Sunday Magazine

MOSOP, President, Nsuke: Ogoni clean-up is national shame

The president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Fegalo Nsuke, who has fought against environmental degradation and Federal Government’s neglect in Ogoni wants a new development initiative in Ogoniland. In this interview with EMMANUEL MASHA, he speaks on the Ogoni clean-up, oil production resumption in the area and other issues

 

MOSOP has always faulted the handling of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. What is really wrong with the exercise that your movement finds unacceptable?

 

The cleanup being handled by HYPREP is a shame, a national shame and speaks so much of the our failure as Nigerians to hold people accountable for misuse of public funds. Nearly seven years after the launch of the cleanup programme, the government is now talking about water supply to some communities, not all of Ogoni.

In 2017 while I was Publicity Secretary of MOSOP, HYPREP briefed the Central Committee of MOSOP and we were told the Governing Council of HYPREP had approved an integrated water project for Ogoni. The idea was that underground water pollution has affected the entire Ogoni and so the water crisis has affected the entire area.

Today, what the government is doing is to rehabilitate small water schemes which have not functioned for decades to serve some small communities where pollution was profoundly visible.

 

MOSOP has raised the issue of contract scam in HYPREP, the failure to properly implement the cleanup exercise as recommended and the absence of community participation in the process. The government recently claimed that 10 sites have been certified cleaned.

 

How do you certify cleaned sites when the people still drink unsafe water? What did you clean when water is still polluted whereas, the first thing you should have addressed is the water crises.

So, we have a disaster at hand because in the years to come, Ogonis will die in droves from sicknesses related to poisoned water and the environment itself. The cleanup as it is today can be likened to a rotten fish. It can be preserved in a refrigerator but cannot be edible anymore. It is a scandalous cleanup.

Recently, a new coordinator of HYPREP was appointed by the Federal Government to oversee the clean-up exercise. How would you react to the appointment?

That is fine. MOSOP called for the replacement of the old coordinator due to all these frauds and corruption that destroyed the exercise. But in reality, what can you do with a rotten fish? I sympathize with the newlyappointed coordinator because the young man does not have the powers to make the desired change.

 

I believe that at this point, the community could force things to be reviewed so we can have something new and turn things around. Unfortunately, we are not represented on the Governing Board of HYPREP because they are afraid of an outspoken voice that has not and will not tolerate their corruption.

Not long ago, you rejected moves by the Federal Government to bring in an operator to resume oil exploration in Ogoni. What really made you change your mind?

MOSOP has never been opposed to oil production in Ogoni. Our point     and protest had been against neglect. We protested because Ogoni interests were not considered in the deal. How can you take over N20 billion out of an area daily and put nothing back for the people? That is genocide. It should also be noted that I have never decided anything on this issue.

The decisions were those of the Executive Committee, Central Committee and Congress of MOSOP. And I cannot reverse the decisions of the group, especially those of the Central Committee. What has frustrated oil production in Ogoni before now is errors on the part of leadership, both on the side of government, on the part of Shell, the operator at the time.

Shell encouraged the government to use coercion, divide and conquer tactics (which they still explore presently) to force their way back into oil production in Ogoni without considering the risks posed to the lives of the community dwellers. And these were done without any concern for community interests raised in the Ogoni Bill of Rights.

They went as far as executing leaders of the movement and that alone is the reason nobody can persuade the Ogoni today to tolerate Shell for oil production in Ogoni. As far as we are concerned, Shell is the worst thing that happened to this world. Even after over two decades, Shell is still extremely hard to sell to the Ogoni people.

The reason there seems to be a uturn at the moment is we have made further progress by articulating the Ogoni demands in an actionable format. This is contained in a document calling for the implementation of an Ogoni Development Authority. This document makes this easy for the government and for us. It spells out our expectations as a people, caters to the interest of all sections of Ogoni and calls for compromises on all sides.

It is these considerations and approvals from the Central Committee of MOSOP that has necessitated what appears to be a change in attitude towards oil production in Ogoni. Of course, it is the product of a leadership orientation.

We all need the underground oil resources, the government, the oil operators and the Ogoni people.

We need the oil revenue for development; we need to build roads, hospitals, electricity and our entire social infrastructure. We need security and a secured future for generations unborn because the unborn actually are the owners of today’s Ogoni. So we must make compromises for their future and that is what this document seeks to achieve.

The reality is that we can never achieve the development we seek if the Ogoni oil is not deployed to the process. So, it’s time to discuss the future and resolve all issues and it is that orientation that means a change in position which you now see. I

t is important and an opportunity for everyone including the government.

Does MOSOP still command the respect of the Ogoni people to the point that the generality of the Ogoni people will welcome whatever decision MOSOP takes on their behalf regarding the resumption of oil exploration in their land?

MOSOP led the struggle for Ogoni survival which eventually led to Shell’s withdrawal from Ogoni. We will ultimately decide who resumes oil production in Ogoni and I can assure you that until MOSOP speaks, not the fakes, Ogoni wouldn’t consider the issues resolved. Now, in this respect, we have consulted extensively and taken the message to the entire Ogoni.

The Central Committee of MOSOP is composed of youths, leaders of thought, women, Conference of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, teachers, students including those in secondary schools, unions and all that. So, when MOSOP takes a decision, you can be sure that it is well communicated.

The other side is the trust the people have in MOSOP. No matter what happens, Ogoni have confidence in MOSOP’s integrity and they know we will always consider only what is good for the Ogoni people.

The proposal for the implementation of  an Ogoni Development Authority (ODA) is a well thought out plan and it truly addresses Ogoni concerns for development and a secured future for tomorrow’s Ogonis.

