Rethink Order on Ogoni Oil

HereGovernment Should Withdraw the Order for Resumption of Oil Exploitation in Ogoni Land. The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and We the People notes with alarm and unease the recent memo reportedly originating from the Presidency and addressed to the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation; and signed by Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari. In the said memo dated March 1, 2019 with reference number SH/COS/24/A/8540, the NNPC and NPDC are directed to take over OML 11 (located in Ogoni, River state) from Shell Petroleum Development Company.

The letter states;

 “NNPC/NPDC to take over the operatorship, from Shell Petroleum Development Company, of the entire OML 11 not later than 30 April 2019 and ensure smooth re-entry given the delicate situation in Ogoni Land”.

It goes further to instruct

“NNPC/NPDC to confirm by May 2, 2019 the assumption of the operatorship.”

We consider this instruction by the Presidency insensitive, ill-advised and capable of inflaming suspicions and conflict in an area that is already very fragile and prone to crisis.

Recall that in 1993, Shell was forced to abandon its OML 11 operations located in Ogoni and pull out of the area, following campaigns by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa , for fairer benefits to the Ogoni people from oil wealth, as well as compensation for the damage of their environment. The campaigns by the Ogoni ethnic nationality for a better deal from the Nigerian state also includingrestitution for the dearth of poverty in Ogoniland, as well as recognition and responsibility for the ecological damage of Ogoniland occasioned by the activities of oil companies.

The response of the Nigeria government to these peaceful demands was terrifying. MOSOP was brutally repressed using the Nigerian military. The mass killings and widespread carnage which the military visited on the Ogonis remain largely undocumented. Thousands of Ogonis lost their lives, and many others went into forced exile around the world. In May 1994, capitalizing on the unfortunate killing of 4 prominent Ogoni leaders by a mob of yet to be identified persons in Gokana local government area, Ken Saro Wiwa and other leaders of MOSOP were arrested and detained. After a few months of trial by a special military tribunal, a sentence of death was pronounced on Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 others on October 31, 1995. 10 days after, the nine were immediately executed on November 10, 1995.

It is important to note that the fears of ecological damage which the Ogonis expressed was confirmed in 2011 when the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP released its assessment report of soil and water samples from Ogoniland. The report confirmed massive soil and water contamination which has significantly compromised sources of livelihood and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants of the area.  So alarmed was UNEP about the findings that it recommended that inhabitants of the area immediately stop using water from all their traditional sources, while the government was to immediately commence a clean-up exercise which could take up to thirty years, and amount to the biggest soil and water remediation exercise ever embarked on.  As damning as the Report was, its recommendations remained unattended until 2016 when the government established administrative structures to commence the clean-up.

Given the above, it is worrying why the government will decide to resume oil extraction in Ogoniland when the pollution of the last decades is yet to be cleaned and the recommendations of UNEP have not been fully complied with. The action of the government at this time gives the impression that it only flagged off the Ogoni Clean up through the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in order to purchase the goodwill to resume oil extraction in the area. How else does one explain the fact that a site supposedly being cleaned up will resume full oil extraction activities with all the pollution that comes with it?

HOMEF and We the People also note that the demands of the Ogoni people which led to the abuses they suffered in the hands of the Nigerian Military in the 1990s, and the termination of oil operations in the area, have still not been addressed. It is disappointing and demonstrates a lack of initiative for the government to imagine that those concerns have simply withered away with time. Those of us who have remain connected to the communities know for a fact that the Ogoni people remain resolute in their resistance to any renewed hydrocarbon extraction in their domains.

We fear that the manner the Presidency has approached this subject through an order, without any consultation with stakeholders in Ogoniland or concern for the reservations the people may feel, is capable of threatening the peace in the area and conveying the message that their complaints and demands have been blatantly ignored. It is important to note that since the ugly events of the 1990s, the government has not initiated any peacebuilding processes in Ogoniland, neither has any kind of amelioration for the pains, losses and suffering sustained by the people been provided.

HOMEF and We the People strongly recommend that the government withdraws this order for the resumption of oil activities in Ogoniland, and rather concentrates on redeeming the ecological disaster in the area, and replacing the lost sources of livelihood of the people.

Between Truth and Falsehood

Fabulous Fake Music (or When Fake is Real).

The need to deepen the interrogation of the current tensions between truth and falsehood cannot be overemphasised. With the rise of fake news and alternative facts, reality has come to be doubted. What is real could turn out to be fake and what is true could turn out to be false. This was the thematic focus of a recent Elevate Festival held in Graz, Austria, that this writer participated in.

