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LESSONS FROM THE OGONI CLEAN UP

LESSONS FROM THE OGONI CLEAN UP

BY AKEODI ALI


President Muhammadu Buhari will on Thursday, June 2 embark on his first working visit to Rivers to kick start the implementation of the United Nations Environment Report on Ogoni (UNEP Report).
The much awaited cleanup of Ogoniland is the next big thing to happen to the Niger Delta region that has endured decades of environmental degradation stemming from the effects of oil exploration and exploitation even though the renewed attack on oil facilities by the Niger Delta Avengers has began to spill more crude oil onto the surrounding lands and rivers.


Unlike the multi billion naira Amnesty Program,  stakeholders have made it clear that the Ogoni cleanup will not involve cash handouts yet the proposed United Nations backed environmental remediation exercise has continued to generate excitements, anxiety and commentary around the region and beyond. Even persons who had earlier openly cast aspersion on President Buhari’s August 5, 2015 approval of $10million for the fast tracking of the implementation of the 2011 UNEP Report which had gathered dust in the archives of the federal government for five years began to call for the expansion of the scope of the exercise to include all affected areas in the region.

The kick off of the Ogoni cleanup is significant in many way, but most importantly it represents a fulfilment of some of the issues for which  Ken Saro-Wiwa  willingly paid the supreme sacrifice. In the 1990s, Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa, a multi-award winning literary icon of the Ogoni ethnic group inside Nigeria’s Niger Delta employed the non violent approach made popular by Mahatma Ghandi of India to bring the plight of his people to the international scene. Ken and his comrades became targets of military dictatorship when he defied the military junta to ask for greater autonomy for the Ogonis and also campaign peacefully against Royal Dutch Shell and other multinationals whose years of oil exploration, exploitation and indiscriminate oil waste dumping had inflicted serious environmental damage on the lands and Rivers. Even without firing a gun shot, Ken Saro Wiwa mobilised the world to queue behind his struggle for environmental, economic and political justice. Following his arrest and torture in 1992, Amnesty International issued a statement describing him as ‘a prisoner of conscience’. The statement also added that his arrest was “part of the continuing suppression by the Nigerian authorities of Ogoni people’s campaign against the oil companies.” His eventual execution sparked global outrage heralding the inglorious era of ‘pariah status’ as the Common Wealth of Nations suspended Nigeria for a period of three and half years. Living or dead, Ken’s message has continued to resonate around the world. Even those who do not agree with his method have hailed him for bringing the Niger Delta struggle to the world stage and inspiring the present generations to continue to pursue a better deal for the region that continues to lay Nigeria’s golden egg.


The $10million cleanup of Ogoni land set in motion by President Buhari does not pretend to be a placebo for all the structural and economic issues articulated in the 1993 Ogoni Bill of Rights just the same way the recruitment of 10,000 policemen a total of 1000 for the Army, Navy and Airforce exclusively from the Niger Delta in 2006, the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Ministry of Niger Delta, the multi billion naira amnesty program and the Jonathan Presidency which some attribute to  violent activism have not solved the Niger Delta problem. However, it shows that after 18 years of self destructive violent activism, the Niger Delta people should begin to think of a paradigm shift in the execution of the struggle for a better deal in the way the sharing of the nation’s petroleum revenue.

Without attempting to pass a verdict on the methodology of those who believe the Niger Delta question can only be resolved through the barrel of the gun, it is obvious that the many tactics employed by the armed agitators have resulted in self inflicting losses which outweigh what has been identified as its gains, many of which will outlive the present generation. For instance, kidnapping of oil expatriates which was intended to serve as a mechanism for getting the attention of the international community has today become the biggest menace, not just in the region but the entire country leaving no one immune.  Toddlers, the aged, the sick, the rich, the poor, the unemployed, the clergy, construction workers and public servants form part of the ever rising statics of victims of abductions that have been subjected to the most inhuman treatment possible just because an individual or group of individuals wants to make quick money. The deluge of small arms which entered the region in the name of the Niger Delta struggle could not be completely mopped up even with the Amnesty exercise. The ubiquity of the resultant gun culture has worsened the blur between criminality and freedom fighting since every young man raising an AK47 in the region claims to be doing so in the name of the Niger Delta. The proliferation of light weapons, a misrepresentation of the Amnesty program to mean impunity or ‘licence to kill’, political patronage, struggle for territorial control between cult groups and the money-spinning criminal economy has turned the region into a ‘wild wild south’ where traditional rulers who refuse to be subservient to gang lords are sent on exile, population of forced migrations and internally displaced persons continue to swell. In recent times, youths with an inexplicable lust for blood Rivers state have turned their communities into killing fields, murdering their victims in the most despicable ways that may even send shivers down the spine of the executioners of ISIL. Since 1998, the region has witnessed an increasing number of school dropouts. More and more youngsters are entering adulthood with no experience of school enrolment while the rifle is increasingly replacing the pen. The decision of investors to locate the $1.5 billion ship repair facility in faraway Badagry, Lagos, instead of the many Niger Delta communities with closer proximity to the Bonny LNG its major prospective client is a metaphor of the massive outflow of investment and job losses from the region since 1999.

Between UNEP Report and The Amnesty Program

The implementation of the UNEP Report which commences on Thursday in Ogoni land shares similarities and dissimilarities with the ongoing Amnesty programme. While the Amnesty program has its history tied to the violent agitations in the Niger Delta, The UNEP Report springs from the non violent struggles of late Ken Saro-Wiwa. Though the two projects are crafted as cleanup mechanisms, the former was targets the cause (environmental degradation), while the later focuses on the consequence (proliferation of small arms). One recurring critique against the Amnesty program is that its intrinsic design makes it as an exclusive reward system for armed agitators makes it an incentive rather than a disincentive to lawlessness. The UNEP Report is a complete paradigm shift. It promises to engage all spheres of the impacted communities and may even stimulate the rebuilding of villages whose inhabitants had been driven out by hunger and strife as human populations begin to bud alongside the rejuvenating flora and fauna which will come with the cleaning up of their forest, swamps and rivers.