Jan 10, 2011

Ogoni: Nonviolence Will Protect Niger Delta Environment

In the run-up to a public hearing with Shell, Nigerian activist Sunny Ofehe, who also supported the UNPO-coordinated “Clean the Niger Delta” activities, emphasises the need for non-violent campaigns to stop environmental degradation in Ogoniland’s Niger Delta.

Below is an article published by the Daily Sun:

Founder/President of The Netherlands-based Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC), Comrade Sunny Ofehe, keeps the flame of the Niger Delta question aglow on a different pedestal. His is not like the violent agitation that gave rise to militancy or the noxious gas flared in the Niger Delta that lights up the environment but ironically destroys it.

Through his non-violent campaigns over the years, Delta State-born Ofehe has succeeded in attracting international attention to the environmental plight of communities in Nigeria’s oil producing region.

Recently, working with an opposition party in the Dutch Parliament, the Industrial Chemistry graduate of the University of Benin, for the first time, got the parliament to invite Shell, which has its headquarters in The Netherlands, to defend its exploration activities in the Niger Delta. A public hearing has been scheduled for January 26 [2011] at The Hague.

Ahead of the hearing, Ofehe alongside a female Dutch MP, Sharon Gesthuizen, visited the Niger Delta a few days before the last Christmas for an ‘on-the-spot assessment’ of oil exploration activities. But the visit almost turned into an embarrassment for the government as operatives of the overzealous security outfit policing the region, the military-backed Joint Task Force (JTF), detained them alongside the international chair of the Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Mr Nnimmo Bassey, for more than 12 hours in a community in Edo State. It took the intervention of the powers that be in Abuja before they regained their freedom.

Ofehe speaks on this encounter among other issues [in the following interview excerpts]:

When and how was Hope for Niger Delta Campaign formed?

I arrived in The Netherlands precisely on November 27, 1995, that was exactly 17 days after the brutal hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight Ogoni martyrs. After living in the country for many years and finding out that despite Shell International being headquartered in The Hague, many people, including the media, didn’t know much about the environmental problems in the Niger Delta with respect to Shell Nigeria oil operations in the region.


Let me recall that after the 2003 elections in which greedy politicians freely spread weapons among youths to violently win the flawed elections, it was clear that the Niger Delta was heading towards another violent phase. This reinvigorated my resolve to begin a campaign within The Netherlands. I needed an official platform to carry out this campaign and decided that setting up a non-governmental organisation will help lend the voice that the region needs internationally. Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) was eventually founded in 2005 with its headquarters in Rotterdam.


Being a Nigerian, what was the perception of the Dutch about you and the organization in the early days?


Having interacted with the Dutch people at every level, I can tell you that the majority of them have a good heart and are not happy with the situation in the Niger Delta, particularly after the killing of the Ogoni 9. Realising this about the ordinary Dutch people gave me the momentum to feed them with information that could answer the many questions that bothers them about the role of Shell and the Nigerian government in the protracted quagmire that has engulfed the region since oil was first discovered in 1957. Really, at the beginning, as a Nigerian trying to spearhead this daunting task was not easy. I had to fight many stigmatised factors. The only story that got media attention in The Netherlands was always about how Nigerians were involved in the scam business (419) and bank-related frauds. Nigerians had been profiled to be dubious and criminals.


Who should be held responsible for the unending crisis in that region, the government, oil multinational companies or traditional rulers?

I always say that the blame and responsibility are a tripod - the Nigerian government, the oil multinationals and the local leaders, into which the traditional rulers fall. The oil companies cannot continue to mess up the environment without the support of the Nigerian government. Remember, they are in a joint venture agreement and the oil companies are the operators of this joint venture. When the oil companies continue to operate at their whims and caprices and the government lacks the political will to regulate and enforce the basic tenets that guide their operations, it then means they are Siamese twins collaborating to milk the environment at the expense of the health and livelihood of the people.

The local leaders have been torn apart by greed and corruption. The oil companies’ practice of divide and rule, which tends to divide community leaders, has also heightened crisis in the region. This has been responsible for clashes among separated communities. Honesty and transparency among these three tiers will definitely reduce the causes of the crisis and become the home run for sustainable peace in the region.