Dec 02, 2011

Ogoni: Journalists and Activists Detained Amid Protests

Human rights groups demand the release of activists and two journalists who travelled to Ogoniland to report on the growing militarization of rural areas, signalling harsher police crackdowns. 

Below is an article published by Business Daily Online:

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has demanded the immediate and unconditional release of an ERA/FoEN staff, five other activists and two journalists who visited Ogoniland to witness a protest by the aggrieved Ogoni people whose farmlands were being surveyed by heavily-armed military men preparatory to the establishment of a military cantonment.

The protest, which started from Sogho community in the Khana Local Government Area of Ogoni, Rivers State, spread to other parts of Ogoniland, including Korokoro in the Tai Local Government Area where heavily-armed thugs associated with a known paramount ruler in the area beat up the activists and confiscated the cameras of the journalists, seized their mobile phones and other personal belongings. The activists were subsequently handed over to a police team of 10 from the nearby police post in Nonwa in the Tai LGA who were lurking around.

Activists arrested include Michael Kanikpo, head of ERA/FoEN Port Harcourt Office, members of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum(OSF) and others whose identities are yet to be known as at the time of the issue of this release.

Tekena Amaofiori, a correspondent of the African Independent Television (AIT) and a camera man whose name is still unknown, were also arrested. “We completely disapprove of the militarisation of Ogoniland and this shameful action which seems a clear throwback to the military era when peaceful protests were viewed as an affront to the military establishment and responded to by silencing of perceived opponents. The activists and journalists detained must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey.

Bassey explained that: “Rather than this unacceptable detention which rubs salt on the injury of the genuinely aggrieved Ogoni people who recently commemorated the 16th anniversary of the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni people, the Federal Government should be thinking of how to engage the people for remediation of their degraded environment as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in its assessment of Ogoniland.”

“Foul play is suspected here. Is the planned establishment of a cantonment in Ogoniland a systematic way of breaking down the resistance of the people to allow Shell return to Ogoniland? We demand an answer and promptly too. Not only must a comprehensive probe of this ugly incident be carried out. The paramount ruler who allegedly ordered the beating up of the activists along with the suspected thugs that carried out this action must also be questioned and prosecuted if found culpable."

Bassey reiterated ERA/FoEN's earlier articulated position that government immediately compel Shell to start decommissioning in Ogoniland and begin the cleanup of the area, even as he added that government’s silence on the cleanup exercise nearly four months after the release of the UNEP report and the sudden plan to establish a cantonment in Ogoniland is a calculated attempt to bring Shell back through the backdoor.