Much has been said about the cleanup of Ogoniland, which was flagged off recently by President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented at the event by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. But will this clean up bring hope and assuage the devastated environment, guest contributor, SAMUEL OROVWUJE gives an insight in this piece.
‘Leaders… too many corporations seem disconnected from the value of our country… all investment is an act of faith and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run there is no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character’ – President GW Bush.
The clean-up campaign in response to 2011 United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP report on Ogoniland marked a potential shift from previous governments’ management of the issue of the fragile ecosystem and sustainable development in the Niger Delta and it is indeed a remarkable achievement in itself, a product of an unprecedented non-violent struggle by the Ogoni people geared toward redressing of socio-economic crimes by the Nigerian state through the unwholesome oil exploration by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC.
Interestingly, after more than five decades of oil production in Nigeria, this political symbolism for environmental justice has brought a new wave of hope to Ogoniland and by extension the Niger Delta people. Yet it is still a moment of somewhat tempered optimism for the minorities of minorities. President Buhari, with his electioneering campaigns is walking on an uncommon tight rope of balancing various interests while aiming with an eagle eye to fulfil his party’s ambitious change of social engineering, which include cracking down on corruption and diversification of the economy amongst others.
As laudable as the Ogoni cleanup appears, the key questions remains: Does the government at the centre have the political and the moral capital and indeed capability to resolve the fundamental issues of oil exploration and exploitation that drove the region into almost five decades of under development and environmental degradation?
Pointedly, the Niger Delta serves as a host community to Nigeria’s vast oil and infrastructure of 30 oil fields, 5,284 wells, and 7,000 kilometers of pipeline, 10 export terminals, 275 flow stations, 10 gas plants, 4 refineries and a massive liquefied natural gas, LPG sector.
This perhaps underscores the strategic importance of the region to national development and the core issues of authentic reconciliation should be pursued by the federal government in line with the new threat from the Niger Delta Avengers with a view to avoiding further collateral damage and breach of peace in the volatile region.
Indeed the Ogoni people and Niger delta region has often been read as an inevitable outcome of historically warring people or portrayed as militants, agitators, extremists,secessionists, and more recently economic terrorist and criminal groups in disagreement with the Nigerian State. Sadly, these interpretations are simplistic and misleading. For an understanding of the historiography of the Ogoni Struggle and indeed the clean up, it is useful to start with July 30 1958, the Willinks Commission report of the British Colonial administration, which inquire into the fears of Nigerian minorities with a view to assuaging them.
One of the major recommendations of Sir Henry Willink Commission amongst others include, “We suggest that constitutionally it would be necessary to place on concurrent list a new subject which might be ‘The Development of Special Areas’.
It would be open to the Federal Government to announce in the Gazette that certain area has classified as Special and from that moment special plan for its development would become a Federal as well as a Regional responsibility….’ The ‘paradox of plenty’ and ‘resource curse’ has been the bane of the region since independence.
The Ogoni people under MOSOP and the rest of the Niger Delta initially tried to address its grievances through constitutional and political means. However, the killing of the Ogoni 13 and the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa by treacherous military regime of Sanni Abacha, the government failed to pacify majority of Niger Deltans, and instead a feeling of disillusionment and lack of trust in the political leadership grew.
Furthermore, instead of accommodating the legitimate grievances of the Niger Deltans, the government in connivance with the international oil companies and the oil bloc buccaneers responded by implementing a piece meal approach to conflict resolution and more often than not a draconian military intervention, which fuelled the splitter groups across the region become irrepressible.
Despite several attempts at peaceful resolution, no political settlement was found and under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on June 25, 2009 pursuant to section 175 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, a fragile peace deal was brokered through the Amnesty proclamation.
It should be noted that President Yar’Adua acknowledged the implicit failure of previous governments to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the Niger Delta people, which has resulted in militancy and unlawful means of agitation by a section of the population to draw attention to their plight thereby threatening peace, security, good governance and jeopardising the economic well being of the nation.
While acknowledging that criminality in the Niger Delta should not be encouraged under any circumstance particularly the destruction of strategic national assets. However, it is expedient that the government of the Niger Delta states and the ever-present centre must acknowledge the tensions between peace and justice as well as recognise that pragmatism and recent development indicate that justice cannot always claim primacy in nation building efforts.
While impunity for people who have committed the gravest acts of destroying national asset is morally repugnant, sometimes doing a deal with perpetrators is unavoidable and indeed necessary to prevent further conflict and suffering in the land.
Going forward therefore, it is imperative that conflict resolution mechanism necessitates that all options including the pursuit of full amnesty without undue political colourations, must be on table. This insistence ignores the very important deterrence impact of military option, which failed in the past, let alone the fundamental moral considerations and the overbearing negative elite sentiment on true federalism as a critical building block for resource nationalism.
Pointedly, the real strategic options in addition to the cleanup campaign by the federal government should be a sustained peace process, which can be done to accommodate the need for peace with the demand for social-economic justice particularly through the mechanism of deliberate development plan and projects of the region in a holistic manner.
The NDDC and the ministry of the Niger Delta in my view are political sedative. These agencies of government have failed to incorporate the interests and aspirations of the people. Moreover, there has been no peace dividend for the communities, high levels of unemployment prevalent especially among youth and women. More are still displaced and remain mired in poverty, without proper housing and under constant military surveillance.
Finally, it is hoped that the faithful implementation of the UNEP report in Ogoni land will be a sweet-smelling savour for healing broken minds and a foundation stone for restorative justice and authentic reconciliation mechanism for minorities in the Niger Delta and the country at large. Furthermore, policy and legislative reform which include the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, enforcement of the Nigeria local content policy to boost human capital development, the implementation of the Niger Delta master plan and closer integration between national development plans and goals, not least to help improve social protection programmes and address unemployment and a legal framework is urgently needed to enforce socio- economic rights, including affirmative action or a bill of rights for minorities.

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