The development program for Ogoni which we launched on September 27, 2020 recommended series of actions to facilitate development through the implementation of the Ogoni Development Authority. It was a carefully crafted document developed as an actionable component of the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR). That document set a clear path to resolve the lingering and seemingly complex Ogoni problem. Last Thursday, the Central Committee further affirmed its earlier position to push for the implementation of that document through engagements with relevant authorities on how best to kick-start this development program for Ogoni.
This initiative is one strong and crucial decision advancing the vision that Ken Saro-Wiwa and his predecessors like the Hon. T.N Paul Birabi had for Ogoni - that the resources of Ogoni should power development and engender a new horizon and future for the Ogoni people.
In this article, I articulate why this new vision has to be empowered to flourish against the design of a few who have converted the people's struggle into a tool for self enrichment. While the Ogoni people are jealously guarding the struggle with hope of winning its benefits, a few are trading with it from one government house to the other and from one oil firm to another. Now is the time to end all that and uphold our popular vision for development.
About 31 years ago, we launched a rescue campaign and mandated the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to lead the struggle to end the injustices and inequitable practices that had become systemic and were sending thousands of our people to death. MOSOP eventually became the most successful machinery in our collective strive to affirm our identity and assert our rights to function within Nigeria as a distinct ethnic nationality.
Available statistics indicate that Ogoni has the capacity to produce an estimated 500,000 barrels of oil per day. That can generate an estimated $25,000,000 daily at $50 per barrel. The gas resources in Ogoni is second to none in the entire Africa. Put together, Ogoni oil and gas resources far exceed the revenue generation capacity of 20 Nigerian states put together and can run the government and drive development in all parts of our country.
But Shell and the government plundered the Ogoni resources leaving her without life. No schools, no electricity, roads, water and sewage management systems, no jobs for young people, and no active economy to support the growing population. The government and Shell had primarily been concerned about resource extraction and nothing more.
MOSOP brought hope, gave pride to the Ogoni and helped us galvanize our positions into a campaign that drew the sympathy of the world. Unfortunately, MOSOP itself, from its formative years became entangled in internal conflicts which led to the Giokoo murders and eventual execution of nine others by the Nigerian Government on November 10, 1995 including John Kpuinen, Nordu Eawo, Nubari Kiobel, Baribor Bera, Saturday Nuate, Ken Saro-Wiwa and others. The state repression that followed led to the killing of an estimated 4,000 people.
The government and Shell had capitalized on every opportunity to kill and had several designs in that direction. The May 21, 1994 and November 10, 1995 debacles changed our story. The government had divided us and exploited the division. Of course, we cannot expect that there wouldn't be dissidents in a movement of this kind, especially one that attempted to reverse a political and economic exploitation.
Accounts of our people's travails abound and may not be new to most of those reading this article. However, it is worth mentioning that the repression was extreme and came with summary executions, detention in torture chambers, rape, amputations and untold brutality.
Some external intervention resettled about 1,000 families to the United States, Canada and parts of Europe. Others were relocated to South Africa, Ghana and other parts of the world while some remained in neighboring Benin Republic till date out of fear and having lost everything they had back home, there is nothing to fall back on if they returned.
The conflict which centered around oil became aggravated with a strong push to force Shell Nigeria, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, to resume mining activities in Ogoni. That came with some resistance and often resulted in military brutality and sometimes death of local protestors.
By June 1993, MOSOP had strongly stamped its impact and control over the Ogoni landscape so much that in protest against political and economic marginalization, it called off national elections in Ogoni against the orders of the Government. In the same year, protests had compelled Shell Nigeria to scale down its operations in Ogoni and pulled out its work force.
It became very clear to the government and Shell that the Ogoni people at this time were tired of their situation and resolute on having a fair share of their oil resources.
The brigandry which fleeced some $25,000,000 accruing daily from Ogoni oil had become upset as their plundering had been significantly curtailed by Ogoni protestors. Shell, the government and the military task force (led by Paul Okuntimo) designed the crude therapeutics to crush the Ogoni uprising by creating dissent and inflicting violence on the people. Of course, in a non-violent struggle, internal division was one potent weapon to diffuse the strength of peaceful agitators.
The Extremely Repressive Years
The rise of General Sani Abacha did not help matters. Abacha approved massive military operations that left thousands of Ogoni people dead. The desolation turned Ogoni into a wasteland. Hundreds of children and pregnant mothers died because there were no means to move them to any health facility, many died from snake bites, stray gun shots and terror. The memory of the trauma still lives with many till date. It is on record that there was no single family in Giokoo who did not suffer the brutality. Notwithstanding the gloomy situation, Ogonis still stood against the authorities to assert the demand for equity and political justice in resource allocation and ethnic identity.
