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Death, destruction trail violence in Ogoni

By horilines • 25 days ago • 37 views • 5 comments
Death, destruction trail violence in Ogoni

The once-peaceful Ogoni land is now taken over by killers and arsonists, writes Southsouth Bureau Chief BISI OLANIYI.

Ogoni is one of the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta. It is rich in crude oil and gas, but without commensurate development.

Ogoni consists of four local government areas in Rivers State namely Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme.

The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), then known as Shell D’Arcy, started crude oil exploitation in Ogoni in February, 1958, when crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantity at Bomu (Kegbara-Dere) in Gokana Local Government Area. Since then, the area has been experiencing pollution from oil spills and oil well fires.

On August 26, 1990, Ogoni people decided to adopt the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR), which demanded the right to control and use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, among others.

Later in the same year, Ogoni people formed the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to carry out the objectives of OBR. In 1993, Ogoni people stopped SPDC from operating in the area.

The renowned environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni activists were hanged at the Port Harcourt Prisons on Friday, November 10, 1995, during the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha.

In order to put an end to the many years of neglect and environmental degradation in Ogoni and to adequately empower the people, former President Olusegun Obasanjo initiated the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) environmental assessment of Ogoni land in October, 2006, the initiative continued in the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

On August 4, 2011, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan received the 262-page UNEP main report in Abuja. On July 20, 2012, less than a month to the first anniversary of the submission of the UNEP Report, the then President Jonathan put in place the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), with the mandate to clean all oil-polluted sites in Nigeria, which Ogoni leaders kicked against, while insisting that it was contrary to one of the recommendations of the UNEP Report.

The far-reaching recommendations of the UNEP Report were not implemented by the then President Jonathan, until May 29, 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari took over and he commenced the implementation, with peace gradually returning to Ogoni land.

The UNEP’s team of environmentalists made 76 recommendations. Fifty of the recommendations are for the government, 22 for SPDC and four for Ogoni communities.

UNEP Report stated that the water at Nsisioken-Ogale-Eleme in Eleme Local GGovernment Area contained cancer-causing Benzene (carcinogen), which was 900 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) standards for water contamination, thereby requiring urgent attention.

It also noted that the sustainable environmental restoration of Ogoni land would take up to 20 years to achieve, while recommending the establishment of Ogoni land Environmental Restoration Authority by the Federal Government.

The UNEP Report indicated that the full environmental restoration of Ogoni land would be a project which would take 30 years to complete, after the pollution had been brought to an end, thereby recommending the establishment of an Ogoni land Environmental Restoration Fund, with an initial fund of $1 billion for capacity building, skill transfer and conflict resolution.

President Buhari, on Wednesday, August 5, 2015, after 68 days in office, approved many actions to fast-track the implementation of the UNEP Report on Ogoni land, including the amendment of the official gazette establishing HYPREP (which was changed to Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project), to reflect a new governance framework, comprising a Governing Council, Board of Trustees (BoT) and Project Management.

President Buhari, who was represented by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), on Thursday, June 2, 2016, kicked off the Ogoni clean-up at Patrick’s Waterside, Bodo-Ogoni in Gokana Local Government Area, in fulfilment of his January 8, 2015 promise, when he visited Ogoni land during his presidential campaigns.

On Friday, April 27, last year, the Ogoni Trust Fund’s escrow account was signed at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, involving the Federal Government, the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and representatives of Ogoni people, at a meeting presided over by Prof. Osinbajo.

Project Coordinator of the reformed HYPREP, Dr. Marvin Dekil, an Ogoni, is showing total commitment to the clean-up of the polluted Ogoni environment and empowerment of the hitherto marginalised people, but the current killings and arson in Ogoni land will definitely hamper the development efforts.

On August 13, this year, fresh violence erupted in Ogoni land, despite the recent launch of a new security outfit, Operation Sting, by the administration of Governor Nyesom Wike.

In the fresh violence that erupted in Khana Local Government Area, nine innocent people were allegedly killed on August 13 and 14, while the palace of the paramount ruler of Taaba-Ogoni, King Nule Junior, was allegedly razed.

The house of the President of MOSOP, Chief Legborsi Pyagbara, at Nyokuru-Ogoni in Khana Local Government Area, was also said to be burnt in the invasion.

MOSOP, through its Publicity Secretary, Sunny Zorvah, condemned the violence, saying: “MOSOP received with sadness, the reports from some Ogoni communities of the sudden outbreak of violence and killings carried out by members of some cult groups in the area.

“The renewed violence, which took place in Okwale on August 13, spilled over on August 14 to Taabaa and Nyokuru, all in Nyokhana District in Khana Local Government Area.

“MOSOP is pained over these unjustified attacks, which led to the burning down of the house of MOSOP President in Nyokuru. We are also saddened by the killing of many people and attack on the residence of Chief Monday Abueh and other people in Okwale by alleged cult gangs.”