You have continued to hammer on the Ogoni Development Initiative as a vehicle to fast track development in Ogoniland in the next phase of oil exploration in the area. Could you explain why you feel it is key in the development of Ogoniland?

 

Our struggle itself was a reaction to underdevelopment. All the issues we raised centered on underdevelopment. No roads, no electricity, no education, security, dying language, no jobs, non-recognition within Nigeria and no investments despite huge oil revenue being carted away daily.

All these are issues of underdevelopment. Now, our proposals seek to have us take responsibility for our development. We will now drive the development process through the implementation of the Ogoni Development program and is fundamentally the demand we made in the Ogoni Bill of Rights when Ken was still here. What we have done now is to streamline and simplify the implementation process with greater clarity.

 

We understand that discussions are ongoing among stakeholders for resumption of oil production in Ogoni. What is MOSOP doing for a fair deal for Ogoni people, considering that you have always talked about the Ogoni interest in your demands?

The issue of oil resumption in Ogoni is tied to the Ogoni interests and MOSOP needs to speak on it before it can be laid to rest. Remember that over 4,000 lives were lost in the struggle and we have kept all these memories. We do not want to remind the Ogonis of the sufferings during the years of repression and so, while we consult various Ogoni communities and interest groups, we will advise the government not to attempt circumventing our efforts.

 

Remember that we are also in constant touch with the Niger Delta which means forcing anything in Ogoni or repressing us in any way could ignite the wrath of the rest of the Niger Delta. We are open to talk and talks remain the best way to go. Before now, the leadership of MOSOP was skeptical about engagement because the state was killing and could not be trusted.

But now, we haven’t seen that repression and we have the confidence to engage with hope for an acceptable resolution. Now that we are willing and committed to a resolution, it is the best opportunity we have and MOSOP can guarantee that our proposals are acceptable to the Ogoni people and will sail through. It is a fine time to resolve this long conflict.

The 2023 elections are around the corner. Most Ogoni feel that for once, Ogoni should produce the next Governor of Rivers State. Is it achievable this time?

Well, life is dynamic and continues to evolve. But as a people, the Ogoni have made significant contributions to this country economically and I do not know of any single ethnic group that can generate as much revenue as Ogoni can do in Rivers State today. So, Ogoni deserves fairness and asking for support to produce the next governor is good and deserving.

However, politics has its rules and people should be free to aspire not to be restricted and positions shared based on ethnic groups. Ethnicity is one of the things that have significantly destroyed our country and MOSOP cannot promote ethnicity.

Decisions have to be reached based on capacity and fairness and also based on whom the political parties consider good candidates to win elections rather than just fielding candidates because of where they come from.

So we support the aspirations of Ogoni candidates. However, we quarrel with the use of threats to achieve that goal. Politics is about lobbying  and taking advantage of your advantages.

So, we expect those who aspire to be strategic, plan ahead and not come a few weeks before primaries to say everybody should step down, we are Ogonis and it’s our turn. It does not work like that in reality.

Politics is completely different from human rights advocacy where you can easily attract global sympathy. I say this because our state is multiethnic and as one of the tenets of our struggle states, we demand for justice with the belief that it does not deny other ethnic nationalities their rights to justice as well.

So in reality, while we are economically strong and viable even in the present circumstance where our full revenue potentials are nor explored, we also have to understand that we live in a multi-ethnic state and so cannot aggressively stop other people from aspiring. So, the way to go is to be strategically positioned, create advantages and take advantage of our advantages.

Let me ask this question this way: Is there anything MOSOP is doing to work for an Ogoni candidate to succeed Governor Nyesom Wike?

No. MOSOP is primarily concerned about its core mandate to address the underdevelopment issues that have plagued Ogoni.

We do not think our struggle for development should crystalize into the ambitions of those who want to govern Rivers State.

 

We must separate our Ogoni dreams for a better society which people like Hon. T.N. Paul Birabi and Ken Saro-Wiwa advocated from the personal aspirations of politicians. I do not want to believe that we have lost the struggle for economic and true political freedom and should resign to a struggle for the governorship of Rivers State.

Other groups in Ogoni can pursue that but not MOSOP. While the ambition of certain persons is good and may be related to our growth objectives, they are separate and should be pursued using  different vehicles.

 

MOSOP cannot be responsible for everything an Ogoni wants to do. MOSOP wants to pursue its goals while also expressing its sympathy for the good aspirations of Ogonis like those who aspire for political offices in the land.

 

The killings that ravaged some communities in Ogoni about two years ago have stopped. I mean the cult related killings and attacks against communities. What is MOSOP doing with other stakeholders to sustain or consolidate this peace?

We cannot really say it has stopped until we have the 2023 elections without seeing resurgence.

Those killings have been politically sponsored and we have the facts to that and have provided them publicly. It is unfortunate that those in leadership positions really do not care for the people.

Now, it’s time to seek elective positions, they want MOSOP to lead the campaign in their favour but you have a situation where Ogoni is ravaged by violent attacks from gangsters, no one is prosecuted, no sponsor of the hoodlums are identified if there is an arrest, the suspect dies or is let go without prosecution.

 

And you begin to wonder how young people who do not have jobs, do not have money will acquire sophisticated weapons. Some of these youths have never left Ogoni all their lives. So they are simply vulnerable to exploitation and those in leadership are taking advantage.

When your tenure ends, how would you like to be remembered as MOSOP president?

I do hope that before I leave, MOSOP will be playing an observation role, watching to see how the development programme is implemented and monitoring the steady growth and progress in building the Ogoni of our dreams; an Ogoni where the future is secured for our unborn children. I will be glad to be remembered as one of those who facilitated that process.

 

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