside said peace; justice and progress of Ogoni land were uppermost in his heart and would work, if elected governor of Rivers State next month, to ensure Ogoni environment was cleaned-up.
The Ogoni people will have to wait till after 29 May to see what their next governor will do for them. For now, they are preparing to go to the polls on 28 February to choose who becomes Amaechi’s successor.
The Secretary-General of MOSOP in the United States of America, Michael Akoka; the spokesman of the Ogoni umbrella organisation, Bari-ara Kpalap and the National Coordinator of the Ogoni Solidarity Front (OSF), Celestine Akpobari, stated in Port Harcourt, Rivers State that Ogoni people are consuming poisonous water contaminated by Benzene. The Ogoni leaders also noted that to ensure fairness, justice and equity, the next Rivers governor should be from Ogoni. They pointed out that Ogoniland has not produced a governor, deputy governor, chief judge or speaker since the creation of Rivers State on May 27, 1967.
MOSOP’s President, Legborsi Pyagbara, had declared that the Ogoni people would have nothing to do with the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) while insisting on full implementation of the recommendations contained in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoniland through the environmental assessment. Pyagbara reiterated that the refusal of the federal government to implement the UNEP report would make Ogoni people and their friends to protest in Abuja soonest.
Kpalap said: Ogoni people never embraced HYPREP. We want the establishment of Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority as recommended by UNEP and the creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland with initial capital of $1 billion, which will be used only for activities dealing specifically with the environmental restoration of Ogoniland, as clearly stated in the UNEP report.
Akpobari accused the federal government and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) of insincerity on Ogoni clean up and environmental restoration. He alleged that SPDC had indicated that releasing the $1 billion would not be a problem, but there must be legal framework and a body to manage the fund judiciously. Ogoni people in the four Rivers State local government areas of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme sent SPDC packing from their land in 1993.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo initiated the UNEP’s environmental assessment of Ogoniland in 2006 to address years of pollution, neglect, marginalisation and environmental degradation.
The initiative was well supported by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua while the 262-page main report was issued on August 4, 2011 and received in Abuja by President Jonathan on August 12, 2011. On receiving the UNEP report, Jonathan set up a Presidential Implementation Committee (PIC) headed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Besides what Ogoni people call political marginalization in the state, Eleme plays host to the major multinational companies and federal agencies like the Oil and Gas Free Zone, Notore Fertilizer Plant, the two Port Harcourt refineries, Indoroma, (former Eleme Petrochemical Company) Intels, Federal Ocean Terminal, FOT, Federal Lighter Terminal, FLT and others Unfortunately, the East-West road from Eleme junction to Trailer Park in Onne is practical impassable and a death trap. It took the strike by Tanker Drivers in protest against the lack of attention on the trunk ‘A’ federal road before the federal government approved a contract award for the reconstruction of the road.
These grievances were tabled before General Muhammadu Buhari, the APC Presidential flag bearer when he was hosted on 9 January 2015, when he pledged that he would implement the contentious UNEP report. Buhari was in company of APC chieftains including; Odigie Oyegun, the national Chairman and Governor Amaechi.
The PDP in the state on the other hand has assured that it should be given a second chance and would right the wrongs and attend to the grievances of the people, including the implementation of the UNEP report.
On 11 December 1998, the Ijaw of the Niger Delta had the Kaiama Declaration’, when they asked for self-determination and resource control.
As a people with a population of about 820,000 (according to the 2006 national population figure), they are endowed with oil and gas resources. They inhabit an area that covers about 1,000 square kilometres. They lament that they had suffered much economic and political injustices from the Nigerian state that had, for several decades, fed fat on their oil wealth without requisite compensation.
In 1992, the people formed a mass movement under the canopy of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, headed by Kenule Saro-Wiwa, a playwright. The core of their demands was contained in Ogoni Bills of Rights. Part of their demands was that Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, and its joint venture partners should stop oil production in Ogoniland until there is environmental remediation and equitable level of involvement of Ogoni in the oil wealth.
Due to the persistent non-violent mass protest of the Ogoni people against SPDC, and on 21 May, 1994, there was military repression of Ogoni people, the day four Ogoni leaders were murdered. The draconian military regime the late General Sanni Abacha burnt 30 Ogoni villages and thousands of Ogoni were clamped into detention in mass arrest. Eventually, Kenule Saro-Wiwa and Eight others were arrested and hanged on 10 November, 1995.The death of Saro-Wiwa and others elicited international opprobrium.
Are the Ogonis who are at present in a political logjam turning their attention elsewhere since they seem not to be getting enough from the present political equation? Are they going reawaken the agitation for the creation of a state of their own and full implementation of Ogoni Bill of Rights? Certainly,for the Ogonis tomorrow is pregnant.