Arrival of The Last Militant

2 booksThe word militant elicits a certain meaning in Nigeria and like the word insurgents people often link it with violence. Another word that has taken on peculiar meaning in Nigeria is restiveness – a descriptive word assigned to agitated Niger Delta youths totally radicalised by fossil fuels extraction pollutions and unwilling to stay civil in the face of oppressive injustice.

Patrick Naagbanton, a man of many parts – journalist, environmental/human rights activist, poet, etc. – has just added two important books to the Nigerian literary scene. One is a collection of poems titled Fury of the Fisher Woman and the other is The Last Militant – A biography of Comrade Cheta Ibama Ibegwura – and the struggles for workers’ rights in Nigeria, justice and self-determination in the Niger Delta region..

Furious Fisher Woman

The poetry book is loaded with anger, death and defiance. Poignantly, except for when the writer mentions “other unsung comrades (dead or alive) whose stories are not yet told,” both books are dedicated to persons who have departed from the physical plane. They nudge you to closely study Nigeria’s tragic post colonial history – an history that current political leaders would rather sweep under the carpet.

Writing for the victims of the Umuechem massacre of 1st November 1990, the poem titled The Script opens with these lines:

Distress marches

Clad in black on the precarious pipelines

Demanding to drink from it along the

Bush paths of Umuechem

On the sad day on which Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were murdered, Patrick wrote under the title Hangmen:

Their banter of blood shall soon end 

And I shall sing our funeral songs

They shall weep as we are weeping

With the troubled tribe

Militant to the core

As Patrick states, “the story of Cheta Ibama Ibegwura, popularly called ‘Wati’ and later ‘Comrade Che’ is the story of Nigeria.”  And the book, “The Last Militant, though a biographical work, also takes us through a whole range of issues such as the histories of great organizations and movements– their successes and failures in Nigeria.”

One is tempted to ask: why Patrick chose to label Comrade Che a militant? Synonyms for militant include: activist, confrontational, aggressive, radical, revolutionary, belligerent, combative, pugnacious. Within the array of words, the closest in meaning to the legend we all know as Comrade Che would be radical and revolutionary. He is a gentle, uncompromising militant. At 83 years, Apostolic Comrade Che remains resolute in the struggle for human and environmental justice as well as for community rights.

Through the book we learn of his militancy in political actions, pro-democracy activism and in inspiring trade union consciousness. A freelance revolutionary, as Patrick terms him, he continues unwaveringly in the pursuit of militant causes.

Comrade Che before Comrade Che

Here is an extract from the foreword I wrote for the book: This is a story of courage, love, commitment and passion. It is a story that shows the triumph of the human spirit even in the most hazardous situations. It is a story of a survivor.  He indeed survived many detentions, false imprisonments and assassination attempts. He admired his late friend, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the Ogoni people for ‘being true to the struggle in the naked face of mass arrests, killings, government and crude oil induced bribes.’ Unfortunately, he could not say the same for the organising ability and fidelity to causes by his own immediate people.

Apostolic Comrade Che, as I call him, is a very inspiring man. His simplicity is unpretentious. He is a man of ideas and is always willing to share such ideas. This book reveals much that is not readily known of this great man. I have known Comrade Che and benefitted from his friendship and fatherly counsel, from the mid 1990s. However, reading this book brings me face to face with him as though I only just knew him for the first time. In fact, until I read this book I always thought that Cheta Ibama Ibegwura was named Comrade Che after the famous Argentine internationalist. Behold, he was already Comrade Che before he ever heard of the other Comrade Che.

Not a Book Review

This is not a book review. It is a tribute to my mentor and teacher, Comrade Che. It is also a thank you note to Patrick for penning these powerful books. The books published by Creektown Books (Lagos) will be presented at a public event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 5th March 2016. Get the books and review them yourselves!

 

Dialogue with Bulldozers at Ekuri Community Forest

EkuriBulldozers, Superhighway and Ekuri Community Forest

Bulldozers and forests are not friends. Neither are highways or super highways, as the people of Ekuri Community are learning. The Ekuri Community Forest in Cross River State, Nigeria, is an acclaimed example of how communities can sustainably manage their forest. Now, this forest is under threat from the State Government that has embarked on the construction of a 260 Km, 6 lanes dual carriage super highway through their forest, using the highly controversial Land Use Act of 1979 as a cover for dispossessing the people of their land, forest and patrimony.

When the ground breaking ceremony for this project was conducted by President Muhammadu Buhari on 30th October 2015, the Ekuri Community thought that having an all-weather road pass by their community would bring to an end their perpetual struggle to secure access to the outside world through the earth road they had built by community effort. This thinking was shattered by a Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper on 22nd January 2016 decreeing, among other things, that:

“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.