The death of General Sanni Abacha brought some reprieve and paved the way for the more accommodating regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The process of returning the country to civilian rule commenced and MOSOP leaders began returning home. At this time, the full strength of MOSOP seemed to have been restored and its position as the mouthpiece of the Ogoni people was again well established.
Battles Against Oil Firms
At the same time, Shell was making desperate efforts to restore full operations in Ogoni. As usual, this generated conflicts and local resistance remained formidable to repel the murderers. Shell's inability to fully operate the oilfields forced the Nigerian government under President Yar'Adua to consider a change in the operatorship.
Different companies tested the waters but the usual local resistance did not give way. At this time, available information shows that the Ogoni oilfields had been handed over to the federal government owned Nigeria Petroleum Development Company, NPDC.
The Scramble for MOSOP
In 2014, the Ogoni people launched a campaign for an Ogoni to emerge as the governor of Rivers State. MOSOP led this campaign which is believed was bankrolled by political interests. By 2016, MOSOP became represented on the Governing Council of the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP). The corruption in HYPREP had not helped matters and the leadership of MOSOP had then become very attractive. Coupled with pressures from leading oil multinationals who sought MOSOP's endorsement for the resumption of oil mining activities in Ogoni, the political drive to control what MOSOP does and says became very high.
By January 2019, there had been a plethora of mushroom groups all over Ogoni. MOSOP at this time had again become entangled in conflicts after elections were concluded in December 2018.
There were several attempts to unsit the elected leadership. Our integrity as a rights defender became seriously eroded. Our values became degraded as we fought internally in desperation to be on the board of HYPREP or have our interests protected in the looting spree that went on in HYPREP. I warned that any society that does not uphold justice cannot know peace.
The Political Economy of the Ogoni Struggle
In the midst of all these, visiting the NNPC Towers in Abuja, the government houses and aligning with oil firms had become the order of the day. We lost our focus and transformed our struggle into business. Any attempts to refocus the struggle to benefit the people only intensified the gang up against the leadership.
Where Did All These Leave Us?
Clearly, as it became more of an economic opportunity than a social movement for change, what became the hope of local people who have sustained the resistance and kept the predators away was some huge economy for others. The people were left with no hope for a better and more decent living, no healthy environment, no good schools for the children, good health facilities, security and improved infrastructure. Our common aspiration which motivated us into paying any sacrifice had been dampened by political and oil sector infiltration.
31 years on, a visit to Ogoni leaves you stunned by the stench of poverty and deprivations and there is little hope for change. The scramble for leadership had been driven by pecuniary interests rather than a genuine desire to change the living conditions of our people.
The Way Forward - Time to Let Go of the Oil
Clearly, the oil has been a curse and has engendered a conflict of very dangerous dimension. The struggle we launched to free our people from slavery has become very materialistic. A dangerous dimension is the orientation that being a president of MOSOP gives one the opportunity to preside over the future of the Ogoni oil. Everyone in Ogoni now aspires to be a MOSOP president. and when it doesn't come, then there is no peace. Isn't that scary?
In the present situation, a plausible solution is to take advantage of our earlier articulated positions and commence proper engagement with relevant agencies of government with the view to win benefits so as to douse the severe threats the oil now presents. We are fortunate to have developed positions including the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) and the Ogoni Development Authority(ODA) which is the actionable format of the OBR. We need to move forward with these instruments to win a future for the Ogoni people.
There is only one task before us at this time - that specific task is to think of and do what is good for the Ogoni people. We have lost sleep, lost lives, lost values and we have been set against each other due to the scramble for oil. It's time to let that which has taken away our peace to go. This demands that we change our people's mindset to be prepared for whatever benefits we can negotiate and to return Ogoni to the path of development, security and peace.
I recall the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa before the tribunal that sentenced him to death in 1995:
"My lord, the Ogoni people have suffered tremendously in this country. The Niger Delta itself is in trouble. I ask for one thing. That they be given whatever help they can get"
It's time to go for that help, discuss with the relevant agencies on the benefits we can practically win and let it go before this oil kills us all. This oil killed Edward Kobani, Albert Badey, the Orages, Nubari Kiobel, John Kpuinen, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Uebari Nnah, Agbarator Otu, Lebe Nkporah and in the past 60 years, the death of over 300,000 Ogonis have been linked to oil pollution related illnesses.
Isn't it time to let the oil go? I think Central Committee is right. it is time we should let the oil go.
Fegalo Nsuke is president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.