Thursday, February 19, 2015 10:17 am
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
There is fury over plans to resume oil exploration in Ogoniland 20 years after Shell was sent packing
Drilling crude oil again in Ogoniland is tempting to crude oil prospecting companies after the Anglo/Dutch Shell Petroleum Development Oil Company, SPDC, was sent packing by Ogoni people 20 years ago. However, on Monday February 2, Ogoni people were shocked to hear that some prominent Ogoni Chiefs, led by the Chairman, Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, His Royal Highness, Godwin Giniwa, had given approval to Belema Oil Producing limited, an indigenous oil company, to resume the drilling of oil in Ogoniland.
The announcement was made through a communiqué signed by King Giniwa and was read by the paramount ruler of Ogale community in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, His Royal Highness, Godwin Bebe-Okpabi.The Communiqué called on Shell, the Federal Government, United Nations, European Union, the United Nations and human rights groups to give their support for the resumption of a successful oil exploration in the area.
According to the chiefs, they accept, present, endorse and declare Belema oil Producing Limited to all Ogoni People, Shell Africa, Shell Investor Group, the Federal Government of Nigeria, World Investors Finance Groups, Finance Group, United Nations, all human rights support groups, European Union that Ogoni oil is now open for exploration and production for Belema Oil Producing Limited.
The announcement was like a bolt from the blue. Many Ogoni stakeholders, like the Ogoni umbrella pressure body; the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, and other Ogoni political leaders whose focus was on political campaigns for the now rescheduled February 14 and 28 elections were surprised.
Incensed by the action of the Chiefs, MOSOP issued a statement signed by the Media/Public Affairs Advisor to the MOSOP President, Mr. Bari-ara Kpalap, denouncing the action of the Chiefs. MOSOP said that it was not against oil exploration and production in Ogoniland, but that due process must be followed and wide consultations made to foster genuine participation and collective decision.
MOSOP expressed reservations at the hasty manner and lack transparency in the process of resumption of oil exploration in the land. The movement unequivocally stated that the Ogoni people have not taken such position. MOSOP expressed disappointment at the demonstrable desperation of the chiefs, Belema Oil and their collaborators; hence MOSOP dissociated itself from the purported declaration of the chiefs.
MOSOP added that whilst it is not opposed to prospective companies indicating interest in the Ogoni oil concession, and recognizing the sensitivity and peculiar circumstance of Ogoni people in relation to oil matters, due process must be followed.
It called on the people of Ogoni and the general public not only to discountenance the baseless claims but also resist any attempt to fraudulently sell Ogoni oil through the back door.
Celestine Akpobari, an Ogoni environmental rights activist, in his reaction, condemned the hasty manner the Chiefs took the decision and tried to force it down the throat of Ogoni people without consultations. He argued that before any company can start drilling oil in Ogoniland, there must be adequate consultations as there are many gaping issues that have to be resolved so that Ogoni people would not suffer the same fate from the same operational methods of Shell that destroyed the environment and their means of livelihood through oil pollution as indicated in the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, report on the area.
Akpobari wondered how oil production can start in Ogoni when its environmental issue has not been tackled. In his words: “To us, the priority is the remediation and restoration of our degraded environment via urgent implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland.”
The civil revolt against Shell that had operated in Ogoniland for over 40 years climaxed in 1993 when the people, through Ken Saro Wiwa, the renowned playwright and environmental rights activist and the President of MOSOP, challenged the oil giant for its poor environmental practice in Ogoniland.
The Ogoni revolt became an eye-opener to all the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta to highlight the similar cases of poor operational practice of oil companies to the international communities. In 1994, General Sanni Abacha ordered a military repression of Ogoni people, using a special military taskforce headed by Major Paul Okontimo.
In 1994, four prominent Ogoni Chiefs were killed in Giokoo, in Gokana local Government area by angry youths who accused them of conniving with the federal military government and Shell to undermine their struggle. They were: Chief Edward Kobani, Chief Albert Baddey, Theophilous Orage and his brother, Tome Orage. Ken Saro- Wiwa and other MOSOP leaders were arrested and hanged after a kangaroo tribunal found them guilty of murder.
Despite the international outcry by prominent world leaders and the international human rights bodies that their lives be spared, they were hanged at the Port Harcourt Prisons on November 10, 1995, under the military junta of late Sanni Abacha and Col. Dauda Musa Komo as military Administrator of Rivers State.
The hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa and the eight Ogoni leaders drew the international sanctions and embargo against Nigeria. Abacha and other military leaders were banned by from setting their foot on their soil.Their looted assets were also confiscated.
Many concerned Ogoni leaders are worried that a few Ogoni chiefs could be easily railroaded into agreeing to swallow a cheap carrot dangled before them at a time they were supposed to focus on ensuring that their sons and daughters seeking political positions in different political parties are elected. This is also a crucial time when the Ogoni governorship project did not materialise as none of the major political parties in Rivers state has picked any Ogoni as its governorship candidate.
No doubt, unless the issue of Belema Oil resuming exploration of oil in Ogoniland is tactically handled, it is feared that there may be a replay of the over 20 year’s debacle.