There is trouble looming in Ogoniland that could lead to a breakout of violence, as a result of the exploration of oil in that part of Rivers State. The fear of war became even more palpable when the news broke out that a certain company had plans to resume oil business in Ogoni.
In 1994, Ogoni became a focal point in international discourse following the state execution of human rights crusader and environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa, under the military government of late General Sani Abacha.
Saro Wiwa and his group protested against the environmental degradation and pollution of Ogoniland, following excessive oil exploration by Shell and other multinational oil companies.
After the “executive murder” of Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogonis, Shell was forced out of Ogoni and no other company has been allowed to carry out any oil business there ever since.
However, last week, it was alleged that Belema Oil Company was warming up to commence exploration in the area, thereby sparking a fresh round of debates among the Ogonis on one hand and human rights activists on the other.
Some people in Ogoni were said to have agreed to allow the resumption of oil exploration activities in their land, with an indigenous company.
The oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) had stopped operation in the area at the peak of the crisis between the firm and the Ogoni people in 1993.
The decision to allow oil exploration in the area was contained in a communiqué signed by the chairman, Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, King Godwin Giniwa, and other traditional rulers of oil-producing communities in Ogoniland.
The communiqué, which was read by the paramount ruler of Ogale Community in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, Godwin Bebe-Okpabi, also endorsed an indigenous oil firm known as Belemaoil Producing Limited for the takeover of oil operations in Ogoniland.
“We hereby accept, present, endorse and declare Belemaoil Producing Limited to all Ogoni People, Shell Africa, Shell Investor Group, the Federal Government of Nigeria, world investors finance groups, Finance Group, United Nations, all human rights support groups, European Union.
“Ogoni oil is now open for exploration and production for Belemaoil Producing Limited. Shell, the Federal Government and all groups should kindly give all necessary support to making this historic event successful,” the council said.
Speaking to newsmen, the chairman of Bodo Council of Chiefs in Gokana Local Government Area, Mene (Chief) Sylvester Kogbara, said the new oil firm had agreed to meet the demands of Ogoni people.
“Shell was here for over 50 years and we (Ogoni) have not seen any tangible thing. You know the problems we have had with Shell over the years till we lost our leaders in the process of demanding for our rights.
“Shell has not responded and so we expect that the new company coming in will respect the rights, privileges and the tradition and culture of the Ogoni people,” Kogbara said.
In his remarks at the event, Giniwa lauded the communities in Ogoni for their unity and initiative, expressing the optimism that the ceremony would lead to the development of Ogoniland.
The Kingdom Coordinators Forum of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) had, however, warned against the resumption of oil drilling activities in Ogoniland. MOSOP coordinators and chapter leaders said resuming oil business in Ogoni without addressing the fundamental issues surrounding the exit of Shell from the area would undermine the peace in Ogoni.
At the end of an emergency meeting last week, chairman of the forum, Frank Jonah, noted that the issue of Ogoni oil was not just about an acceptable oil firm.
“Ogoni oil has come with so much pain and the people have high expectations regarding the issues of state creation, the standards of business as well the extent to which any oil firm will go to help address the social problems facing the people,” he said.
“Given that we in Ogoni have lost an entire generation of leaders because of a legitimate protest against irresponsible business practices, an attempt to impose any oil firm on Ogoni will surely be met with stiff resistance and this could lead to another era of state repression in Ogoniland” Jonah said at the weekend.
The MOSOP Kingdom Coordinators urged government to first address the fundamental demands of the Ogoni people, including the right to recognition and self-determination through the creation of Bori State, the clean-up of Ogoniland and the payment of compensation to Ogoni people, whose means of livelihood have been damaged by years of environmental degradation through Shell’s presence in the area.
Jonah urged the Nigerian government to be fair in its handling of the Ogoni problem: “Nigeria must show her commitment to justice and fairness, especially in the Ogoni issue. We lost some of our best men in the November 10, 1995 hangings, we have been extensively abused under various Nigerian military regimes.
“Our environment has been completely destroyed, we have no electricity, water and many more basic amenities despite being a major contributor to the Nigerian economy and so the government will be most insensitive to ignore all these issues and to be talking about any form of resuming oil activities in Ogoni.”
He urged government to show some humanity by addressing the issues of self-determination for the Ogoni people before contemplating any form of negotiations regarding oil. He noted that failing to address these issues would mean that government has chosen to kill and repress the people to forcefully exploit their oil resources, as there would be resistance against such moves.
Also venting its spleen over the news of possible resumption of oil exploration by Belemaoil, or any other company for that matter, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has raised the alarm following reports that Shell may be attempting to thwart the recommended clean-up of Ogoniland through a deal with a local company.
