Nov 07, 2016

Ogoni: Activist Deplores Insufficient Indigenous Political Representation While Lauding Progress in Niger Delta Clean-Up

Photo Courtesy of The News

In an interview with Nigerian newspaper The News, Ogoni environmental activist and member of the government consultation team on the Niger Delta clean-up, Celestine Akpobari, stressed that Ogoni people are united in their desire to see the United Nations Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) Niger Delta clean-up succeed and fully implemented, adding that under incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari some important progress has been made. However, Akpobari expressed his concerns about the lack of Ogoni political representation on the regional level and condemns acts of sabotage on oil pipelines by militant groups which only lead to more pollution and further hardships for the Ogoni people.

Below is an article published by The News:

Celestine Akpobari, A Globally Acclaimed Ogoni Environmental Rights Activist speaks exclusively to OKAFOR OFIEBOR in Port Harcourt, about planned implementation of UNEP clean-up of polluted sites in Ogoniland, sabotaging of oil pipelines by Niger Delta Avengers. He says Governor Nyesom Wike is after Senator Magnus Abe, an Ogoni ahead of 2019.

Some people are already alleging that the launching of the clean-up of Ogoni land as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, is a mere political gimmick. What do you think?

The only thing I can say is that as an Ogoni who has been campaigning for the clean-up of Ogoni all my life, when the Minister for Environment, Amina Mohammed and the Minister of State for Environment, Jibril Ibrahim, tell me that the federal government is very committed about cleaning up of the Polluted sites in our land I don’t see why I should fault their integrity. Not long ago the officials of UNEP were in Ogoni, set up the structures for the clean-up because as the people who did the audit report they are in the best position help set up the structures.

Four committees have been set up which comprise committee on Emergency measures, Centre for Excellence, Training and Livelihood engagement and Communications. President Muhammadu Buhari has just inaugurated the Committees to kick start the implementation of UNEP. We had our brother former President Goodluck Jonathan there. The UNEP report was submitted to him on August 4, 2011, but he did nothing about it. But Buhari, a Fulani man from Daura in Katsina State is showing more concern and love to us than our brother and in law. I am also aware that we had unanimously agreed on those that will constitute the membership of the governing council and board of Trustees (those that will keep the money).

I have been part of the consultation team from the time of former President Goodluck Jonathan to date. I was a member of the Task team that facilitated the launch of the clean-up. So if you say that the delay was orchestrated and the launch was a mere jamboree, I disagree. I would have expected a reassessment of the polluted sites in Ogoniland because UNEP did the report about six years ago and water table on our land is permeable.

There are fears that due to cacophony of interests in Ogoniland towards the entire programme, Ogonis will protest and work against the implementation of the UNEP report?

There is no cacophony of interests in Ogoniland on this issue of the implementation of UNEP report; the entire Ogoni kingdom united with one voice. This is a pain that we collectively bear and so no Ogoni will work against the programme. And nobody will politicise the misery of our people. If we notice that anybody wants to do that we will handle that.

The politics PDP is playing Ogoniland is to divide Ogoni people from community to community up to the family. We would not have gotten to where we are if the present Governor of Rivers state is not doing anything possible to stop Senator Magnus Abe from going back to the Senate. His fear is that if Senator Abe succeeds to be in the senate he would be too powerful to contest against him in 2019. All these things you are seeing is towards 2019. This is because since Rivers State was created, Ogonis have never had a shot the governorship seat. Ogoni has never been Deputy Governor, has never been Speaker and Ogoni has never been Chief Judge and clamour for governorship in Ogoni will be very high. So the Governor is doing everything to dis-empower Ogoni people so that no strong Ogoni man can challenge his ambition in 2019.

His fear is that Senator Abe is the only Ogoni man that has the political clout to challenge him in 2019 that is why he prefers a lesser Ogoni man in Olaka Wogu, an Eleme man to go to the senate instead of Senator Abe. It is so the main reason why the Governor and PDP people have left all senatorial districts to be campaigning in the Rivers South East just to stop Senator Abe. They should allow the people of the South East to choose who their leaders should be. Remember that since the creation of the Rivers state an Ogoniman has never been Governor, Deputy Governor, Speaker, Chief Judge despite controlling four local government areas of the state. All the desperation is to ensure the Senator Abe is denied his Senate seat. You have been in this state. Do you remember the bizarre protest against Abe with supporters the Governor and PDP carrying coffins with Senator Magnus Abe on them in Ogoniland? Why will PDP issue a statement complaining that Senator Abe moves about with too much security in a state like ours? That was a man who had survived gun attack ahead of 2005 general elections.

Do Ogoni people know about this political calculation as you have analysed it?

Yes they know. It is all about party loyalty. If you don’t play the game as they expect, they deal with you. But like I said, PDP people are the ones causing all kinds of tension in Ogoniland and across the state to intimidate Rivers people to follow them willy-nilly. Why should we have ex-militants man in the local Government Council areas and be in the hallowed chambers of the state house of Assembly?

There was a time the Civil Societies and members of APC protested against the Rivers House of Assembly for refusing to swear in Hon. Victoria Nyeche of Port Harcourt Constituency 1 and Andrew Miller representing Opobo-Nkoro as elected members. What is your reaction?

The Rivers House of Assembly is not for PDP. It is for Rivers People. If the people of the different constituencies elected their own representative, the House Assembly has no right to deny them of their rights to have their representatives. They should be sworn in. If they were elected under the platform of PDP would they not have been sworn in? Are they being denied because they are APC? What we have is the Rivers House of Assembly not the PDP house of Assembly. I condemn the action the Rivers House Assembly. Since the Rivers Assembly members were sworn in they have not made any law. They are just sitting to approve loans up on loans for the Governor. So they scared of dissenting voices in the house. As regards the Rivers State Judiciary, the faction national Chairman of PDP has aptly described it as Governor Wike’s Supermarket.

As a well-known Niger Delta Activist, what is your assessment of the action of the Niger Delta Avengers that has been sabotaging Nigerian Oil pipelines?

Any action done by anybody that is meant to pollute our environment I condemn it in its entirety. Today, we are talking about the pollution of the environment and people are busy sabotaging oil pipelines. The Oil will poor into our Rivers and pollute the water table and also pollute the aquatic life. They are further destroying the Niger Delta. If they have grievances, they should table it in Abuja not to further destroy our environment. If they are Niger Delta Avengers, their demands are not clear cut. What is the link with Niger Delta the release from prison of Colonel Dasuki the former National Security Adviser and Nnamdi Kanu of Indigenous People of Biafra? There is more than meets the eye. They are playing the script of PDP to derail this government by destroying the economy the government so that they will not be focused towards 2019. If they want to make demands for the Niger Delta people, I will support them because we are cheated.

What is your charge to the new NDDC management?

NDDC is a sad story. The money that has been pumped into NDDC some countries in West Africa don’t have it. Yet, when you go round the Niger Delta you don’t see the evidence of its impact. It is always acted as clearing house easy money over the years. The new board should focus on the key mandate of the Commission as contained in the master plan.