Opinion: Oil Resumption in Ogoniland: Can It Happen Without Wars? (Part 1)

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By Barry Wuganaale

Current State of Ogoni:

In one of Ogoni folktales, we are told that an old woman went to the forest to fetch firewood and almost used a snake as a rope. The story says after the old woman had gathered loose sticks; she needed to bind them together into a bunch. She looked for any kind of string to tie her harvest and in the process mistakenly picked a snake. The reptile with a swift wriggled itself from the old woman and positioned itself for an attack. The old woman was quick to appeal to the snake that she had thought it was a rope which could be used to tie firewood. The snake accepted the woman’s explanation, but it went and told its peers that they should never be gentle to the extent any old woman use them to bind firewood.

The moral of this story is that there was an era in which the Ogoni were so docile in Rivers state and Nigeria. But their neighbours misconstrued their gentility. Their inclination to serenity was seen as timidity. The Ogonis were once taken as a lot destined to operate only at the periphery of the socio-economic and political spheres of Nigeria. Their rights were trampled upon, their dues were denied, their dignity undermined, their opinions ignored and, their aspirations disrespected.

It is against this backdrop that Ken Saro-Wiwa under the auspices of the Movement for the Survival for the Ogoni People (MOSOP) championed their cause. The Ogonis adopted the nonviolent approach in their struggle because they believe in negotiation. They wanted to use intellectual and superior arguments to persuade the authorities. Ogonis wanted other Nigerians to know that contrary to the perception of them; they possess the capacity to reason logically, coordinate their affairs and present their case.

Ken Saro-Wiwa; the spokesperson of MOSOP possessed an ebullient persona, charismatic, articulate and persuasive in writing and speech. His personality and works made him an ideologue for the struggle of the Ogoni people. He was their hero, his voice; writings, speeches and activities carved a pattern and path for Ogoni to follow. Unfortunately, Nigeria refused to accede to the intellectual approach and nonviolent activism advanced by Ogonis. Violence was the only reply that Ogonis got. Firstly, the Ogoni 4 were killed in circumstances that remain mysterious to this day, yet, their murder was used as the alibi to hang the Ogoni 9.

The manner in which the government and Shell reacted to the Ogoni agitation pushed them to the wall. The people are angry and frustrated. When they look across the border of their land they see that the same Nigeria which responded with violence and killed Ogoni leaders is busy negotiating with militia groups. There is a tacit glorification of arms for the same cause which the Ogoni people advanced intellectually. When Ogonis travel to Port Harcourt, Warri, Yenegoa or Uyo; they are asked what has been the benefit of nonviolence.

The seeming preference of arm struggle is tempting for younger people who lack the capacity to stay true to ideological persuasion and commitment. The narrative amongst the younger generation seems driven by influences and appeal for violence. Their own approach is propelled by an undercurrent diametrically opposite to the approach of yesterday. The younger generation seems to have taken the decision never to be outdone and taken for a ride anymore.

We are witnessing a situation whereby the consciousness which MOSOP inspired in Ogoni are being re-channelled into negative energy. Ogoni is undergoing sociological warfare. This type of war is not conventional; the weaponry is mainly the infusion of dynamics that mutate the core element of social cohesion, collective direction and societal development. Sociological warfare is fought on three main fronts, namely; subtle incapacitation, strategic silencing and psychological demobilization.

Will there be war in Ogoni?

Recent events in Ogoniland are not the products of mere coincidence. That the apex organization for Ogoni struggle is fractioned and factionalized into three units calls for concern. It equally forces one to raise an eyebrow that the KAGOTE, an umbrella structure for politicians from Ogoni is splintered into two.

While people are still talking about the imbroglio of MOSOP and KAGOTE; the people have informed that there is a new organization. Gbo Kabaari has some notable names and faces; who instead of repairing existing groups, they are working very strongly to merge the objectives of both MOSOP and KAGOTE. In the same way, people are confused over the neck-deep involvement in partisan activities by the Nigerian Coordinators of Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF). On the sideline is an Ogoni Youth Advancement Network that is in court to force HYPREP to account for some $10m so far released to them for the clean-up exercise.

Besides all of these known groups, there are other translucent, undefined, sectional, foxy and nocturnal groups that also believe they must have their say in the affairs of Ogoni. There is a palpable tension across the land as different groups engage in mudslinging. It appears the contestation is either about who takes the lead in deciding the resumption of oil production, or, how best to oppose any group that wants to take the shine from others.

Wherever you turn in Ogoni are rumours, fears and crises. There is an abundance of different versions of stories of closed-doors meetings being held or planned to be held with the leadership of different communities and kingdoms. The latest talk in town is that any community or kingdom that consent to oil production would receive special protection and support. The insinuation is that collective bargaining would be destroyed. People are beginning to talk in hush voices that the government will negotiate with Tai Kingdom, Eleme Kingdom, Gokhana Kingdom and/or Kpean Community individually and differently.

While these rumours are spiralling, Ogoni communities are experiencing chains of violent attacks almost on a daily basis. The people of Luawii lost 8 persons to gang attack one day, after them; Zaakpon followed with almost a dozen human beings killed. Zaakpon is still a ghost town for close to two months now. Gwara was next with another 4 persons killed in a string of attacks. In Bane and Bere, three prominent persons were beheaded, a chief, a retired policeman and a politician. The story is not better in Sogho and Kono-Boue where 20 and 32 persons respectively; were mowed down in single attacks.

This article was already being concluded when social media platform started releasing images of another invasion of Bori, B-Dere and k-Dere communities. The story is that the latest round of violence is on account of disagreement and clash between a gang that engages in oil bunkering and the patrol team stationed in Kira junction. One cannot deny that some Ogoni youths have also added the notorious activities of crude oil theft and if one adds this to the mix; Ogoni is a cocktail of highly inflammable elements.

The attacks had been explained as cultists and politically related. If that is the truth, it is not wisdom for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to add an issue that will further aggravate an already tensed territory. The political higgledy-piggledy plus the litany of intractable and inexplicable arm violence, which has all elements of organized attacks; are landmines that can explode with the slightest ignition.

The government should borrow a leaf from the book of South Sudan where friends and allies who fought against the northern oppression have turned bitter rivals because of crude oil. Ogoni people are not necessarily unreasonable. The 26 years resistance of oil production in their land is not aimed at sabotaging the government.

To the Ogoni people, non-resumption of oil drilling since 1993 is a “conciliatory trophy”. It is probably a token, but, it has both psychological and sociological value. Let the government approach their desire to resume oil operation in Ogoniland in a manner that provides a healing balm to the collective injuries inflicted on the psyche of the Ogoni ethnic nationality.

Barry Wuganaale is based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is Sustainable Development Consultant, a writer, the Senior Pastor of Altar of Liberation, Coordinator of Hands of Nehemiah International, CEO of Sirabari Investment Pty Limited, CEO Nigerian Transformation Movement, he is also an activist and Expert in Developmental Theology.

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