BY ISAAC OLAMIKAN
Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, the Executive Director of the Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth Nigeria(ERA/FoEN), has in this chat revealed how militancy started in the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Going down memory lane ,he recalled: “Nigeria which was at one time a peaceful nation suddenly found itself as a nation that is breeding militants fighting against the state and the oil companies.
“In the beginning, from the early 1980s, when oil production was at its peak it was not always so. As oil exploration intensified there was monumental environmental degradation and human rights violations. By 1989, the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues mobilised to draw attention to the plight of Ogoni people.
“At the time oil pollution was rife and environmental degradation, human rights violations, livelihood destruction. So, communities, in the past, were seeking no more than dialogue and compensation for destroyed crops.
“And many a time they asked the government it made empty promises saying that ‘the benefits of oil is in the pipeline.’ After so many years, the youths decided to team up to see what’s really in the pipeline.
“That’s one explanation of what led to militancy. More importantly, the failure of the state to embrace dialogue led to militancy.
“From the Ijaw speaking area that embraced militancy one of their claims is that since dialogue as employed by the Ogonis and Ken Saro-Wiwa seems to have failed they’ll not chart that process. So, they decided to take up arms.
“By and large that is how the struggle started. But we say categorically that rewarding entrepreneurs of violence can only breed further violence . The critical issue of livelihood and environmental destruction have not been looked at holistically.
“That’s why I have been championing the course that the government should clean up Ogoniland and in particular should set aside $100billion for the clean up and the rehabilitation of the Niger Delta.”
He appealed to the government and the militants to sheath their swords.
“I think the whole essence of the sabotage is about reducing the oil windfall which the militants claimed is their resource control. At a point in 2007, oil production dropped at least by two-third before the amnesty programme came on stream.
“I think the critical element is destroying the national asset which should be prevented. Everyone should come to the understanding that without national assets the government is not likely to do well. The critical element is that this national asset is being used by a few to the detriment of the majority.
“Preserving the resources is important . But involving local communities in decision making on the use of national resources is also very important.”
He described as important the directive by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, that international oil companies should relocate their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta area.
“Relocating the headquarters, operational facilities to areas of operation in the Niger Delta as directed by the Vice President(Professor Yemi Osinbajo) is very important.
“But again, people may applaud it but that is highly cosmetic. The more critical issue to be raised is the involvement of local communities. How we can put a stop to the oil theft which is already taking over 20 percent of national production.
“I think the whole idea of modular refineries will be useful in this context ; the way that local distillers or artisanal refineries are springing up here and there, sabotaging facilities can then be organised into co-operatives; the way that they can shore up the production or the refining capacity of Nigeria,” Dr. Ojo enthused.
BY ISAAC OLAMIKAN