Shell is said to have sold its oil blocks in Ogoniland to Belemaoil, and drilling is set to commence as the company has reached agreement with some community chiefs who are being used to collate signatures endorsing the sale of the oil in Ogoniland.
Some top Shell officials are believed to have links with the new company.
Sources also claimed that some Ogoni community leaders were recently flown to Lagos to hold secret meetings on the oil block sale and may have been compromised after which they received documents with which to collect signatures from the Ogoni people as consent to the sale of Ogoni oil.
ERA/FoEN executive director, Godwin Uyi Ojo, said: “This is another deception coming from the stable of Shell. This divisive experiment is a serious affront on the peaceful Ogoni struggle for environmental justice and targeted at causing confusion so as to create a window of escape for Shell to evade its responsibilities in the clean-up of Ogoniland. We totally oppose this.
“Belema Oil is Shell’s new ploy to betray the Ogoni cause. It is intended to stymie the communities’ collective bargaining power. We align with Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other Ogoni groups that believe that only an Ogoni congress can speak for the people who are yet to fully recover from the years of untold hardship visited on them by Shell and the federal government of Nigeria”.
Ojo said that Ogoni oil must remain underground as a global metaphor for leaving the oil in the soil due to the environmental and social toll on human life, and as a response to climate change.
The ERA/FoEN boss asked that Shell be stopped from evading the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report and made to commence immediate cleaning and remediation of the Niger Delta by the establishment of $100 billion dollars restoration fund.
“Shell must be held accountable for the decades of its environmental human rights abuses in Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta. Aside from halting this backdoor deal, officials of the company said to have a stake in Belema Oil must also be investigated to determine how much they have done to frustrate the implementation of the UNEP report through their Shell-run oil company that seeks to put potential profit first before people and the environment,” Ojo said.
From a political dimension, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Campaign Organisation, Rivers State chapter, has said it has uncovered a plot by certain Ogoni people acting on behalf of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Dakuku Peterside, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, and Senator Magnus Abe “to further mortgage the future of the Ogonis by contracting its oil wells to another drilling company, Belema Oil”.
The new oil company, owned by a Rivers indigene from Kalabari is said to have finalised the purchase of Ogoni oil blocks from Shell and will resume production soon.
The PDP, in a statement from the office of the chairman, media and publicity, PDP Campaign Organisation, Emma Okah, regretted that the degradation and pollution caused by reckless oil exploration in Ogoni by Shell is yet to be cleansed as recommended in the UNEP report, which President Goodluck Jonathan promised to implement in the first quarter of 2015.
The party regretted further that despite this hope, “certain individuals and cronies of the state government are hell-bent on contracting the Ogoni oil to another driller”.
Insisting that Ogoni remains unsafe for any oil operation until the polluted Ogoni land is thoroughly cleaned up, the PDP observed that the only reason and concern of those involved in the secret deal with the new company was to “raise enough funds for Senator Magnus Abe’s political campaign and by extension, the APC in the state”.
But more disturbing and frightening, the PDP further alleged, is the complicity of the current MOSOP president, Legborsi Pyagbara, who the party said had not hidden his partisanship and sympathy for the APC with whom Belema Oil Company has struck the deal.
PDP went further to say that in the face of the foregoing, it had no doubt that the legitimate demands and feelings of the majority of Ogoni people who sacrificed their lives to stop the inhuman devastation of their land by Shell had been compromised.
It alleged that the sum of N30 million was paid to Pyagbara to support the entry of Belema into Ogoni.
While not standing against the resumption of oil exploration in Ogoni, the PDP believes only an all-round representative forum of Ogoni people comprising traditional and political leaders, opinion leaders, youth leaders and all several other stakeholders of Ogoni could decide which company would take over from Shell according to agreed conditions profitable to Ogoni people.
Meanwhile, an Ogoni national congress organised under the auspices of MOSOP was held on Saturday, February 7, 2015 at the Peace and Freedom Centre, Bori-Ogoni.
Over 5,000 participants from all the strata of Ogoni society attended the congress, which included traditional rulers, community representatives, women groups, professionals, politicians, youths, and members of the media.
It received a report from the president of MOSOP, Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, on the review of the situation of Ogoni and deliberated on key issues and matters that have implications on the people including the forthcoming general elections, implementation of the UNEP report and issues relating to divestment and the resumption of oil production in the area.
After the deliberations, the congress decried the slow pace of the implementation of the UNEP report and called on the Federal Government to immediately put into action the implementation of the report on Ogoniland, which it has officially and publicly announced would commence January 2015.
The council condemned the purported declaration by some Ogoni chiefs approving the resumption of oil production in Ogoniland, without consultation with the different sectors of Ogoni
community to promote transparency, inclusiveness and the effective participation of the citizenry.
It appealed to Ogoni youths to remain peaceful but vigilant and avoid all attempts to derail the peace and order in the area.