Strands of conversation covered music, arts and political discourse. It was at this event that I got to hear of, and experience, fake music for the first time. In the performance at the opening session of the festival, the music was jarring, arresting and unforgettable. Was this music or was it a clash of sounds, light and vocal gymnastics? This was the sort of creativity that creeps on you and leaves you wondering what you just experienced. In other sessions, participants were immersed in a clash of words, more words, concepts and yet more words. Interestingly, they were also concrete.

According to the organisers, “Elevate’ is an annual interdisciplinary festival…With its unique combination of critical political discourse and contemporary music and art, the ‘Elevate Festival’ stands out of the ‘usual’ festival circus. Amongst the guests are human rights experts, climate researchers and activists from all over the world, who gather in Graz once a year with musicians and artists, illuminating pertinent issues of our future.”

One of the highlights of my participation was a visit to a chocolate factory, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, which is more than just a place for making and eating the delicious stuff. With a hands-on leadership provided by its founder, Josef Zotter, the establishment produces up to 500 varieties of chocolates and admits 270,000 visitors a year. Among the attractions on the sprawling grounds of the establishment is an Edible Zoo, restaurant and a Choco Shop Theatre. What is an edible zoo? If you are curious about this, you definitely have company. The ‘zoo’ provides the meat served in the onsite restaurant. Yes, the meat comes from the animals that roam the farm here. When visitors that visit here see the connection, they either get drawn into eating more meat or they may decide against meat.

The cocoa beans used in making chocolates here are sourced mostly from cooperatives in Ecuador, Belize and other Latin American countries. A fraction of the cocoa beans is sourced from Africa. These come from Congo DR and Madagascar. Not one cocoa bean from Nigeria. The company uses only organic cocoa beans and is strictly concerned about fair trade, good quality beans and the working conditions of the farmers and harvesters.

Back at the festival, there were important discussions on topics such as climate truth/climate lies; conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts; echo chambers and bubble breakers. Two of the conversations that grabbed my attention were the ones on the intersection or lack of it of civil society activism and politics. The second conversation was on climate refugees.

The exchange of views in the session on civil society and politics was framed around the questions: “How does progressive or ecological politics actually come about? Is it political parties and parliamentarians who have prevailed here? Or are NGOs and civil societies the ones that provide the necessary pressure? And how does the cooperation look like? Is it necessary or should too much proximity among NGOs, grassroots movements and politics be avoided?”

The lead conversation was between yours truly and Thomas Waitz, member of the Green Party of Austria and member of the European Parliament. Waitz is an organic farmer, activist and politician all rolled into one. He makes politics look so good. His positions drive home the truth that politics remains a dirty game when those that can help transform it stand aside rather than step into the fray.

While politicians tend to seek to maintain the status quo and their grip on power levers, activists tend to be more disposed to be disruptive in response to broken or iniquitous systems. The undue influence exerted by corporations force some politicians to support the pursuit of competition and exploitation rather than the building of cooperation and the common good. This has given rise to right wing politics and dominant relationships in which nations exploit other nations, then seek to wall and insulate themselves from the exploited and wounded nations.

On the other hand, civil society groups sometimes run fragmented programmes that are tailored to meet targets favoured by donors. We also see undue pressure on the youth to be apolitical, imbibe entrepreneurial spirit and expect little or nothing from the state. Self-employment and individualism are taught as the ultimate virtue. Public institutions are often encouraged to be self-financing, build watered down ethics and open themselves to privatisation. When we understand that being political is not the same as being partisan, it becomes clear why being apolitical is not an option.

The commercialisation of science is one obvious outcome of pressure of vested interests in universities around the world. This situation has sometimes pushed scientists to work for commercial or even political interests. This explains why some persons speak and act the way they do. The revolving doors between corporations, governments and research institutions continue to complicate our search for safe and just societies.

The ‘Elevate Festival’ was a space to make dreams come to life. It was a space for confrontation of ideas and the questioning of what truth and falsehood are in a world where the lines are getting increasingly blurred. One truth that stood out in my heart is that colonialism is alive and well, but often wears different clothes and bears different names.

We must understand the times

We must understand the times. It has been said that the only thing that is permanent in life is change. Understandably, humans are perpetually engaged in the struggle to make change happen. Sometimes, in a hurry to effect change, little thought is given to the direction of that change. The obstacles to be overcome may be so daunting that an opportunity to instigate a change is seized without delay and without reflection.

There are instances where the challenges are so complex that people go numb or simply become indifferent. You could call that the frog-in-the-pan syndrome – although no frog has actually remained in a pan with boiling water without leapfrogging out of the pan!

