A new threat from Ogoni land

2012-08-10
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper


‘Ogoni people want attention, but do not support autonomy declaration’

PENULTIMATE Thursday, one of the leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Dr. Goodluck Diigbo, declared political autonomy for Ogoni people of Nigeria.

The self-styled MOSOP president cum spokesman stressed that by this declaration of political autonomy, the Ogoni people of Rivers State are determined to enforce the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, without fear or retreat.

In a swift reaction, the Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi, who had in 2009 cautioned and threatened to arrest Diigbo for parading himself as leader of MOSOP, described the declaration as not only treasonable, but untenable.

Similarly, MOSOP provisional Council led by Prof. Ben Naanen, a one-time president of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) and a founding member of MOSOP, has expressed dismay at the declaration, insisting that at no time did the Ogoni people take any decision to set up a sovereign nationhood.

In a statement sent by email to The Guardian, Diigbo, who resides in The Netherlands, purportedly made the declaration through a live broadcast on a newly set up radio station: Voice of Ogoni.

The Guardian inquiries could not establish a pirate radio station presently in existence in Ogoni nor in the entire Rivers State. Even in Ogoni, there are no MOSOP flags flying even though Diigbo’s group has posted one on the net.

Diigbo, who was once the President of National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP) and one of Ogoni activists declared wanted by the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s junta, asserted that the self-government within Nigeria which the Ogoni seek will secure for the people, their indigenous rights, enable them to meet their needs and interests and finally end internal colonialism.

He hinged the reason for the urgency of self-government on concerns that in the absence of a responsive government, that the indigenous people of Ogoni will continue to suffer from historic injustices inflicted on them by the Nigerian state.

Diigbo explained the laborious bottom-to-top approach of electing their lawmakers to run Ogoni.

He explained that the lawmakers in turn elected the executive arm of the Ogoni Central Indigenous Authority (OCIA) with checks and balances inbuilt to ensure corruption-free, effective, efficient and answerable system of grassroots self-government instead of the old, corrupt and mismanaged local council system endured by the Ogoni for decades.

Diigbo noted that in taking these measures, his group was quite aware of the discomfort to about 56 local politicians that control local council politics in Ogoni. However, his faction of MOSOP cares more about the 1.2 million people that have for too long been excluded.

He announced that a Transitional Committee was already set up to facilitate dialogue to ensure peaceful transition, within 30 days, while consultation with the national government and international community begins without delay.

Diigbo who described the Ogoni as law-abiding and nonviolent people, emphasised that the declaration was a legitimate right of the people to reclaim all of their rights, without exception.

The MOSOP leader who was the governorship candidate of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) in the 2011 general elections, warned that for the sake of peace and security, let no one test the collective will of the Ogoni people, because they would not surrender their indigenous rights anymore.

In concluding his declaration, Diigbo said: “Now, therefore, acting on the General Assembly mandate on the questions relating to the political autonomy of Ogoni in southern Nigeria, and in the spirit of the General Assembly motion DPA/001/2012, and its resolutions DPA/002/2012 and DPA/003/2012 adopted and approved on July 31, 2012; in accordance with the wishes of the Ogoni people contained in the Ogoni Bill of Rights of August 26, 1990 as revised on August 26, 1991; expressing the collective will of the good people of Ogoni in the referendum of 2010 and the second referendum of 2011, obeying the command by the Ogoni people and their elected representatives from 33 district councils, comprising over 272 village councils, living in the six kingdoms of Ogoni, namely: Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Kenkhana, Nyokhana and Tai and two administrative units: Ban Goi and the Bori National Territory; conducting this solemn affair in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 13, 2007, guided by the purposes and principles of international law in accordance with the United Nations Charter, I, Dr. Goodluck Diigbo, hereby make this historic statement, to announce the proclamation of this General Assembly Declaration of Political Autonomy for the self-determination or self-government of the Ogoni people within Nigeria, today, August 2, 2012. So declared, and so be it; for the advancement of liberty in freedom and the preservation of the ancestral heritage of the Ogoni people.”

Reacting to this development, Governor Amaechi said the declaration by Diigbo is not tenable, as nations are not declared on the pages of newspapers or radio stations.

Asked if he would order the arrest of Diigbo, Amaechi said that would merely popularised the man and enhance the free flow of cash from international donors for his non-governmental organisation.

“Let the man who declared autonomy come out on the road and see whether he will get autonomy. You know it’s not tenable. You know the man will do nothing. The man will run into the bush tomorrow,“ he said.

In reaction to the governor’s assertion, Diigbo quoted the UN article that supports the rights of indigenous people to self-determination.

He argued: “In Article 34, indigenous peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards.”

Diigbo explained that the governor was wrong on this issue: “We did not take Amaechi is ill-informed and trying to create security problems where they do not exist. It is this type of politicians that account for the violent bloodshed and lack of effective governance in Nigeria,” he said.

He continued: “I think Amaechi needs proper advice on international matters. It is also because of international instruments that citizens who want to live in organised society are able to aspire to self-government, freedom and to organise and subordinate their rights. You cannot pick and chose certain aspects of civilisation and corruptly opt for primitivism as you deem fit.”

