••• The International Writers Magazine: Africa - Nigeria
Ogoni Freedom Charter
To say that Ogoni is the worst place to live on earth may just sound like an over-statement. But it is indeed a fact. Everything seems to work against her. The government had been repressive, the environment is poisoned, the schools are dead, the hospitals can best function as dispensaries, the roads are death traps, there is no electricity.
Ogoni school pupils are forced to learn the language of the majority ethnic groups (Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani) and worst of all, the Nigerian laws endorse the denigrating conditions of the Ogoni and gives little room for freedom, the Ogoni are legally constrained to live in the most inhuman conditions forced on them by Shell Oil Corporation’s irresponsible business practices and the government with all its security agencies protect the oppressor.
The Nigerian government, to my mind, is hypocritical in character. It has encouraged the violence in the Niger Delta by its response to the problem and its failure to promote healthy living in the area. The government has encouraged violent agitation by not encouraging the peaceful approach of the Ogoni people. The dualization of the Eleme axis of the East-West road was in response to protests. The on-going construction of the East-West road was in response to protests. The increase in the derivation fund for oil mining states from 1.5 percent to 13 percent was in response to protests. The list is endless. Governments over the years have made little effort to provide social security, create jobs and plan for the future of Nigerians. The mismanaged amnesty program for the Niger Delta youths was in response to protests. A minister under President Buhari has mooted the idea of granting amnesty to the Boko Haram fighters. The rule appears to be for any group who wants attention to take up arms against government interests.
But how did all these begin? Injustice, poverty, unemployment largely account for the escalation of violence in the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. Whatever reasons could be adduced, the government is to blame for all the violence. Indeed, Saro-Wiwa’s prediction has come true when he said before the military tribunal that sentenced him to death in 1995:
“My lord, we all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly-endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted all my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. No imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.
"I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial ... there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.
"On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and all those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected from a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty. We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, degrade our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who subscribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom and hard work.
"I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, and some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.
"I predict that a denouement of the riddle of the Niger delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful ways I have favored will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.
"In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side, God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: "All those who fight, when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor. Come the day”.
Realizing the failures of government, especially their inability to provide jobs for the young men and women who should have been involved in productive activities, late President Ya' Adua granted amnesty to the Niger Delta militants. He was unfortunately not to live and implement the programme. The eventual poor handling of the amnesty programme was another missed opportunity to fix the problem.
In implementing the programme, Ya’Adua’s successor trained the youths and began the payment of monthly allowances without providing jobs after their training. The youths idly stayed home to receive monthly allowances. The youths have been clearly told that violence is rewarding. They have also understood that the government can surrender to violence.
The government did not follow the intentions of the Technical Committee of the Niger Delta who recommended the amnesty programme. What the government was required to do is send the youths to various companies to work, that way, you engage them daily, while government takes responsibility for their wages. We were not to have them sit at home idly and be paid monthly without engaging in any productive activity. So the government provided the environment for these boys to be exploited by politicians who engaged them to violently and forcefully win elections.. That again could account for the influx of arms back into the Niger Delta. Unfortunately, things have gone very badly and the government must return to the drawing board. A military solution in the Niger Delta with pockets of undefined violent groups may be a difficult option to enforce.
In the past week, from Wednesday May 11th, 2016, the military has conducted raids in Yeghe, Ogoniland, home of Solomon Ndigbara, the first kingpin to surrender and embrace the amnesty programme. Ndigbara would probably have been at work had the amnesty programme been designed to solve a problem. The security situation in Ogoni is suspicious and appear to me, the creation of political interests. For instance, how did Solomon Ndigbara, an ally of politicians since 1999, former militant leader who worked with the security forces and they jointly went on a successful operation to rescue the bursar of the Ken Saro-Wiwa polytechnic in November 2015 become a problem following the split in the big party that has ruled Rivers state since 1999? How did Ndigbara who received an award from the wife of the former president as an ambassador of peace now become a trouble maker following the change in leadership? Clearly, if the government must uncover the security problems in Ogoni, the politicians must face some questioning and monitoring.
Since the annulment of parliamentary elections in Rivers State, we have seen an incredible upsurge in violence and killings in the area. Most of the killings have affected political party loyalists.
On Saturday, May 14th, 2016, Dr. Vincent Eebee, a lecturer at the state-owned Ken Saro-Wiwa polytechnic, Bori, was interred in his hometown, Yeghe, Gokana local government. He has been killed by assailants who chased him from Bori, headquarters of Khana local government area. He was able to run to his village, Yeghe, but the assailants were not deterred and they killed him right in his home.
An influential Ogoni, Mr. Lekie Giagbara, a chartered accountant and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Gokana local government area was also killed within the period. One Pabby Koyene was allegedly buried alive by a cult group. The Nigerian Army claimed that Pabby was their informant in Rivers State. It is interesting to note that all of these killings occurred just after parliamentary elections were nullified in the area and all the victims are political party loyalists Does these not provide a clue as to where the problem is and who should be investigated to uncover the killings in Ogoniland?
In conclusion, it is incumbent on the government to protect its citizens and that responsibility is primary and not excusable. Where a government fails to provide security for its citizens, it is honorable on the officer in charge to step aside and allow a more competent and willful person to step in. The rampant excuses of militant sabotage, the inability of the security forces to apprehend those behind politically motivated killings in Ogoni and the political sponsorship of militancy in the Niger Delta are all signals to government failure to provide security.
For the generality of the Ogoni people, the restoration of Ogoniland beginning with the cleanup is something we all look forward to. There is no alternative to the peaceful approach; we are ready and willing to corporate with all agencies of government to see to the implementation of the UNEP report. We hope that those whose responsibility is to deal with security issues will work assiduously and act professionally to address these challenges. While they move to deal with the effects of failed security, we also call on them to address the causes of these failures and the environment that have helped these causes to survive.
Finally, there is no doubt that the people have been deprived their rights. Peaceful agitation will continue and is encouraged until the demands for the rights to a decent living are granted. The Ogoni people must be given the right to participate in Nigeria’s democratic process as a distinct ethic group with the right to decide their own future. The Ogoni have not enjoyed that right having been lumped with several other ethnic groups who govern them and decide their fate. Freedom for all people of the Niger Delta and Nigeria will be fundamental for lasting peace and prosperity for the country.
Fegalo Nsuke is the Publicity Secretary of The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Port Harcourt. Nsuke can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org