Why we are kicking against environmental terrorism – MOSOP’s president

Legborsi Saro Pyagbara is a well-baked environmental fighter and third president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), who joined the Ogoni struggle as far back as 1990 to launch the Ogoni Bill of Rights. Pyagbara and his MOSOP body recently staged a media round table on UNEP Report: Emergency measures and the clean-up process of Ogoni land where MOSOP described what is happening in Ogoni as pure ‘environmental terrorism and threat to national security’. Our correspondent, GODWIN EGBA, captured the mind-boggling narrative. Excerpts:

What does MOSOP mean by environmental terrorism in its recent out-cry in terms of national security?

MOSOP is concerned about recent reports about the purported approval for the release of the sum of $1billion from the Excess Crude Account to fight insurgency in the North East. MOSOP totally condemns this flagrant display of discrimination, demonstration of crass insensitivity and total neglect of some sections of the country. Coming on the heels of the paltry allocation to the much-hyped budget for the governance framework of HYPREP, it once again demonstrates that the Nigeria state clearly has two sets of citizens in the country; those that deserve proper treatment and those that should be treated as slaves. This goes contrary to the spirit and letters of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerances (ICERD) for which Nigeria is a signatory.

How do you interpret this so-called environmental terrorism in the Niger-Delta in relation to activities of the Boko Haram in the North-East of the country?

MOSOP believes that the environmental terrorism going on in the oil region is far more serious than the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East because in the environmental terrorism, no blood is spilled, no bone is broken yet thousands of human beings, animals, trees, and herbs are dying daily through pollution of the environmental terrorism. Several groups have called for allocation of funds for the total clean-up of the Niger-Delta and this has not been heeded to. Even the release of funds for the Ogoni Clean Up has also not been effected. This type of discriminatory allocation of resources and projects is not healthy for all of us and should be condemned and rejected.

What is MOSOP’s grouse with the Federal Government’s efforts so far with the clean up?

Whilst we appreciate the federal government’s efforts so far, we are deeply concerned about the slow pace of the implementation of the report occasioned by unnecessary bureaucracy, lack of independence and funding. It is time to break down bureaucratic bottlenecks that are hampering the effective implementation of the UNEP report. HYPREP must immediately put in place a process that will address the implementation of emergency measures needed to deal with the critical issues of water, health, and infrastructure as a matter of priority. Ogoni cannot continue to drink the poisoned water that is threatening its life and that of its future generations.

Forgiving creates peace and bonding, why is MOSOP holding on to its trigger against Shell?

In 1990, the Ogoni people initiated their struggle with the launch of the Ogoni Bill of Rights on August 26, 1990 which dearly delineated the issues and demands of the Ogoni people. This includes the operations of the oil industry. This was followed by series of public actions including non-violent protests- that took place across Ogoni land in 1993 and beyond which forced the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the then main operator of the Ogoni oil block, pull out of Ogoni land.

MOSOP also raised issues of not being carried along in the cleaning project; is that correct?

Apart from the issue of massive environmental pollution that attended Shell’s operations in Ogoni land which were raised by MOSOP, the Ogoni people raised serious concerns about the total lack of effective participation of the people in the entire value chain of the oil industry activities in the land, denial of involvement in key decision-making process of the industry, discriminatory hiring practices, and absence of a clear and focused Community Development Agreements (CDAs) and Community Benefit Sharing Agreements (CBAs) that recognises the rights of communities to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Ever since 1990 we have been striving for effective participation of the Ogoni people in the development process as is now widely obtained globally in the 21st Century.

Is dialogue as conflict resolution option not considerable?

Whilst MOSOP is open to discussions relating to the resumption of oil production in Ogoni, MOSOP totally rejects the present approach of the Federal Government through its oil production wing, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) resorting to the old divide-and-rule tactics which it had used and failed before in an attempt to cause a renewed polarization of the Ogoni community and pitch them against one another. This approach is completely condemnable and detestable and will be totally resisted by the Ogoni people. It is instructive to note that whilst the government of Nigeria commissioned the UNEP to carry out an assessment of Ogoni land whose report had called for a total clean-up and restoration, it is disappointing that the same government is going about trying to force their way through the back door to commence operations in Ogoni without addressing the key concerns that had been raised by the Ogoni people over the years.

MOSOP is complaining about some hands of Judas in the Ogoni struggle; is that not a house divided against itself?

In the recent months, there had been intense and deliberate attempts by the oil industry to return to the Ogoni oilfields through the back door without any broad-based discussion with the Ogoni people with the potential of igniting a blaze of conflict and violence that will skirt this forceful attempt to return to the area. It is especially disappointing because we have seen divisive efforts to re-enter Ogoni for oil production over the last decade all of which have ended in failure. In each case the lack of transparency and attempts to deal with local actors in isolation was the fundamental failure. MOSOP wants to state unequivocally that the Ogoni issue had been a conflict involving three main parties namely, the federal government of Nigeria, the Oil industry led by Shell and the Ogoni people. Any attempt to deal with any of the matters that had been raised as a result of the conflict must necessarily involve the three critical actors as stakeholders in a joint project of finding a lasting solution to the Ogoni crisis. In the present attempt, the Federal Government of Nigeria and Shell have acted in complete disdain to the Ogoni people and forcefully want to give out the Oil Mining Licence over the Ogoni oil block to a company without initiating any consultation with the Ogoni community. The Ogoni people will resist this attempt.

What is the best broad-approach initiated by MOSOP?

If there is credible interest in resuming oil production in Ogoni, the FG and the prospective oil companies should together initiate a broad-based discussion with representation from all sectors of the Ogoni community. This process of engagement must ensure that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the Ogoni people is embedded within the framework of any discussion with the oil sector and the government relating to resumption of oil production in Ogoni taking into cognisance benefit-sharing arrangements and the undertaking of a credible environmental impact assessment of proposed oil operations in Ogoni, to include social and health dimensions, as well as a public consultation process as is the current industry standard as recommended by the UNEP Report.

What is the MOSOP new template to achieving its overall objectives?

MOSOP also wants to state categorically that it has not endorsed any oil company to take over oil operations in Ogoni as this is a process that requires the necessary consultation with all stakeholders in Ogoni. It is also in this regard that MOSOP had recently set up a 5-man committee to develop a new template and harmonise all existing processes for engagement with the government and the oil industry that will be approved by the Ogoni people and presented to any interested party. We are seizing this opportunity to inform the people of the world of the potential crisis and violence that the government of Nigeria and the Shell PDCSPDC plan to inflict on the Ogoni people. We want to stress that no oil production can take place in Ogoni without a clear process of clean up achieved and broad-based public discussion about the future of oil operations in Ogoni.