Constitutional lawyer of the Niger Delta extraction residing in Lagos, Chris W. A. Akiri, sees the proclamation of the Ogoni as altruistic and disagrees that the action is tantamount to treasonable felony.

He told The Guardian: “The self-governing status which Ogoniland declared on August 2, 2012, is not synonymous with secession (when a group becomes independent from the country or larger group to which it belongs) or a declaration of independence, which implies absolute freedom from the political stranglehold or suzerainty of another country.

“In the Declaration, the Ogoni leaders unequivocally stated that they were declaring a self-governing status or freedom from control by any other government, state or Federal, in the realms of socio-political, economic and cultural affairs of their homeland within the framework of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Akiri added: “When in 1957, 1958 and 1959 Western Region, Eastern Region and Northern Region respectively attained a self-governing status from the United Kingdom, they did not thereby become independent states because they became self-governing within the framework of the Nigerian State.

“Self-government (or the government or control of a state or country by its own people, not by others), the status which the first three regions in Nigeria attained in above-stated years is to be distinguished from what Nigeria attained (political manumission from the yoke of British imperialism) on October 1, 1960. When the defunct Western, Eastern and Northern regions became self-governing, they continued to owe allegiance to the British Crown; when the Regions became independent as a collectivity in 1960, they became a separate country from the UK. That, quite clearly, is not the intendment of the Ogoni Declaration.

“The catalyst for the Ogoni Declaration was the cynical dishonesty and rank insensitivity of successive Federal and state governments, which, in cahoots with multinationals, have foisted untold grief on Ogoniland, in particular, and the Niger Delta region, in general.”

He said: “The observation of Richard Steiner, a professor and conservation biologists, summarises the raison d’ętre for the Ogoni Declaration. According to this renowned polyglot, ‘the Niger Delta is tragically the most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystem I have seen anywhere in the world.’

“Section 20 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, provides that, ‘the State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife in Nigeria.’”

Akiri said the declaration was in order given the rape of the Niger Delta region by the oil-only seeking government. He cited several UN treaties and charters that support self-determination of any minority group that feels threatened within a larger state.

Akiri stated: “Additionally, Article 1 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, a UN treaty to which Nigeria is a signatory, provides that ‘all people have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’

“Those egging on President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to deploy the armed forces to Ogoniland while feverishly preaching against a violent approach to the terrorism in the North are sick people. What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for another’s gander. They want President Jonathan to wage war in two disparate fronts and then lose both! At any rate, why should the military go and kill Ogoni people and not the Boko haramites?” he asked.

The leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujaheed Dokubo-Asari, protagonist in the call for convocation of a sovereign national conference, where every ethnic nationality would discuss the terms of existence of the country, has also backed Diigbo’s action.

Dokubo said: “The Ogonis have done theirs and every other ethnic group should follow suit. Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, does not understand the dynamics of the struggle. If he ties the Ogoni down, will he tie the hands of other groups? The right to secession is there.”

On their part, MOSOP Provisional Council chairman, and secretary, Naanen and Dr. Meshach Karanwi, said they received with dismay the purported declaration of “Ogoni Autonomy Day” by Diigbo.

The duo who took over from the former MOSOP president, Ledum Mitee’s executive, said Diigbo had earlier this year falsely claimed that the Ogoni people had voted for autonomy in a referendum. Whereas, at no time did the Ogoni people take any decision to establish a sovereign nationhood.

“The Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) is clear on the aspiration of Ogoni people in Nigeria. The Ogoni, according to OBR, want adequate representation in all the institutions of the Nigerian state as a matter of right. They want their economic, social and political rights to be protected in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A people aspiring to sovereignty cannot also be asking for representation at the same time,” they said.

MOSOP Provisional Council recalled that Bori, the headquarters of the Ogoni people, has been put under tension since Tuesday, July 31, 2012 by groups of young men armed with automatic and other dangerous weapons.

These young men, the council claimed, are connected to the factional MOSOP. These youths were said to have attacked the Peace and Freedom Centre (MOSOP Complex) in Bori, causing considerable destruction while the workers of the centre suffered various degrees of injury. The attack was said to be a prelude to their celebration of the so-called “Ogoni Autonomy Day” on Thursday, August 2.

“Mr. Diigbo had earlier sent messages that businesses and offices in Bori should be shut in observance of the day. On that day, rampaging gangs of misled youths tried to enforce Diigbo’s order through violence. But they were successfully engaged by law enforcement agencies which ensured that law-abiding citizens and property were protected,” said the council.

The council has therefore called on government to take lawful measures to check Diigbo’s anti-state activities and protect lives and property in Ogoni as these cult boys remain an enduring threat to peace in the Bori area and other parts of Ogoni.

“Ogoni people are dissatisfied with their condition in our country, Nigeria. But they do not believe the sovereign option is the answer. They are convinced that their non-violent struggle and the support of the international community will eventually make the Nigerian government respond positively to Ogoni’s legitimate demands. One of these key demands is the creation of Bori State. Another is the effective implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoni,” they said.

