Elders reject planned deployment of troops for Ogoni clean-up
The chairman of the elders’ forum under the aegis of Gbo Kabaari Ogoni, Senator Bennett Birabi, said the people feared that the troops deployment was a ploy to spark off violent crisis in the area that would be used as an excuse for abandonment of the clean-up.
In a petition made available to The Guardian, Birabi reminded the vice president that when he came to kick off the remediation project in Ogoni about two years ago, it was received with enthusiasm by the people who had long yearned for the clean-up of their heavily polluted land in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP).
“It is therefore absurd to all right-thinking persons why a project so enthusiastically received by our long-suffering people should now require the deployment of troops for its implementation. We are not unaware of the fact that in the recent weeks, there has been one or two incidents of youth groups who have peacefully protested against what they see as exclusion of Ogoni and peoples of the Niger Delta and their companies from the remediation processes,” he said.
The elders’ forum sees the planned militarization of the area as the response of the minister of state for environment to the peaceful protests by the youths against the seeming marginalisation of Ogoni contractors in the bidding process. They said whatever concerns of exclusion being expressed should be resolved through dialogue and not by force of arms, especially in a democracy.
“We wish to point out, with the benefit of hindsight, that any security concerns that may be entertained are best served by injection, not exclusion, of the local people into the project instead of troops deployment which invariably would lead to gross human rights abuses and, thus, create a negative perception of the government.
That would, in turn, exacerbate conflict rather than promote peace and security of lives and property,” the elders said.
They further advised that any need for extra security could be better served by use of security companies run by retired military generals from Ogoni who can be engaged to provide peaceful atmosphere, instead of deploying soldiers who, as experience has shown, may end up becoming the problem
“We, therefore, request you to use your good offices to cause the reversal of such contemplated counterproductive deployment of troops as it would only lead to further breakdown of law and order,” he added.