The umbrella organisation of Ogoni people also declared that the ugly situation in Ogoni land called for urgent and thorough actions by security agencies and every necessary step required of the Rivers State government.

MOSOP called on the police and the special military joint task force to ensure return of peace to the troubled Ogoni communities by going after perpetrators of the barbaric and retrogressive onslaught on the communities, but without hurt on innocent people.

The Ogoni umbrella organisation also pleaded with the traditional rulers, opinion leaders and other influential stakeholders in Ogoni land to put their differences aside and work for the peace and security of the area.

Again, on August 18, eight people (six in Opouko and two in Luumene) were allegedly killed in Khana Local Government Area, thereby heightening tension in the area.

The President of MOSOP described the killings and arson in most Ogoni communities as a deliberate and direct attack on the peace initiative and process by well-meaning groups and leaders of Ogoni land.

He stated this while inspecting the extent of destruction in Ogoni land, while commiserating with the bereaved families and people who lost valuable properties.

Pyagbara condemned the deadly attacks by alleged cult groups on Opouko and Luumene communities in Nyokhana District of Khana Local Government Area on August 18, which resulted in the death of eight people, while the residence of the Chairman of Khana Local Government Area, Lateh Loolooh, and the palace of Gbenemene Banghan, King Suanu Baridam were also said to be burnt.

MOSOP President also expressed displeasure over the senseless killings and destruction of properties by people whom he alleged did not want peace in Ogoni land, and were making efforts to put the crude oil and gas-rich area under siege.

He said: “It seems to me that there are internal factors and interests in trying to put Ogoni land in perpetual fear and siege.

“Do not forget, people that want to destroy you will always use someone in your house. There is a possibility of some interests that we have not been able to uncover, in this matter.”

Pyagbara, who earlier visited Nyokuru, Taabaa and Okwale communities in Khana Local Government Area to ascertain the level of destruction and to sympathise with victims’ families and people of the communities, lamented the razing of houses in his compound in Nyokuru and the houses of Chief Nule of Taabaa and those of other people in Okwale.

He said: “Time has come for Ogoni people to look inward and say enough is enough. Every right-thinking Ogoni man and woman must rise up against this madness and tell those involved that they cannot put Ogoni under siege.

“The peace initiative that MOSOP and other groups began and which youth groups and key stakeholders are parts of is still on course. I am surprised that some people are not committed to the peace agreement at the Saakpenwa meeting.

“That people have turned around to do what they are doing is a big surprise and a shame. I thought that we had a moratorium, and that our brothers and fathers promised they were going into deepening the peace process that we kick-started at Saakpenwa. Ogoni does not need this carnage; after all we have laboured for.”

While also speaking on the Bomu/Lewe renewed clash, the MOSOP President stated that he was surprised with the resurgence of crisis between the two Ogoni communities in Gokana Local Government Area.

He reiterated that at a point, the matter was resolved, with some Ogoni elders moving into the two communities for peace.

Pyagbara stressed the need for governments at all levels to redouble efforts and take the insecurity in Ogoni with much concern.

MOSOP President assured that the umbrella organisation of Ogoni people, in collaboration with other groups, would ensure that there are no lapses in the drive for the return of peace to the affected Ogoni communities, to pave way for development in the area. He pleaded with the people involved in the renewed crisis to stop forthwith and embrace peace.

Spokesman of the Rivers State Police Command, Nnamdi Omoni, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), assured that policemen were on the trail of the killers and arsonists, in order to make them face the consequences of their actions, thereby serving as a deterrent to other criminally-minded people.

The governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) during the March 9 Governorship and State Assembly elections in Rivers State, Victor Fingesi, called on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to quickly intervene and bring the killings and arson in Ogoni land to an end, to ensure peace.

He stated in Port Harcourt that he was disturbed by the sad information he received about Ogoni land, with innocent people killed and valuable properties also destroyed.

Fingesi described Ogoni land as the once-beautiful agricultural field in Rivers State, but now turned into a killing field. He accused the Nyesom Wike administration of being helpless.

He said: “I urge Governor Wike for once, to take security of lives and property in Rivers State, especially in Ogoni land, seriously by directing law enforcement agencies to take specific actions that will guarantee safety of the people.

“It is not enough to launch a security outfit (Operation Sting) and spend money, without directing actions such as curfew where necessary, setting up panel of inquiry, meetings with the chiefs and people, and visit to the affected areas. These actions, when considered, will show that the Rivers State government is taking the matter lightly.

“Only the convocation of a security summit in Rivers State will be the panacea to the current insecurity situation. The summit should comprise prominent Rivers people, leaders of cult groups and other groups that are involved in the breach of peace in the state.”

The ADP’s standard bearer also sympathised with the victims of Ogoni invasion and their families, particularly MOSOP President, whose house in Khana was razed by the arsonists.

Ogoni people, particularly the killers, arsonists and cultists must give peace a chance to pave way for the much-desired development.

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