The council stressed that it is a fact of history that anti-state and atavistic movements such as the one that Diigbo is trying to create, feed on social and economic discontent. Adding further: “Let the Nigerian state not allow such a tendency to spread in Ogoni through neglect. MOSOP, therefore, calls on the government to end the economic and social exclusion of Ogoni.”

Ogoni Solidarity Front leader, Celestine Akpobari, dismissed the declaration as an act propelled by narcissism or better still, personal aggrandisement.

He told The Guardian that the August 2 date chosen by Diigbo has no bearing in Ogoni history. According to him, the only days recognised by the Ogoni are January 4 each year when they mark the Ogoni Day and November 10, which is set aside as the Martyrs’ Day.

Akpobari said the declaration by Diigbo lacks support from majority of Ogoni people who are though disgruntled with their situation within the Nigerian state.

He recalled that when late environmentalist cum writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, suggested the boycott of the June 12, 1993 general elections, he consulted widely and got the support of the six Ogoni kingdoms, which unanimously rectified the decision in Bori.

“Diigbo’s declaration was basically an internet declaration. You cannot stay in far away The Netherlands and pronounce autonomy on behalf of over one million people, without even discussing with them. If you go to the streets of Bori, people are not aware of this,” he said.

It would be recalled that in 1990, the people of Ogoni presented the OBR to the government and people of Nigeria, in which the Ogoni nonviolently demanded among other indigenous rights, political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the Republic as a distinct and separate indigenous unit (by whatever name called), provided that this autonomy guarantees political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people.

The Ogoni Civil Society Platform (OCSP) convener, Mike Karikpo, told The Guardian in Port Harcourt that Diigbo’s declaration is not new, rather it was merely a reiteration and reinforcement of the demands contained in the OBR.

Karikpo asserted that the declaration is not tantamount to treasonable felony.

On this issue, the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) is totally in support of Diigbo’s declaration for the Ogoni people.

PRONACO’s spokesman, Olawale Okunniyi, in a statement said: “The time has come for the indigenous peoples and federating units in Nigeria to deliver their peoples and territories from the pilfering and violent centralised structure operating in the country.”

It said the declaration of self- determination and political autonomy was long awaited and the only way to go for the Nigerian federating peoples, “since the predatory political cartel in the country is not willing to allow the Nigerian people negotiate and agree the terms of their well being at a national conference.”

Ogoni territory lies on 404 square miles off the coastal plain terraces to the North-east of River Niger.

Professor of Philosophy and Legal Consultant, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Friday Ndubuisi explained that the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a union, with a constitution that is binding on every Nigerian irrespective of ethic group, language and religion.

“We have the President that is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Any attempt by any person or any part of the country to declare a country other than the Nigerian federation will amount to violation of the provisions of both the letters and the spirit of the law,” he said.

Ndubuisi added that there are always moral issues in this type of issue that should not be overlooked, citing the UNEP report that wants the oil pollution in Ogoniland to be cleaned up but which Shell has not done. And the government has done nothing about it.

Ndubuisi, who is also the Head of Philosophy Department, however, said that it is not for the Federal Government to keep quiet on the Declaration.

“Many Nigerians are not comfortable with the silence, because it is like allowing room for a small situation to develop into a complex one…There is no way the people can keep quiet when their land is polluted and the wealth from their land used to develop other places...”

Professor of Political Science, UNILAG, Derin Ologbenla is of the opinion that the Ogoni might be creating unnecessary problems for themselves and the Federal Government by declaring autonomy that is not granted in the law.

According to him, the people have no legitimate claim on negligence by the government, “as they are having their fair share of government’s attention.”

Ologbenla noted that the Federal Government and Shell in respect of the UNEP report are in the process of cleaning the environment.

His words: “The Federal Government has pumped a lot of money into the Niger Delta region, a lot on ecological fund and Amnesty for the militants, so they are having their fair share of government’s revenue.

“President Goodluck Jonathan has got a lot on his hands and self-autonomy is a distraction for the government. The country is facing serious problems with insecurity. The foreigners are afraid to establish anything in the South South or anywhere in the country...

“Under the Federal Government, they have no such right. People like Isaac Adaka Boro and Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu had done the same thing before and they failed.

“If at all they have grievances, they should channel them through the National or state Assemblies or even through their state government…” Ologbenla said.

Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UNILAG branch, Dr. Karo Ogbinaka, however, argued the Ogonis “have not gotten the right deal from the Nigerian State.”

“For instance, in the siting of Federal projects, one would have expected that a major Federal Medical Centre, a refinery and industrial park among others be sited in that region to show the Federal presence. The Ogoni have contributed more to the national economy, but how many of them are ministers or in key positions to really influence meaningful contributions in their area?

“A people have the right to autonomy as far as it is within the ambience of the law. With the thieving going on in the oil sector, without benefit for the people suffering the exploration, then the Ogoni have a right and they should be taken seriously.”




 

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