Land Grabbing

The community studied the “Notice of Revocation” and the line profile and found that some of the coordinates show that their forest, community lands and settlements would be taken up by the Super Highway and the extraordinary right of way of 10 Km claimed by the government – beyond the 200 metres right of way allowed from the centre line on each side of the road. Little wonder the community characterises this usurpation as a case of crass land land grabbing. This sort of grabbing tends to suggest that this part of Nigeria is Tarzan country or simply a no-man’s land.

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming.

Before this, some critics of the Super Highway project such as the Rainforest Resource Development Centre (RRDC) had stated that “the BLUE PRINTS of such a huge 260km 6 lanes Super Highway project running across the entire Cross River State of Nigeria was not made public before the commencement of construction at the ground breaking event.  Significantly also, the blue print of the said project has not been made public till this moment.  This is a contravention of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 of the National Assembly as well as other related legislations…”

Other significant issues raised include the fact that no credible Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have been conducted before the taking off of the project. The project threatens the Cross River National Park as the highway traverses the buffer zone of the forest.

In its press briefing of 6th November 2015, the RRDC expressed the fear that contrary to the requirement of the Land Use Act, no schedules of compensation (including the names of beneficiaries) had been made public.  “The risk is that this project could end up escalating rural poverty if the issues of compensations are neglected.  This is so because the affected indigenous people and communities of Cross River State of Nigeria who own these resources could end up losing their sources of livelihoods, income and wellbeing, as well as their natural heritage and territories.”

Heritage Destruction

What RDDC feared is unfolding before the eyes of the Ekuri people and the world must not keep a blind eye to this.

The Ekuri protest Letter against the Super highway, dated 6th February 2016, reminded the Cross River State government that they had “for centuries conserved and managed our Ekuri community forest for its rich biodiversity and ecosystems services not only for our sustainable development but for the entire world. Since 1992, we pioneered formal community forestry in Nigeria and established the Ekuri Initiative (an NGO registered with the Federal Government) with a mandate in forest conservation, sustainable forest management, community development and poverty reduction. Since its inception, we have recorded inspiring successes. We have developed and implemented a land use plan which we jealously adhere to, a flagship community forestry project in Nigeria (a credit to Cross River State), the largest and best community managed forest in West Africa totaling 33,600ha. We received the UNEP Equator Award in 2004 for our outstanding passion, commitments and efforts to reducing poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of our biodiversity. We have been visited by several communities from Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique and a host of researchers to learn from our experiences. Our activities have been replicated by international development agencies and local NGOs and has brought fame to Cross River State and Nigeria as a whole. The planned destruction of our community forests which we have labored so hard to protect and conserve is not a welcome development. The resolve of our forebears to conserve our forest must be continued in perpetuity being a bequest and legacy to all the Ekuri people living and yet unborn.”

Dialogue with Bulldozers

With the level of dispossession staring them in the face, the Ekuri Community decided to reject the passage of the Super Highway through their forest and demand a realignment of the road. According to community sources, their petition received a quick but shocking response:

“At the receipt of the Protest Letter, the Governor has quickly sent a bulldozer this morning to Ekuri to begin the destruction of the Ekuri community forest in the name of the Super Highway. This is to show power and strength against poor communities and in defiance of the dictates of the rule of law.”

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming. This is a challenge, not just for Ekuri Community but for the entire global community.

 

A Living Memorial for Deadened Memories

BUSWALLPAPERThe Bus, a sculptural memorial in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine was shipped to Nigeria from the United Kingdom by Platform. On arrival in Nigeria it was seized by the Nigeria Customs since 8th September 2015 on the reported grounds that it had “political value.” The original idea was for the Bus to be used during the 20th anniversary activities to mark the dastardly execution of the Ogoni 9 on 10th November 2015. The kidnap of the Bus by the Nigeria Customs, as Celestine Akpobari, head of Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF) labels it, made it impossible for the cultural memorial to be used.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officials stated that the the “inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

Due to the continued detention of the sculpture by the Nigeria Customs, the OSF leader petitioned the House of Representatives of Nigeria seeking their intervention for the release of the sculpture. We note that the sculpture was created by Nigerian-born artist Sokari Douglas Camp.

The House of Representatives has so far held two hearings on the matter on 28th January and 4th February 2016. At the first hearing the Representatives were unhappy that the Comptroller of Customs did not appear before them. Again, at the second hearing the Customs boss was conspicuously missing, prompting the Representatives warning that they should not be provoked to issue an arrest warrant against the big man. The next hearing is scheduled for 17 February 2016.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officers stated that the the ‘inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

What could possibly be the threatening inscription on the sculpture? The Bus has the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner on one side, and the names of the other 8 Ogoni leaders on sculptural crude oil barrels. It also has the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa: “I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni.” Would these threaten national peace?

