11 August 2012

Nigeria: Ogoni Land - When Political Autonomy Beckons


In the evolution of human societies, certain moments, movements, convictions and ideals often mesh to rescript the destiny of particular ethnic groups. These outcomes are usually decided not by the size of the groups but by the size of their resolve.

The chemistry of this complex change is usually provoked by instincts of group survival, rejection of an existing order or just the timeless human urge for self-determination. History is replete with examples of this phenomenon. Against this background, the August 2 declaration of political autonomy by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, led by Mr. GoodluckDiigbo is a milestone that perhaps should not be lightly written off.

Aware of the general and specific implications of this proclamation, the MOSOP leadership quickly clarified the status of Ogoni'sdeclaration. According to Diigbo, the Ogoni had not resolved to pull out of the Nigerian federation."It is internal autonomy, which means self-government within Nigeria in accordance with the United Nations declaration on rights of indigenous peoples."

In further submission, he stated that MOSOP was forced to declare internal autonomy for the Ogoni nation because of the level of devastation and neglect of Ogoniland, adding that with the declaration, his people had the choice of either remaining part of the nation or pulling out completely, but that at the moment, they had resolved to remain in the country.

His words: "Ogoni people are in a very difficult situation right now. The land has been totally devastated as a result of 55 years of petroleum operations, so it becomes very urgent because if you want to talk about anything concerning the land, to the Ogoni people it is not just land but life and also god," he said."We should remain part of Nigeria; we are not saying we are out of Nigeria. We have a choice as part of this declaration to be part of it or out of it and at this moment, we are part of Nigeria."'

The studied effort to explain to Nigeria its recent declaration suggests the leadership of MOSOP has a good idea of the meaning of this opening gambit on the delicate keyboards of the Nigerian state. Nigeria's recent, post-independence reminds all of the consequences of ethnic nationalism.

According to ex-military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, Biafran revolt was provoked by ethnic nationalism. Although, the incidence of this phenomenon appear muted, underneath the fire of this passionate urge exists in many of the tribes that make up contemporary Nigeria.

They only need fertile grounds to manifest. Has this seed of secession been sowed in Ogoniland? Has Ogoni taken a faithful step on the pathway of sovereignty or is this a mere flight of fancy? What will be the reaction of a state besieged by crisis, to this move? In time, the answers will unravel. Read on...

LEADERSHIP WEEKEND's ANAYO ONUKWUGHA captures the story of Ogoni land and the anatomy of an incipient 'secessionist' move by a people seared by flame of government exploitation, neglect, hopelessness and death. He further explores what the implications of this fight-back, a project that has already been welcomed by divisions within its rank will be.

Ogoniland, made up of Eleme, Khana, Gokana and Tai local government areas of Rivers State, with its traditional capital in Bori, became part of international map in 1995 when nine of its prominent sons were sentenced to death and subsequently hanged over an alleged murder of another four prominent sons of the area. The rest is now history.

Attention of the international community was shifted to the people of Ogoni in August last year when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) submitted its report on the environmental assessment of Ogoniland to President Goodluck Jonathan.

The refusal of the federal government to implement the recommendations of the UNEP report continued to attract the attention of both local and international civil society organisations, who had not relented in mounting pressure on the government to act fast, considering the level of devastation caused to the environment by activities of multi-national oil and gas companies operating in the area.

On August 2, 2012, when the people of Ogoni were preparing to mark the first anniversary of the presentation of the UNEP report to the federal government, a faction of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by Mr. GoodluckDiigbo, declared political autonomy for the people of Ogoni.

Diigbo was president of the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP), the youth wing of MOSOP at a time when the late environmentalist, KenuleSaro-Wiwa was president of the pan-Ogoniorganisation.

Though the factional leader was not physically present at the Peace and Freedom Centre, Bori for the declaration, a statement signed by one TombariDeekor quoted Diigbo as saying, "By this declaration of political autonomy, we, the Ogoni people, are determined to enforce the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples without fear or retreat.

"We are concerned that in the absence of a responsive government, the indigenous people of Ogoni will continue to suffer from historic injustices. In order to make indigenous rights practicable in Ogoni, we have, through a very transparent electoral college process, beginning with community by community elections, set up 272 village councils, while the village councils in turn elected representatives for 33 district councils, and the district representatives went on to elect representatives to serve at the centre as custodians of customs and traditions, otherwise called lawmakers.

"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 government system endured by the Ogoni for decades.

"In taking these measures, we are quite aware of the discomfort to about 56 local politicians that control local government politics in Ogoni; however, we care more about the 1.2 million people that have for too long been excluded."

Citing the urgency at recognising the need to arrive at a consensus to collectively review the disputed UNEP report for the declaration, the factional MOSOP leader 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.

Reacting to the declaration, the MOSOP Provisional Council (MPC), a care-taker committee that runs the affairs of the government-recognised faction of MOSOP, said that the people of Ogoni had at no time taken any decision to establish a sovereign nationhood, and expressed dismay over the purported declaration of Ogoni autonomy by Diigbo.

In a statement signed by the council chairman and secretary, Professor Ben Naanen and Dr Meshach Karanwi, the MPC said, "MOSOP has received with dismay, the purported declaration of "Ogoni Autonomy Day" by Mr. GoodluckDiigbo. He had earlier this year falsely claimed that the Ogoni people had voted for autonomy in a referendum. 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.