We can identify the future by looking at the past. The arts have been excellent consciences of societies. Through paintings, sculpture, poetry, fiction, prose, movies, music and others, we receive impulses for action and warnings in times of inaction. Remember songs such as Redemption Song, War and Africa Unite by Bob Marley. And how about the one by The Mandators who asked Where are the prophets? We may throw stones at artistes, disagree with them and even kill them, but their ideas and messages remain and demand to be explored.

These are interesting and challenging times. However, as in all epochs, the key to finding resolutions lies in being able to identify the critical issues of the time. In other words, understanding the time is a key challenge that must not be underrated. However, having a common understanding of what constitute these challenges is understandably difficult in complex societies such as Nigeria. This is one reason why our political terrain is so slippery and treacherous.

The ongoing electoral process in Nigeria has revealed so much that most thought had become a thing of the past in the nation. The stern warning by the president that ballot box snatching would be the last unlawful act of anyone that tried it evoked much debate, but evidently did not deter those determined to subvert the popular will. We saw and read of blatant ballot box snatching, ballot paper burning, arson, kidnappings, underage voting, thump printing and outright violence.

The announcement of election results is an interesting exercise. Taking the job of being the chief returning officer in an election in Nigeria must be like walking wide-eyed into a nightmare. And so, we must pity Professor Mahmud and all the electoral umpires. Some of us were astonished to hear that INEC officials at the collation centre in Abuja were seeing the results for the first time at the same time that citizens saw or heard of them on television. The manual transmission of results leaves much to be desired and reduces voters’ confidence in the process. This should not happen in 2023.

The fortunes of the newer parties at the polls did not come as a surprise because most of them started rather late and apparently did not have the resources to navigate the tedious and cumbersome Nigerian electoral terrain. 2019 served to bring up some new faces. It will be a shame if they go to sleep and wait to wake up in the next campaign season. This is the time for the parties to reexamine their platforms and see if they can forge alliances or merge to build greater momentum than they can build separately.

While the newer parties have a lot of reengineering to do in order to reposition themselves as forces to be reckoned with, the dominant parties equally have to seriously reexamine their platforms and modus operandi. The ruling party’s efforts at providing support for the unemployed as well as small scale entrepreneurs has been routinely criticized as avenues for waste or vote-buying. One way of understanding the criticisms is to see them as being based historical mistrust built on perceptions and the generally opaque nature of governance in the nation. Thus, the efforts would meet the same criticisms whether operated by the All Progressives Congress (APC) or by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The two parties will have to campaign on clean or at least new slates at the 2023 election because they will be forced to campaign on ideas and not on personalities.

The morning is the best time to test ideals that may initially be uncommon or unpopular. Such ideals may become the norm by noon and get celebrated by evening.

How should the parties, new or old, generate the ideas and platform for the next seasons? First, let us reiterate that they must understand the times. Being devious in a crooked system may no longer work in the coming years. Nigeria has travailed for decades and  the time for the birth of a new nation is on the horizon.

Political parties and entities must have clear and distinct organizing ideas. Such ideas must have socio-economic and ecological justice at the core. The building blocks around the core would necessarily have to be on building solidarity and collective action to empower the grassroots and to disempower the oppressors. Our youths have served as the fodder for murderous conflicts and this scenario can be tackled by building them into a vanguard for transformative and collective undertakings.

Political parties will have to construct and rebuild internal democracy, develop long term visions and halt the pattern of prostituting between platforms. Indeed, one way to weed out fickle and corrupt fellows is to build a map of their shifts from one party platform to another. A person that cannot be known for particular ideals will turn out a traitor and should not be trusted. It is true that politicians thrive on short term opportunistic visions, but that cannot build enduring legacies.

If the land, waters and the air support life, citizens will enjoy enhanced health and be better positioned to carry out economically productive activities. It is time to go to work. Staying quiet is no option.

As soon as the ballots are cast, results announced and irrespective of who gets elected or not, we must pick up the pieces and rebuild the nation. There are no options here. The revealed fissures should serve as specific targets for repair or for dramatic surgical actions. The morning is the best time to test ideals that may initially be uncommon or unpopular. Such ideals may become the norm by noon and get celebrated by evening.

With Nigerians being innately enterprising and hardworking, a party could build its manifesto on protecting the integrity of our environment. If the land, waters and the air support life, citizens will enjoy enhanced health and be better positioned to carry out economically productive activities. It is time to go to work. Staying quiet is no option. Politicians never rest and citizens should be encouraged to sign up to parties, demand clear policies and aim to influence the spaces. Unengaged systems either breed autocracy or make the accommodation of mediocrity inescapable.