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Intrigues Delay Ogoni Cleanup

By Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt
14 February 2016   |   2:34 am
IMPLEMENTATION of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland is buckling under the weight of political manoeuvrings.

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IMPLEMENTATION of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland is buckling under the weight of political manoeuvrings.

High financial stakes in the clean up might explain the intrigue that characterised the last election of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and its face-off with other interest groups in the area.

The Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Ibrahim, had recently blamed lingering internal issues among the Ogoni elite for seeming procrastination in actualising directive by President Muhammadu Buhari for fast tracking the exercise.

A United Nations special rapporteur who visited Nigeria in 1999, four years after the extrajudicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni kinsmen by the General Sani Abacha junta, had recommended an environmental audit of Ogoni.

In compliance with the recommendation, the Federal Government evoked the polluter pay principle, which compelled Shell to fund a $9.5m detailed study of the Ogoni environment, which outcome is today popularly referred to as the UNEP Report on Ogoniland.

UNEP said its key findings revealed that in at least 10 communities, drinking water was contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons. One community at Nisisioken Ogale had been drinking water from wells contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above World Health Organisation guidelines.

Last December, two factional presidents of MOSOP: Mr. Legborsi Saro Pyagbara and Mr. Mike Lube-Nwidobie emerged.

The factions subsequently submitted to the Federal Government different lists of nominees for appointment into a board that should oversee implementation of the Report. This resulted in confusion and impeded government’s determination to pull through the exercise.

Former MOSOP Public Relations Officer, Legborsi Esaen, who was suspended by the Pyagbara faction, prior to the crisis rocking the organisation, was selected as chairman of a parallel electoral committee.

Esaen stated that Nwidobie had distributed copies of a petition against the entire electoral process. According to him, this stalled the election, as even security operatives present advised ‎that the exercise be called off.

“This led to an emergency congress (as a doctrine of necessity) where the Prince Biira-led electoral committee was dissolved. Four others and I were mandated to ‎conduct fresh elections 10am the following day, December 31, 2015, to forestall a leadership vacuum.

“I had initially turned down‎ this offer to chair the committee, since I no longer wanted to be identified with Mr. Pyagbara’s MOSOP. This is not the first time this doctrine will be applied, like in the setting up of a caretaker committee (which the MOSOP constitution does not have provision for). The election held. Chief Mike Nwidobie emerged winner,‎ having scored 821 votes over Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara who had 186,” said Esaen.

But according to Fegalo Nsuke, publicity secretary of the Pyagbara faction, the crisis threatening the clean up is politically instigated and aims at short-changing the Ogoni people by grabbing funds earmarked for the project.

There are abundant facts to show that the cause of the problem was the $1bn takeoff grant for the planned exercise, which is being eyed by masterminds of the controversies bedeviling MOSOP, Nsuke alleged.

The Pyagbara faction has been accused of aligning with the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. An example often cited was that during the 2016 Ogoni Day celebration, politicians who attended the event were mainly PDP members in elective positions in the state. Ogoni political leaders with affinity to the All Progressives Congress (APC), therefore, moved to thwart Pyagbara’s hold on MOSOP, feeling he could not be romancing with PDP elements, when an APC government at the centre is embarking on the much anticipated clean up.

Worried by the ugly development, some past leaders and activists of the Movement, leaders of thought and elders from Ogoni met, recently, to resolve the crisis and reposition the body.

At the end of the meeting, a resolution committee was set up comprising Ledum Mitee, Professor Don Baridam, Dr. Meshach Karanwi, Rev. Dr. Abraham Olungwe, Lenusikpugi Kpagih, Chief Monday Abueh and Ms Rose Nwigani.

The meeting appealed to all sides to cooperate with the committee and refrain from actions or statements capable of undermining the peace initiative.

During the January 4, 2016 Ogoni Day celebration, Pyagbara had commended the President Buhari-led Federal Government for the renewed interest in the Report. He, however, stressed: “The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide against the Ogoni people.”