"It will be 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 are connected to Mr. Diigbo.

"They attacked the Peace and Freedom Centre (MOSOP Complex) in Bori, causing considerable destruction while the staff of the centre suffered various degrees of injury. The attack was a prelude to their celebration of the so-called "Ogoni Autonomy Day" on Thursday, August 2.

"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.

"It has to be noted that these armed youths are mostly cult members who come from Diigbo's community, which is close to Bori, a fact that makes it easy for them to operate in the town. MOSOP is calling on the government to take lawful measures to check GoodluckDiigbo'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.

"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. 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.

"At this point it is necessary to correct the erroneous impression that GoodluckDiigbo is a factional president of MOSOP. The Ogoni people recognise one MOSOP body, which is currently under the interim leadership of MOSOP Provisional Council, headed by Professor Ben Naanen."

To the Rivers State governor, ChibuikeRotimiAmaechi, the declaration of a self government for Ogoniland was a treasonable felony as Diigbo, who made the declaration "would flee if security agencies made moves to question him."

Amaechi said: "On Ogoni autonomy, I wish them well. Ogoni autonomy is not achievable. The man (Diigbo) who declared Ogoni autonomy will run into the bush tomorrow morning. What Diigbo is doing is treasonable felony. You do not declare autonomy on the pages of newspapers and magazines, or on radio and television."

For Mr. Blessing Wikina, an indigene of Kono community in Khana local government area of the state and the immediate past chief press secretary to the governor, those who made the declaration are dreamers. He insisted that those behind the declaration of self government in Ogoniland had succeeded in reducing the intellectual fight started by late Ken Saro-Wiwa to a mere gathering of clowns.

Wikina said, "Diigbo and his followers are just dreamers. We are in a democracy. How can you declare self government without having the necessary infrastructures in place. This goes a long way to show that Diigbo and his cohorts who are fighting for the creation of Ogoni State are not serious-minded people.

"They have turned the entire Ogoni struggle into a thing of mockery. In fact, they have succeeded in reducing the intellectual fight started by late Ken Saro-Wiwa into a gathering of clowns."

To Comrade Celestine Akpobari, coordinator of the Ogoni Solidarity Front (OSF), a pro-Ogoni civil society group, the declaration of political autonomy for Ogoni was a sign of more troubles for the people of the area.

Akpobari said, "Ogoni people have been pushed to the wall by the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the oil companies operating on our land. Last Saturday marked one year of the report of a death sentence passed on the entire livelihood of the Ogoni people, yet the government of Nigeria had maintained a criminal silence until recently it set up a committee to look into the report.

"The declaration of Ogoni autonomy on August 2nd may be part of the struggle but not the one widely anticipated by the entire Ogoni people. The declaration is an early morning signal of impending troubles that may be coming up from Ogoni axis either soon or in the future.

"But I must say that it was a mere internet declaration. But if it had gotten the support of the six kingdom of Ogoniland, if it had gotten the support of the entire Ogoni people, by now the government of Nigeria and oil companies would be struggling on what action to take.

"It is high time the government and Shell began to provide answers to the atrocities they have committed in Ogoniland. It is time government returned royalties to the Ogoni people. It is also time government carried out developmental projects in Ogoni.

Finally, land-grabbing by the current governor of Rivers State in the name of banana plantation must stop."

To Hon. Dum Ade John Budam, secretary-general of MOSOP in the Diigbo-led faction, the declaration of self government was in obedience with the command of the people as well as their elected representatives, comprising over 272 village councils that make up the five kingdoms and two administrative units in Ogoniland.

Budam said, "The declaration of our political autonomy was in obedience with 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.

"What we did was also in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the 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.

"The elected representatives who supported this declaration of political autonomy for the Ogoni people have bitterly complained that the present system of local government in Nigeria does not allow them the freedom to govern according to the wishes of the people."

Perhaps unruffled by the reactions of a section of the people of Ogoni on the declaration, Diigbo said the declaration was in the spirit of the General Assembly motion as well as its resolutions as adopted and approved on July 31, 2012, in accordance with the contents of the Ogoni Bill of Rights of August 26, 1990 as revised on August 26, 1991.

He said, "We acted 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 and its resolutions, adopted and approved on July 31, 2012. We also acted in accordance with the wishes of the Ogoni people contained in the Ogoni Bill of Rights of 26 August, 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.

"Despite the fact that the Nigerian constitution and other laws and policies provide for a local government system, in reality, the local government constitutional provisions meant to extend the principle of federalism to its logical conclusion, by bringing the government to the grassroots level, do not apply in Ogoniland as a result of corruption and public deception by local and state political actors and the lack of enforcement of the shaky Nigerian constitution by the federal government."

Diigbo disclosed that already, village elected representatives had begun meetings with local politicians, aimed at achieving a smooth transitional programme in Ogoniland.

"Already, 2,720 elected village council members and 66 district representatives began meetings with local politicians on Monday, August 6, 2012 after the thanksgiving on Sunday, August 5, 2012 to mark our Self-Government Declaration. There may be distractions, but Ogoni self-government cannot be derailed," he said.

What is not clear, however, is if the Diigbo-led faction of MOSOP would succeed in this effort without being arrested by security agents, the Rivers State governor having publicly declared their action as treasonable felony. And they do not enjoy the blessing of the group's provisional council nor that of its third faction, formed on July 30, 2012 by a group of aggrieved coordinators. Only time will tell.

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