Jul 20, 2011

Ogoni: Time to Take FG to Court is Now

Recent developments in case law in the region give more chance for the Ogonis to stand for their land rights.

Below is an article published by Modern Ghana:


The time has come for Ogonis and other Niger deltans to peacefully take the state and FGs to court for violating their rights to land ownership. Legal fights should complement press statements and physical protest marches. This is if Ogoni must defeat Rivers State, the Federal government and $hell Oil on their many assaults and land encroachments as recent Amaechi, etc. onslaught shows.

We must not be scared of the nature or lack of independence of the Nigerian judiciary. Of course, no country may have 100% independent judiciary of the government because even though government doesn't consult the court, which they may sometimes do, they appoint the judges and the people or judges have their national interests at heart.

It's also proper to state that certain regions of Nigeria, especially South West (the Yorubas and some of their judges, lawyers are trying well to uphold the rule of law. The North also has great prospect for the rule of law though Sharia seems to take preeminence. The case of Ebubu (in Eleme, Ogoni) v. $hell in Rivers State, which favored the complainants to the tune of about or over N14b is a case study as well.

There are many high profile, corporate and government involved cases (or as defendants/ respondents) tested judges have pronounced judgment in favor of plaintiffs. Whether $hell, being a quasi government in Nigeria pay the monetary damages or not (just like it didn't pay the $1.5m the Rivers House of Assembly ordered it to pay in 1993, for damaging the Ogoni environment) shouldn't be an issue. Any judgement in our favor indicates our case (s) has merit and that we've a just cause. If the government refuse to comply or pay as ordered by a competent court, it's still in our favor to show our cause is just. Such legal victory will be marked as precedent or case law.

The Land use Act or decree and all other draconian or obnoxious laws (antithetical to our individual and collective rights as Ogonis), including then petroleum or oil law section 42 (2,3) of the 1979 Federal Constitution, were outlawed in Ogoni in 1993. This was when Ogonis declared $hell and Federal government persona non grata from our land and oil extraction stopped. The 1999 Military Constitution going through some emendation recently still has the above outrageous law that only affects oil land and not cocoa, palm produce and groundnut lands, which are also natural resources because Ogonis and others in Niger delta can't successfully grow such crops.

Meanwhile, latest National Assembly grapevine suggests the resource control argument shall be revisited. This, is of course due to our fearless modern-day peaceful agitation which has stirred others to equally demand reforms so as to giving greater control to real owners of resource lands. Well, we know the Nigerian way is mostly a crooked and lawless way, so should watch closely as it can't be uhuru yet. We must keep the fire burning until justice is served; we must act now to stop $hell and the Federal government from forcing into our land. A lawsuit can place an injunction on their moves, or stir certain consciousness with media buzz that will pull them back.

Even though $hell paid a paltry sum of $15.5m in the Wiwa, et al v. $hell, as a way of running away from actual trial, the victory no doubt has legal implication or consequence. A precedent has been set-this case is one of those cited in such cases. And the second lawsuit is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The recent Class Action Lawsuit instituted against $hell by Ogonis (Bodo people in UK) for environmental despoliation will also go a long way to show the extent to which $hell's recklessness approved by the Nigeria State, is no longer acceptable to Ogoni. Hence the legal, social and environmental implications of multinational corporations doing business in Ogoni, Niger delta, even Nigeria and Africa at large. We can see how these cases aren't only laying precedents, but also creating global awareness to our plight and thus the support we get.

Finally, such Nigerian laws as those above are inconsistent with international law or treaties dealing with indigenous peoples rights to land, such as in the Ogoni situation. Some may think these international laws are mere talks and so can't bark not to mention biting. Yes, it isn't an automatic rubber stamp. But candidly, they talk, walk and work, shout and can bite. If for nothing, when they're applied in Nigerian courts challenging the authoritarian laws stealing our land, awareness is created.

More people will also follow suit and then reforms could come with time. Importantly, when these laws are applied in International fora especially the International Court of Justice (hereinafter referred to as The Court), Nigeria may not be expelled from the UN, but certain political and economic pressure may trail the country.

At such point, the state is further exposed not only to the world community, but also exposed to external influence because this is a violation of international law (UN Charter and Conventions, etc.) it pledged in good faith to obey and help to protect. It's of course a human rights violation which exposes sovereign states to external or extraterritorial influence. Slowly, we will by so doing be building our case, stronger ones beyond the invocation of procedure 1503 (which allows us document patterns of discrimination, repression and marginalization, etc.) against Nigeria.

Ogonis and their land and all indigenous groups are protected by the provisions of Articles 30 (1,2) and 32 (1) of the UN Declaration on Indigenous peoples Rights. The 1960 UN Resolution 1514 (xv) on Self-Determination, with provisions of African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, also protect our rights to conduct our economic and political business or affairs without interference from anyone including Rivers State and the FG of Nigeria. We've a duty to assert these right.

Finally, the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wouldn't have been successful today with press releases, letter from Birmingham, etc., Selma, March on Washington, DC., Montgomery and other Marches alone. Legal struggles such as Dred Scott v. Standford (Sandford), which which took place between 1846-1857 helped pave the way. Scott and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 paved the way for Plessy v. Ferguson (Separate but equal accommodation of 1896) and Brown v. Board of Education, which decision came in 1954 from the U.S. Supreme Court. Brown decision declared unconstitutional laws that segregated blacks from whites in public schools.

Note, that the Scott case, was about his freedom from his slave masters, but he's defeated because, as a black slave, he and his wife, daughter were considered properties (not citizens) and so couldn't sue any white. Yet, this bold step Scott took among other cases brought about certain slave freedoms through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862-'63 (by Pres. Abraham Lincoln who also owned slaves like George Washington and others). The Constitutional law made by the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 and America's equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of 1868, the Fifteenth Amendment among other Congressional laws made original slavery laws illegal and criminal. Please see American Civil Rights 1800-1956 and beyond.

We can see how long these combinations of battles took. My people, it's different today if we work hard. With international law or the UN and international organizations which MOSOP is one, we shall make it sooner even though not simple. Ogoni is recognized as one of the non-state actor groups that influence global affairs, we must know. But the UN, USA, EU, AU and the Court will not call us and hand us these rights against Nigeria. We've to bring up certain actions like Scott, Brown even Wiwa v. $hell, to get what we want, or government and $hell will continue to cheat us. Oppressing Ogoni (Niger deltans) is in the national interest of Nigeria so the rulers will not do right unless we force them through legal battles and other peaceful methods we're used to.

Remember that all unjust laws are no laws, and we've a moral responsibility to fight and disobey them. We've done it before. Yes, in 1993 to date, chasing $hell and government from our oilfields or land. This feat must be maintained or we die if we falter! I therefore charge Ogoni people (not minding where we may be) to sit up and be prepared to take up these legal battles for our lives-human and environmental rights- and land. We're destined or have destined ourselves to lead ourselves, Niger delta, other Nigerian and Africa indigenous peoples to secure socioeconomic and environmental justice...other human rights.

This isn't the time to drift or run away from our call by nature. Though challenges of internal and external magnitude exists, we will triumph should we remember as we fight on and stick to the world's sage, Ken Saro-Wiwa's saying: "We are going to demand our rights peacefully, nonviolently and we shall win!"