Governor Amaechi and the War on Ogoni - by Charles Wiwa
Published 21 August 2012
"Our Lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
These were Martin Luther King Jr's summation on the injustice suffered by Blacks in America during the Civil Rights era. To many, such an era may be a thing of the past & history, and better imagined; but as of fact, some of the lives lived today in the 21st century are worse than the treatment or freedom enjoyed by domestic pets, particularly in Africa. Ironically, nations like Nigeria that boast of being sovereign and endowed with natural resources treat their citizens in sub-human conditions, thus placing such nations and their citizens at the mercy of other more serious minded polities.
Ogoni had existed independently as a sub African unit before federalism was imposed on the varied nationalities forced into what is Nigeria today. This coercion was for the benefit of British explorers who later colonized, exploited the nation's resources and Balkanized the people along ethnic lines. No doubt, there were, and there is still no contractual agreement signed by these groups to remain under the federation and, especially according to rules that are favorable to them. It is well known that when constitutions of Nigeria were either written or are revised even today, the major ethnic groups have used same old colonial methods of majority rule in selecting those that write the laws of the country without giving due prominence to the peculiar circumstances, sensibilities and sensitivities of the minority members of the federation. Such laws have, hence, not protected the minority groups, which are never adequately represented. One display of this imbalance is in the disproportionate number of states that make up the federation as more states have always been created for the majority ethnic groups at the expense of resources from the minority tribes. There is inequality in every sense and about everything Nigeria.
Minority agitation started immediately Nigeria gained independence from Britain, and it led to the creation of the Willinks Commission on Minority Concerns - recommendations from which have not been followed till date in spite of their being central today’s agitations and angst among the minorities. The relatively recent Reconciliation Commission headed by retired Justice Oputa has also failed. Aggrieved persons were denied the opportunity of telling their stories, neither were they listened to. Reconciliation remains a collective responsibility of all parties concerned, not an imposed statement on people who are exploited by the system. Ogoni agitation holds nothing against other ethnic nations in Nigeria. It calls for the re-awakening of all and for government to fairly share resources and improve the lives of citizens. The cardinal focus of the Ogoni Bill of Rights is Political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people; Right to the control and use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development; adequate and direct representation as of right in all federal institutions; the use and development of Ogoni languages in Nigeria territory; the full development of Ogoni culture; right to religious freedom; & the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation. These solemn demand were submitted to the Federal Government in 1990 and what the Ogoni people received was military occupation, maiming, rape, detention, torture, razing of villages, killing of unarmed citizens, judicial murder of their leaders and forced exile of activists.
1990-2012 is enough time for any serious government to look into the concerns of its people. Ogoni people remain the most peaceful people in Nigeria. During the Nigeria military occupation periods in Ogoniland, no security agent, visitor, or staff of the oil companies was reported beaten or killed. They remained calm when four of their leaders were mysteriously killed by government agents at Giokoo on May 21, 1993, and another nine framed up and hanged by the government on November 10, 1995. Everyone must have mistaken this civility of the Ogoni for stupidity. The Ogoni have watched their leaders threatened and silenced by authorities and made to speak for the government, not the people. A(n) (s)elected governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi has demonstrated his hatred for the Ogoni and Ogoniland by throwing the Ogoni flag down on Ogoni day and promising the people a plantain and banana plantation. The governor has proven how tough he thinks he is by seizing sizable land in Ogoni territory for his plantain project by a Mexican Agro company - Union De Iniciativa S.A De C.A. Mr. Amaechi appears to be the only person in Rivers State who fails to know that the Ogoni people are in dire need of land. 400 sq miles occupied by over half a million people gives an average of 1300 per sq mile as against Nigeria's national average of 300 per sq mile. Records have it that the Ogoni people gave lands to the Niger Delta Basin Development Authorities and the School-to-Land project. None of these lands has been returned to original owners after the projects failed. Can someone help tell this land-grabbing governor that Ogoni has no land for mortgage? Sadly, this ego project by Mr. Governor has led to deaths of land owners. Amaechi, as the chief security officer of the state, has failed to protect the lives of peaceful Ogonis. I read in the Nigerian dailies that one of the governor's stooges, without an investigation, announced that those who died in Sogho were as a result of cult rivalry. Human lives mean less to this serving governor especially as they resulted from an opposition to his dream project for Ogoni. Every life counts, and if this governor had been killed while defending his father's farm as a youth, there would have been no Governor Rotimi Amaech today. Better still, if one of the dead were his child or sibling, the Governor would have received the sympathy of the State. Records show that the Rivers State Government has signed an agreement with the Mexican agro firm on percentile of shares while the owners of these farmlands are set against each other and against their will. If this company means well, they will seek to have one-on-one interaction with the land owners and not a third party land grabbing governor.
Recently, the governor of Rivers State vowed to drive Goodluck Diigbo, a factional leader of MOSOP into the bush for declaring autonomy for his Ogoni people. Amaechi is not the first governor of Rivers State that has worked against its citizens; Dauda Komo also played to the script of the multi-national oil companies. Amaechi is no exception but he stands before history, his legacy of insecurity, kidnappings, cult rivalry, land grabbing, total lack of development and political naivety can be attested to by the absence of the basic infrastructures of life like water, electricity, housing, recreation centers and food. The governor has surrounded himself with advisers who know little about government and development, hence, the governor misconstrues autonomy for secession or independence. Autonomy as declared by Mr Diigbo and demanded in the Ogoni Bill of Rights is simply a system in which a sub-group has control over its own cultural, economic, domestic & political affairs in recognition of their historical distinction. The Ogoni people are, indeed, fed up with non-working systems and poised on governing themselves. Nigeria, above all, owes the Ogoni people a State of their own where their resources will be used in developing Ogoni. Governor Amaechi should not fret; Ogoni autonomy will not reduce his status as governor. The UN General Assembly during the 107th plenary meeting on September 13th, 2007 gave credence to Indigenous Peoples rights. Art 3 of the resolution reads Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Nigeria remains a member of the UN and this resolution is binding on all members.
I sincerely thank honorable members of the 3rd Rivers State House of Assembly who, on April 6th 1993, indicted Shell Oil for environmental degradation of Ogoniland and called on Shell, NNPC & Chevron Nigeria Ltd to:
1. pay a total of 18billion pounds sterling, representing royalties on petroleum mining in Ogoni since 1958
2. stop flaring gas in Ogoniland
3. take urgent and effective measures to stop further environmental hazards by burying all pressure oil pipelines which are currently exposed; and
4. pay 4 billion pounds sterling as compensation for environmental pollution & ecological degradation in the area and agree with Ogoni representatives of the Ogoni people on acceptable terms for continued exploration for, and exploitation of, oil in the area.
Speaker of the House was Hon Tuesday Kemeagbeye. To this day, no one has an update on the above resolution by an unbiased Assembly. Gov Rotimi Amaechi, as the Chief Executiveof Rivers State, owes the Ogoni people an explanation on who received this money or why the indicted firms have not paid. Such compensatory sum must be paid to an Ogoni Trust and kept in an escrow account for the development of Ogoni. During a time of war with Shell Oil, rather than stand with the people of the State, Gov Amaechi is holding meetings with select Ogoni on how Shell will resume oil operations in Ogoni. My guess is that when the governor's meetings fail, he will resort to same old tactics of driving citizens into the bush in order to allow the exploiting Shell drill Ogoni oil.There is no better duty to a citizen than respect and freedom. This, Gov Rotimi Amaechi has denied the Ogoni people.
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