What are the Ogonis Afraid Of?

An adage by the Ogoni people says, “The evidence that one has been where palm oil is being processed is a chin smeared with palm oil.” The Ogonis have endured both paradox of plenty and situational paradox; they live on oil but their lives are dry. They watch pipelines transfer wealth from beneath them but they are poor. They see flames from chimney burn and brighten their sky, but, their lives are not brightened. Their only reward after more than three decades of oil exploitation is a ruinous environment.

Ogonis do not want to continue to leave their fate in the hands of Nigerian politics. Ogonis has concluded that they amount to a puny percussion in the equation of the nation; no one remembers them when proceeds of oil are shared. Ogonis believed they have left their warfare to chance for too long. As a minority they cannot trust a system that does not guarantee protection for the weak. There is wisdom in the Ogoni philosophy that: your praises cannot be sung if none of your relative happens to be a vocalist.

Ogonis argue that the proceeds from oil added to the coffers of the nation for three decades yet it went unnoticed or unappreciated. They say their environment should not be sacrificed for the sake of profits. They want a fair proportion of the proceeds to be used to better their condition. Ogonis believes that the oil in their land is their only security in a nation where minorities are destined to be voiceless. They are concerned that oil will eventually dry up one day and nobody will ever remember their contributions. Ogoni people are bothered over what becomes their lot when oil is no longer pumped from their backyards. They want to secure their future with their present endowment. This is not rebellion, it is wisdom.

The fears of the Ogonis ought to be understood along the fact of Nigerian fixation on oil. The country has been operating a mono-economy for almost five decades. There had been clamor for a diversification of the economy. The call for the country to come off her fixation on oil and transition to a sustainable multi streams economy has been over flogged. The lack of any clear plan on how to manage the proceeds of crude oil; make host communities like Oloibiri to leak the wounds of environmental bastardization at the end of the day.

Create an Economic Corridor in Ogoni:

President Muhammadu Buhari re-emerged and had muted the idea to diversify the nation’s economy. It therefore behooves his government to with the plan to resume oil production in Ogoni; demonstrate that it is new dawn. It would be a contradiction if Buhari’s government does things the old ways. The plan for oil resumption should also be used to test the sincerity of the economic programme of the All Progressives Congress (APC) highlighted in “Next Level” – the APC’s manifesto.  The APC’s document is so succinct, poignant and ambitious regarding the need to diversify the economy. Its aim is to cause other forms of industrial nodes to be added to the oil and gas industry, it reads as thus:

“The march away from a mono-economy must continue with our focus on an industrialization plan coming to fore. With specific plans underway to exploit the comparative advantage of the geo political zones and different states by developing 6 Industrial Parks and 109 Special Production and Processing Centres (SPPCs) across each senatorial district our incremental move away from oil dependence is assured. In addition, our development of the Special Economic Zones will quickly concretize our Made in Nigeria for Export (MINE) plan.”

The economic programme of the APC boldly recognizes that each senatorial zone should have an economic hub to coordinate the productivity inherent in the area. The Ogonis and three or four other tribes belong to one senatorial district, for which the Ogonis are the largest and centrally located in the Rivers South-east senatorial district.

Perhaps, one should quickly add that it cannot be possible that the ruling party, which Buhari is the leader; anticipated that all 109 senators were going to come from only their own party. This point is necessary in case someone might chose to quickly point out the senatorial district is represented is dominated and represented by another party (People Democratic Party).

The matter here is not about party affiliation; rather it is about governance and development and, as shown above, the APC plan to build sixIndustrial Parks and 109 SPPCs. Although it is not yet articulated or clarified what the government consider as an industrial park or SPPC. But the bits and pieces glean from the APC’s document; it is safe to infer that each senatorial district will have an economic muster point; where different industrial activities will take – in line with the potentials inherent in a senatorial district.

Therefore, the crux of the matter here is to draw the attention of the government to fact an empirical economic plan should be used to resolve theOgoni question once and for all. The government should understand that a veritable resolution of the issues raised by Ogonis would equally provide a template suitable to other Niger Delta groups. The proposition here is not conjured out of the blues. If anything, it is only strengthening what the current government says they want to achieve.

More so, it should be stated upfront that an economic corridor in Ogoni does not necessarily means an exclusive plan in isolation of the broader development of Rivers state and Nigeria. An economic corridor is essentially a plan for urbanization and industrialization; it is programme to carefully identifies and harness other distinct opportunities that exists: to create a significant boost in short and medium term, while simultaneously addressing the backlog in human settlement. An economic corridor offers a synergistic and dynamic transformation within a landscape. Of importance, is that the local cultural, political, social and economic environment is made to support and engage with such a developmental boost, so that long-term economic benefits can be achieved.

The vision of Greater Port Harcourt for instance; is planned because urban multi-use developments will transition informal economies to formal economies, bringing them from economic invisibility to revenue generating visibility, and can create a tradable balance sheet for all stakeholders and participants. An Ogoni economic corridor project will expand the objectives that underscored Greater Port Harcourt as an integrated functional metropolitan scale hub development for Niger Delta as whole.

