Nigeria: Political violence and anti-democratic measures shape Rivers State governorship election campaign
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) calls on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that the state's governorship elections, scheduled for March 18, are free, fair, and safe, especially in Rivers State, in the Niger Delta region, where Ogoni activists have reported political violence, democratic deficiencies and assaults.
In the run-up to the regional elections, there has been an increase in anti-democratic measures in Rivers State, where the Ogoni are one of the dominant ethnic groups. Human Rights defenders denounce that the current governor, Nyesom Wike, a member of the People’s Democratic Party, has employed all sorts of strategies, both legal and illegal, to prevent the opposition parties from campaigning and participating in the vote. Some of the steps taken include the enactment of orders and laws that infringe on freedom of expression and association. Wike is completing his second term and is constitutionally barred from re-contesting, but has his close candidates taking part.
Even more disturbing is the political violence that has been unfolding in the state. Thugs believed to be loyal to the governor have carried out aggressions and direct attacks against Wike's opponents and members of other political parties, threatening not only lives but the very fabric of democracy. Some of the politicians who have been victims of these orchestrated assaults are of Ogoni origin, including Senator Magnus Abe, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and Innocent Barikor, Deputy gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Party (APC). Both representatives escaped violent attacks. Indiscriminate arrests and detention of supporters of opposition candidates have also been reported.
In 1957, Shell Oil Company struck oil in Ogoniland, which set in motion a process that dramatically affected not only Ogoni society, but Nigeria as a whole. The ruthless exploitation of oil in the Ogonis’ ancestral homeland has had catastrophic consequences for their environment, society and livelihood systems.
In October 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that in response to the Ogoni’s demands, the Nigerian Government had invited them to undertake a comprehensive environmental assessment of oil impacted sites in the Ogoni regions of Nigeria's Niger Delta. UNEP examined 122 km of pipelines, conducted soil and groundwater contamination investigations, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and included over 23,000 local people in the investigation through community meetings.
The results, published in 2011, revealed an alarming reality: that the pollution caused by more than 50 years of oil operations in the region had penetrated further and deeper than many might have guessed, severely affecting access to drinking water, increasing air pollution, damaging the soil and destroying the fishing habitats that local people depend so heavily on, among others. Despite having pledged to implement UNEP's recommendations, the Ogoni people assert that the Nigerian government has so far failed to do so.
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization condemns any kind of exploitation of natural resources which threatens the environment and has a negative impact on local populations. We also urge the government to fully implement the recommendations set forth by the UN, in close collaboration with the communities affected.