The 2017 edition of the Ogoni Day celebration themed: “Peace and Unity for the Sustainable Development of Ogoni land” held at Bori, the traditional headquarters of the Ogoni nation, amidst pomp and pageantry but with security caution taken by residents and visitors alike.
The event, which MOSOP had planned to be without the usual ceremonial regalia due to the tragic incidents that have occurred within the length and breadth of the Ogoni land, turned out to be well attended by members of the major political parties in Rivers State (PDP & APC), the Rivers State Government, Oil and Gas Regulators (NNPC-NPDC), traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth and students’ groups amongst others.
The opinion leaders in the area availed themselves the opportunity presented through the event to decry the spate of insecurity witnessed in Ogoni land in recent times. As highlighted by the MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara, during his speech; “The increased level of violence, conflict and insecurity in our land had never been this bad. At certain moments in a people’s history, leaders must rise up to tell themselves the truth. Today, the greatest threat of the Ogoni man is no longer the ‘SHELLs’ or the Federal Government of Nigeria, it is our own behaviour. The level of bloodletting in our communities had surpassed all the periods in our recorded history except the period of the military repression.”
However, the major talking point at the event was the implementation of the UNEP Report/Cleanup exercise which for over 2 decades has been on the lips of the Ogoni people—starting with Ken Saro-Wiwa (Snr) who took his advocacy to the United Nations Geneva, which eventually led to the UNEP report and attention from the international community. President Buhari flagged off the cleanup of Ogoni land and other affected communities in the Niger Delta on 2nd June 2016. More than 6 months after with hopes still high, many Ogonis are beginning to ask questions on the reality of the exercise.
Another great concern that was echoed loudly by the Ogonis at the event is the high rate of individual and household displacement caused by cultism, arson and other prevailing social vices. As corroborated by the MOSOP’s President thus; In the past four years, members of Ogoni communities of Ekporo, Kporghor and Baraobara have also been displaced without the State or Federal Government finding ways to address their issues.
The event was also used in charging all the ‘kiths and kins’ of Ogoni extraction to always uphold the sanctity of the ‘Ogoni Bill of Rights’ which envelopes their rights to life, health, safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and freedom from poverty. While reinforcing this charge at the event, the MOSOP’s President submitted thus; “I challenge all of us here today that whilst we look up to the Federal Government to do the needful regarding our environment, we as a people and communities must also take responsibility for protecting our environment and stop the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation. We must deal with the dragon of bunkering in few of our communities carried out by some members of these communities but is tainting our environment and our lives. Whilst we acknowledge that the failure of government to provide gainful employment for our people is largely responsible for a resort to this way of life, we condemn it in its entirety and we appeal to our young men engaged in this activity to end it now for the sake of our nationality and people.
Other Ogoni stakeholders present at the ceremony also lend their voices in calling on the Federal Government to speed up with the cleanup of their land; they also called on community leaders and the youths to embrace peace.
Fyneface Dumnamene Fynface, said: As a representative of Ogoni/Niger Delta youths to the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly where I spoke about youths issues, cleanup and climate change issues. On this 25th anniversary of Ogoni Day, I call for peace in Ogoniland and for government to develop the capacity of youths in the area ahead of the cleanup exercise to discourage restiveness that may truncate the cleanup. In the other hand, the frequent shifting of the actual cleanup exercise by the government is no longer acceptable. It is unfair that since June 2, 2016 that the cleanup was flagged off nothing has happened. The Cleanup should start without further delay.’’
President National Union of Ogoni Student, Dume Baizasi Benedict, said: We are appealing to our leaders to invest into education, the education of Ogoni land is dying out. Our leaders should go back to the drawing board and re-strategize. Education is the key to sustainable development’’.
HRH. Chief Mene Suanu Baridam, said: We need to look at ourselves in the face and say the truth, if the Cleanup of Ogoni land must work, then we must unit and embrace peace. The crises we are facing are caused by us. Traditional rulers should not support killing’’.
With all that have been said by these community stakeholders, we hope the Federal Government and partners keep to their promise to implement the UNEP report that orders the cleanup of Ogoni land and other oil polluted communities in the Niger Delta; If not for anything, for the good of the people who have lost their lives and their livelihoods.