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Niger Deltans demand fair share of oil proceeds

Ogoni: Still nothing has been put on the table.

By Dum-ale Tanee, (MOSOP Coordinator, Kansas City Chapter)

It is 17 years ago this mouth that the Ogoni people took to the street to non-violently show the government of Nigeria and Shell that they mean business about their demands, still nothing  has yet been offered to the people. Instead there has been an unprecedented level of military build up by the Nigerian authority in the area to intimidate, threaten, harass and in the worst case kill the people. In fact, since the struggle began more money have been spent on all kinds of weapons from across the world, China, Russia, Israel, Europe etc. than ever invested in the Niger Delta region, including weapons donated by the Bush administration and the Indian government. Such reckless spending does not only hinder the development of Niger Delta but that of the entire country.

Although the baton of leadership has changed from one hand to the other and also, from military regimes to civilian, what hasn’t changed is the way that the issue has been handled. Military or civilian regimes have favored the same approach (use of force) which is why little or nothing is done in the area of development. The Nigerian government, military or civilian and Shell (oil companies) are the engineers of the violence in the Niger Delta, and they do that in order to make huge profits while the people get nothing. To oil companies, continuous violence in the oil producing areas of the developing world means sustained record profits and they will do all it takes to keep it going. It is now the other way around, the more cuts to oil production level, the more record profits they make.

The journey began late 1990 when Ogoni people submitted the document known as the “Ogoni Bill of Rights” to the government of Nigeria.  The people demanded among others, political autonomy, the right to control and use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for its development and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation. The then president of Nigeria, President Ibrahim Babangida acknowledged receipt of the document but did nothing.

After about three years of waiting without any response, the people took to the street on January 4, 1993 to non-violently protest against government and Shell’s neglect. Soon after the protest match the then Inspector-General of police invited Ogoni leaders for talks, but nothing came out of it. This was followed by another invitation in February to the State Security Service headquarters at Abuja. At the meeting with SSS the “riot act” was read to them.

Just before the next meeting which took place on May 7, 1993 the Babangida administration had already promulgated a new decree which was known as the “Treason and Treasonable Felony Decree” solely aimed at Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni people. The May meeting was attended by those at the highest level of government at the time with the exception of the president, Ibrahim Babangida. The entire exercise was to intimidate and threaten Ogoni people and also to send a strong message to the entire Niger Deltans that if they agitate for anything, death waits them, that is, military solution will be the answer.

In its own response to the protest Shell Nigeria and Shell international also held a meeting in London and Rotterdam in February 1993. Minutes of the meeting which were leaked to MOSOP called for information sharing between Shell Nigeria and Shell International and the effective monitoring of “the movements of key players (Kenule Saro Wiwa), what they say and to whom.” Shell also issued a press statement later accusing the late Ken Saro Wiwa of leading a secessionist movement in order to provoke military retaliation against him and the Ogoni people. For a company like Shell to fabricate such a lie against him and the movement shows clearly how it wanted him dead by all means necessary. We all know that the punishment for secession in Nigeria is death.

In other developments, the government in alliance with Shell also used our neighbors’ territories as lunching pads against us with state troops. Several attacks were launched through the territory of Andoni by the Nigerian army with Shell and Chevron boats supported by Shell’s helicopters. Other attacks also took place along the Okrika and Ndoki side of the borders. Then came the attack in the city of Port Harcourt at waterfronts very close to the naval base and Central Police Station. This attack, which took place at night when everyone was asleep, was carefully planed and executed to ensure that non-Ogonis were spared because it was a mixed neighborhood. The entire attacks took the lives of several thousand Ogonis, including women and children.

Desperate to get rid of Ken Saro Wiwa thinking that would weaken Ogoni people and facilitate the return to oil production in the area, the government of late President Sani Abacha, with Shell, staged the killing of 4 Ogoni chiefs in order to create a reason  to kill him. The killing of the 4 Ogoni chiefs took place on May 21, 1994 just nine days after Major Paul Okuntimo sent a memorandum to the then governor of Rivers State, Lt Col Dauda Musa Komo recommending that the division between the elites of Ogoni be exploited. The memorandum of May 12, 1994 recommended among others: “intra-communal/kingdom formulae alternative as discussed to apply. Wasting operations during MOSOP and OTHER (emphasis on Kenule Wiwa) gatherings making constant military presence justifiable. Wasting targets cutting across communities and leadership especially vocal individuals of various groups.” The killing of the 4 was not even investigated before MOSOP was accused and Ken Saro Wiwa with other activists arrested almost immediately. The fact is that no governments has ever investigated itself for its own crime or arrest those whom they send to do a dirty job for them.

