The primary responsibility of the government is to protect the citizens and their assets, it follows that all arms of government must act to uphold these expectations and prevent conflicts, especially when they do have the potential of escalation. The Nigerian National Assembly, in this respect, must be commended for halting an attempt by Sahara Energy to escalate the conflicts between the Ogoni people and the Nigerian oil industry which currently has cost over ,4,000 Ogoni lives. Sahara in collaboration with the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company, the drilling arm of state-owned NNPC Ltd had attempted to get parliamentary backing to resume oil production in Ogoni against the wishes of the people.
This move does not only threaten the very existence of the Ogoni people but also potends an escalation of the Niger Delta conflicts which at its peak dropped Nigeria’s oil production capacity to 800,000 barrels per day. This low ebb was the consequence of a gross miscalculation; a thinking that violence and death are the solution to all disagreements.
Ogoni is currently home to over 1,000,000 people who live on a richly endowed land but unfortunately have been subjected to some of the most horrible human experiences by a combination of state-backed repression, environmental devastation and a discriminatory legal system. The oil potential of Ogoni can generate some 1,000,000 barrels per day (approximately U.S $79 million per day) and Its gas reserves had not been fully commercialized as the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) who actively operated in the area between 1958 and 1993 flared much of the gas. Ogoni is however widely described as a gas field with some oil.
35 years after Shell’s active production in the area, the Ogoni people could see no benefits of oil extraction but were left with the negative consequences including a devastated land, poverty and death. The Ogoni concluded that oil and gas extraction have turned into a curse, with the people left without basic necessities of life, no infrastructure, no schools, water and without electricity, the Ogoni people could only see a nationality that was driven into extinction by a combination of repressive and discriminatory state laws and irresponsible oil industry practices.
A strong protest ensued which forced SPDC out of the land. The Ogoni protests were a simple demand for basic rights, a request for negotiations to address the environmental devastation and to have some portion of the resources extracted from the land to be injected into Ogoni development. The Ogoni protests were not a revolt against the government but a demand to save a dying population, a peaceful attempt to compel negotiations on the future of the Ogoni people in Nigeria after it became obvious that Ogoni ‘s survival could no longer be guaranteed under the environment that prevailed.
In response, the government rolled out its troops and unleashed the might of its military on the Ogoni people with attendant consequences for extreme human rights violations. I still remember the then Major Paul Okuntimo”s murder of Mr Lebe Npora, a native of Sogho in Khana local government area whom Major Paul Ountimo split into two with bullets. The worst happened when on November 10, 1995, General Sanni Abacha ordered the execution of nine innocent Ogonis including Ken Saro-Wiwa who was leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People.
Till date, there had been no government investigation into the Ogoni murders and no one had ever been punished for the role he or she played in the Ogoni massacre. Evidence abound regarding the repression of the Ogoni people by the Nigerian state. While we cannot reverse the past, we expected that actions be taken to prevent a repeat of such mass murders and to hold the offenders to account.
Shell, also called SPDC, the company at the center of this scandal, who financed the execution of the genocide remains Nigeria’s largest oil and gas producer and still influences government decisions. In fact, despite the despicable behaviour, Shell still wishes it could return to active oil production in Ogoni and its management will shamelessly retort: “we will only return to oil production in Ogoni with the cooperation of all sections of Ogoni ”. The company hoped that its divide and conquer tactics would work and it could find a leeway to reenter Ogoni. Shell acts rather shamelessly and continues to do so.
Sahara energy is also clearly towing the same line as Shell, obviously counting on the repressive powers of the state to force its way into Ogoni. It believes it just needs the nod of the Nigerian National Assembly and then it can mobilize the powers of state to force its way into Ogoni irrespective of the fact that the Ogoni people have expressly rejected the company. For Sahara, lives don’t matter, free and informed consent don’t matter, ethics and morality don’t matter; what matters is getting what you want no matter who is harmed and no matter how much damage society suffers.
I expect the Nigerian national assembly not to find itself anywhere in the circle of those who wish to throw the Niger Delta into another dark era just to impress the power brokers behind Sahara. The national assembly cannot fail in its responsibility to keep the Niger Delta region safe and peaceful. One way it can do so is to ensure that no enteritis or persuasion allows Sahara Energy to take its war machines into Ogoni. Ogoni has had enough, the scars of Shell’s shocks are yet to be overcome and it will only be very devastating returning Ogoni back to 1995.
Fortunately, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has offered an acceptable pathway to negotiate a solution by prescribing the operation of an Ogoni Development Authority. This document fulfils the expectations of the Ogoni people, both dead and alive and agrees with the expectations of Ken Saro-Wiwa when he said: “I do not expect the Ogoni People to allow oil production in the land until it is properly negotiated.”
It is our hope that the government will accept our offers to unlock the potential to inject an estimated daily income of US$79 million in oil revenue (excluding gas revenues) into the Nigerian economy.
We do not expect the Ogoni people to be killed for oil. But if no one would listen and accept our offers to negotiate, Sahara and her allies may kill, much more than Shell did while the world will watch Nigeria dance naked as it unleashes its armies against peaceful people whose only crime is a desire for better life.
And those who tae the decisions to be inhuman against the Ogoni should not expect that they will never be held to account.
Fegalo Nsuke is President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He can be reached via email@example.com.