It should be noted that this sculpture has been on display in the UK for 9 years and was shipped to Nigeria by Platform on the request of network partners in Nigeria: Movement For The Survival Of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Social Action, Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

In his official submission to the House of Representatives, Akpobari said, “We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.”

The Nigeria Customs appears to have chosen to fight a battle to erase the memories of these heroes of environmental and cultural struggles. Seizing a sculpture gives the impression that the State is attempting to kill the message after annihilating the messengers. With the experience of history, we can say that this is a futile endeavor and the Customs should release and deliver the Bus to the people of Ogoni as emblematic representatives of peoples struggling for ecological sanity, social inclusion and dignity.

If there are persons that wonder who Ken Saro-Wiwa and these leaders were, the words of Sanya Osha in a paper published in Socialism and Democracy gives a crisp picture:

“When Ken Saro-Wiwa and his nine Ogoni compatriots were hanged in November 1995, it both polarized and unified the fragile as well as volatile geographical entity known as Nigeria. However, this time, it wasn’t the ethnic and religious fissures that were most noticeable. Instead it was the naked fist of raw power versus the vociferous protestations of a disenfranchised minority writhing beneath the weight of a seemingly implacable military dictatorship.

“Ken Saro-Wiwa became the voice, face and symbol of this aggrieved minority straining for denied civic and democratic rights. He became a hero in patently unheroic times and this is what makes his life and the loss of it so potently poignant.”

FREE_THE_BUS_2

It is for this and other reasons that 10th November has galvanized a global environmental justice movement and has become a global day of remembrance of victims of extractivism. And as Platform warns, They can hold the Bus but they can’t stop the movement.

There is no wisdom in keeping this sculptural Bus in captivity.

 

—photos by Platform—

 

 

 

A Day with Ex-Lepers

Breaking the barriers

chat

Christmas season offers us opportunities to show love and remind ourselves that we are all humans, no matter our situations in life. In the midst of prevalent obnoxious consumerist tendencies, the bright lights and funfairs, there are many among us that cannot find a reason to celebrate except that they are alive. And to some, being alive can be a heavy burden if they do not know where the next meal would come from. And there are many who are forced to walk barefooted on the rough roads of life with no shirt on their backs.

Every Christmas, over the past 15 years or so, I with brothers and sisters from church, have endeavoured to spend a day with some folks that are so helpless and someone must help them with virtually everything. Some of them are blind and have lost their limbs to an easily treatable but dreaded bacterial disease, leprosy. Seeing them rejoice and celebrate life should puts political leaders, and others who could help but don’t, to shame.

A Day…everyday

Spending a day with men and women who once suffered from leprosy – but now live with related injuries and are virtually outcasts in society, often rejected by families –  never fails to remind me of the severe erosion of our very humanity. Beholding their lovely, healthy children, raises the question of what would be the case if these youths are supported to receive the best education and are aided to escape the cycle of pain, rejection and poverty they were born into.

Spending time away from the hustle and bustle of life, embedded in the dusts of struggle for survival, prepares me on the eve of every new year to stand with the oppressed in the fights to break the shackles of wickedness, injustice and rejection. Everywhere and every time.

Sharing Gives Meaning to Creation

Knowledge generation is one thing, sharing it is another. It does not matter how much knowledge is generated and how brilliant they may be, if no one shares such knowledge it may not make any difference if they were never generated.

Health of Mother Earth’s quarterly journal is a great space for knowledge creation and sharing. The coverage is not only broad, the depth is often profound. Take issue number 09 of September 2015, for example.  It lines up two provocative articles on the Conference of Parties (COP21) on climate change by Mary Louise Malig of the Global Forest Coalition and John Foran. It also brings the remarkable story of the little known of struggle against fracking in In Salah, Algeria written by Holcin Maiti. Then there is the interview with Firoze Manji that tackles the concept of degrowth from a Southern perspective.

The coverage is not only broad, the depth is often profound.CVO8GIcW4AEc6XT

Photo: Natalia Greene and Shannon Biggs see something of interest in Eco-Instigator 09

The cover focus, Martyrs of Extractivism parades key reports of Ken Saro-Wiwa as well as the hearth rending article by Esther Kioble on her husband, Barinem Kiobel who was murdered alongside Ken Saro-Wiwa and other seven Ogoni leaders on 10 November 1995.

From the global to the local, everything is interconnected. This came to the fore with the reports and articles on Vandana Shiva’s campaign visit to Nigeria in July 2015. During the tour Shiva spoke on the theme Soil, Not Oil at the second Right Livelihood Lecture at the University of port Harcourt as well as at community gatherings in Ogoni and Egiland in the Niger Delta.

Grab a copy of Eco-instigator at http://www.home.org and let us know if you agree that knowledge is of little value if it is not shared.