The authority actually exploited the division as clearly stated in the memorandum “MOSOP and OTHER” by killing 4 Ogoni chiefs as a pretext to eliminate Ken Saro Wiwa and other vocal activists. Also, it provided the reason for the dreaded Internal Security Task Force headed by Paul Okuntimo to raid several Ogoni villages across all the kingdoms, destroy houses, kill, rape, extort money and arrest several individuals, including the released “Ogoni 20” as the memorandum further stated. Despite the state/corporate sponsored terror against the people, they remained committed to their cause and will continue that way until their demands are met.

The decision by the Abacha government/Shell to kill Ken Saro Wiwa was not just for tactical reason alone; it was primarily to gain psychological advantage over the people of Ogoni and Niger Delta at large and discourage agitation.  But they failed because the struggle does not revolve around an individual or group but around the people of the region.

In 1992, following the demands of the Ogoni people the Babangida administration established a body known as the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) to take care of the needs of the oil producing areas. But for the 8 years of its existence, 1992-2000 and under four different leaders who acknowledged the neglect of the Ogoni people and the region, Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, the notorious Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, the commission did not site any project in Ogoni. Also, in other areas of Niger Delta where some projects were sited, most of them were poorly done or uncompleted; corruption became the order of the day. Before the commission was disbanded by the Obasanjo’s administration in 2000 it was clear to all that the body had failed to address the needs of the people it was intended, something that the late Ken Saro Wiwa earlier pointed out soon after its establishment was announced.

Then 1999 ushered in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, this time through the ballot. Like his predecessors, he acknowledged the neglect of the Ogoni people and the region and promised to do something. The following year, 2000 he disbanded OMPADEC and established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The NDDC has existed for 10 years now with no presence in Ogoni. In fact, some greedy politicians from the region have argued that it is unacceptable for Ogoni oil not to flow, therefore, Ogoni should not benefit. But what they failed to realize is that it is the decision that Ogoni people make that brought about the attention and the hand-out that they are now spending on themselves while the people, including the youths remained unattended. They did not care to ask why Ogoni was neglected like the rest of the region even when its oil was flowing despite the huge revenue that accrued from it.

Before he left office, former President Olusegun openly admitted the failure of the NDDC to address the needs of the people of Niger Delta and blamed it on the politicians of the area for corruption and lack of accountability, but did not arrest anyone. You be the judge. During the course of his administration he also visited Ogoni several times but gave nothing to the people.

Both OMPADEC and NDDC, including the newly established Niger Delta Affairs Ministry are all deceptive, corrupt and underfunded hand-out institutions designed to make the government look good to the outside world while containing the problem with the use of force. It is no secret that most of the contracts awarded by OMPADEC and NDDC were signed under the table with no paper trail, therefore, it is the responsibilities of those who established them to ask question about where the monies go, but they didn’t.

The people of Niger Delta like most Nigerians are peace loving people with no interest in violence because they stand to benefit nothing from it.  It is the Nigerian authority and oil companies that are responsible for the violence in the Niger Delta. While the former use it as an excuse for poor governance or performance, allocate huge sums to state security fund (N444 billions in 2008) and access it to loot and divert oil proceeds, the latter use it as a reason to raise gas prices. The Ogoni people get nothing other than pollution, disease and living in abject poverty. Of course, there is no country in the world without corruption, but in a country or any country where corruption is the system, it means nothing gets done and Nigeria is an example.

Finally, while we continue our non-violent struggle for a fair share of our oil proceeds, we can no longer entrust our economic resources to an irresponsible, corrupt and violent institution that uses force to coerce its people, an institution which chooses violence over dialogue and engineers conflict against its people, an institution which continues to neglect its people. Things must change. It is about time for the government to put something on the table, and a state for Ogoni (Bori State) could be a major first step towards addressing the problem. It is time for Niger Deltans to stop living on their knees living on hand-outs from the deceptive NDDC or Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, and stand on their feet .

Dum-ale Tanee

(MOSOP Coordinator, Kansas City Chapter)

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