Opinion: The Ogoni People and Nigeria’s Faulty Configuration

Agitations for a fair and just system in Nigeria is increasingly becoming a threat to the country’s stability. This is  largely because the leadership appear to turn blind eyes to the concerns of the agitators and not see it as an opportunity to right the wrongs and set the country on the path of progress.The immediate response of the authorities had been to ignore the merits of the agitations and to deploy the military to troubled regions with the usual mandate to restore “peace”.
Peace in Nigeria means the absence of protests, peace means the people must be silent in the face of discrimination, peace means military clampdown to force people not to express themselves in ways that are against dominant interest of those in power. Peace in Nigeria is not the collective will and happiness to work together in a fair and just system.
The Nigerian system expects, for instance, the Ogoni people to be silent in the face of clearly unfair and discriminator laws which splits our country into 36 states, all of which are funded by resources from one region including the Ogoni whereas we, the Ogoni people, cannot have a state of our own” We have consistently protested against this arrangement and I am confident that a compromise will only be reached when and only when the Ogoni people will be allowed to function within Nigeria as a distinct ethnic nationality.

In Ogoni today, for us to have as common as a school, hospital or road, an Ikwerre man who sits as governor of Rivers State will have to decide. We have no right within Nigeria to set our priorities, build our own economy, set standards for the protection of our environment and make laws to improve our well being as Ogoni people.

The Ogoni story is an allegory of pre-conceived attempt to mislead the public on the true situation in Ogoniland. As an Ogoni, I can say that government is not and has not done anything regarding the pollution in Ogoni outside attempts to be smart and mislead the public about its commitment to clean Ogoni. I maintain that signing a piece of paper approving governing structures without funding the process to enable the structures to function does not amount to progress on the clean-up process.

The Nigerian government is interested in our oil but they do not care whether we are happy or not as Nigerians. They exploit our resources without concern to protect and preserve our delicate environment. We have decimated our collective heritage by allowing a third party like Shell to come into our country and violate our people’s dignity. We care not about our people in so  much as we get a portion of the proceeds from the violations. Our lawmakers, for instance, are the highest paid in the world despite the fact that our economy is no where near the top 10 in Africa in terms of standard of living. We pride ourselves of an impressive GDP but over 50percent of our people cannot eat a complete meal daily.

We encourage polluters like Shell to kill locals, destroy our environment and shamelessly use the cleanup of polluted lands for image laundering while leaving the polluters unpunished.

We make elections a war, decimating the cardinal principles of democracy while violating the professionalism of our military by allowing them to become a tool in the hands of politicians.

We grant amnesty to those who take up arms against the state while peaceful agitations like that of the Ogoni people are not rewarded. We encourage violence by rewarding it and fail to provide jobs and security to peaceful law abiding youths.

The clean up of polluted sites in Ogoniland has taken over 6 years and yet to commence since after the submission of the report by a U.N investigation team, the bogus flag-off which allowed praise singers to be all over the media has turned to be a total waste of state resources. While the flag-off which consumed millions of tax payers’ money was implemented with sufficient dispatch, the real implementation to restore the environment is still faced with bureaucratic bottlenecks.
In this emergency, Nigeria is till unable to provide safe water for the Ogoni people. Sometimes, reflecting on government’s failure to provide water for the Ogoni and the seemingly deceitful ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the Integrated Waste Management Center in Bori which was launched by former environment minister, Amina Mohammed, I feel a lack of morality within the ruling class in Nigeria. – some kind of official deceit. The result is a total lack of trust in the Nigerian system to protect our people and guarantee our survival within Nigeria.
It is time to allow the Ogonis the right to decide their own future. We re-iterate our demand for self determination to manage our own affairs within the Nigerian federal republic. Self determination is a human right and the only guarantee for our survival as an indigenous community.
This underscores the need to re-structure Nigeria to accommodate and alleviate the pains of oppressed peoples like the Ogoni whose rights have been significantly violated and attempts to speak out are being suppressed using the country’s military might.
As an indigenous community, government cannot run away from allowing us the freedom to participate in Nigeria’s democracy as a distinct ethnic group. We remain strongly committed to the non-violent means to agitate for our rights which must be recovered from our oppressors through all legitimate instruments available.
Re-structuring is inevitable for Nigeria especially as more voices rise against the current discriminatory and socially unjust system. To use the words of our current president, Muhammadu Buhari, restructuring is an opportunity, “let us take it”.
The writer, Fegalo Nsuke is the Publicity Secretary of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Port Harcourt, Nigeria
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