To appreciate the benefit of an economic corridor in Ogoni area, we should understand that economic growth is a function of expanding infrastructures that enhances productivity, and the ability to sustainably and optimally develop available resources and related markets along such expansion. This requires the expansion of social infrastructures, as a key magnet to attract higher values. Freshly structured urban economies or cities can provide this, using lessons learned and improved upon from established cities.

Building connected cities creates economic development corridors that change the dynamic of any region’s economic landscape permanently, and without dependency on single commodities. Bearing this principle in mind, an economic corridor in Ogoni area will establish a diversified economy that provides buffers for Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia States.

The Ogoni territory is strategically located and naturally endowed yet under-utilized for the greater good of Ogonis and Nigeria. Ogoni is geographically located to cushion the pressures on Port Harcourt, seating on the borders of Akwa Ibom and Abia states; Ogoni also provide the channel for Bonny Island to be accessed by road when the Bodo-Bonny Bridge is completed. It is through Ogoni that an important Island as Opobo is accessed and it is also through Ogoni that the Andoni people would soon have access road. Ogoni territory plays host to Onne seaport, an export free zone bustling oil and gas servicing firms, two of Nigeria’s four refineries, a petro-chemical plant, a naval base, a fertilizer plant which is currently moribund, a polytechnic, four police stations, a mobile police command are located in the territory.

Ogoni as it is has enough elements for urbanization and industrialization if a good plan is put in place to harness the potentials: the area is a confluence for other ethnic groups within and outside Rivers state. An urbanization and industrialization plan will mean that social amenities and ancillary services are put in place.

Factors for Consideration:

It will be to government’s own peril to conclude that the resumption of oil production in Ogoni will be a walk in park; they would need to work hard to convince the Ogoni people. The agitation of the Ogoni people is global and there are more than local interest in the matter. As we read this piece, there are cases in courts in the Netherland arising from previous oil drilling activities and protestations by Ogonis.

As it stands, the government had already miss-fired with regard with its timing. The information of government plan filtered into the public at a time that the Ogoni people are not pleased with the handling of the environmental clean-up. The information came at a time that Ogoni communities are facing a new trend in their life as a people: never before had gang violence been rampant as it is today in Ogoni.

The leaked memo has determined a timeframe for its re-entry into Ogoniland. It ordered the NNPC to ensure that by the 2nd of May 2019 an operation date is set. Information from grapevines says NNPC has already issued procurement order with October in mind to resume operation. The government plan to undertake preparatory works for their operation between July and October. The time government has set for their operation is the first recipe for violence.

Under a normal situation, an operator cannot possibly takeover oil wells in few months, nonetheless, a territory that has been in the battle field for about quarter a century.  The government need to set for itself at least 18 months timeframe because a lot need to be done. Someone needs to be informed that a predetermined position indicates that the government wants to treat issues raised by Ogonis with levity, or, the government is determined to have their way by force – and the Ogonis will push back if that be the case.

Pivotal to peaceful resumption of oil business in Ogoni is broad-based consultation; the extent to which the populations are carried along is crucial. Extensive amount of time need to be devoted to consulting Ogoni people at all levels, presentation of ideas of how things will be done differently, cultivation of inputs and the buy-in of the masses are inevitable. Broad-based consultation would facilitate sense of belonging, foster stakeholder mentality in the population, drive peace & harmony, extract proposals and ideas, scope and harness capacities that exist amongst Ogonis.

A good process of consultation will ultimately lead to the setting up of a Corporate Social Investment (CSI) platform for Ogonis. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is no longer relevant. The world is moving away from CSR because it is not sustainable; companies and governments are embracing the concept of the CSI. CSR and CSI are similar in many respects, except that CSR is driven by donations and contributions for social amenities. CSI is a concept that provides structures for sustainable means of livelihood for host communities.

It will also help if the government can carry out some acts of restitution to indicate that it means well in their intended second missionary journey. For instance, the retention in the national gazette of the decision of the military tribunal that sentenced the Ogoni 9 is a slap to the intelligence of the Ogonis. The Ogoni 9 holds the collective will, determination, aspirations and conscience of the Ogoni people. The government should renounce the judgment of the tribunal and make restitution to the families.  It will heal the social psychic of the Ogoni nation if Buhari can decriminalize the Ogoni 9 with a declaration that their hanging was a wrong decision and, apologize to the families and to the Ogoni people. Such action will accentuate the process of confidence building.

Finally, the cord that will tie everything together is political cohesiveness. The elections are over but the emotions may still be fresh. Ogoni has elected their representatives, and fortunately, the Senator representing the Rivers South-east, Hon. Dr. Barinaadaa Barry Mpigi is an Ogoni son. He is today the political leader of the Ogoni people in particular and the district as a whole.

Dr. Mpigi is a grassroots politician, a man with enormous goodwill and support. He has the capacity to reach every strata of Ogoni, he posses enough political capital that endears him people across party lines. The national government would need to look past party politics to work with Hon. Dr. Mpigi, it will do no one any good for the government to create another center of power outside the office of the Senator of the people.

*** Barry Wuganaale, is based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a Sustainable Development Consultant, a writer & the Senior Pastor of Altar of Liberation.