Mar 07, 2007

Ogoni: Interview with UNPO President

Ledum Mitee, interviewed during the Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference, raised issues concerning the Ogoni land peace initiative, tension in the Niger-Delta and the imprisonment of Asari Dokubo.

Below are excerpts from an interview with UNPO President Ledum Mitee published by Vanguard.

OGONI is an oil rich community in the Niger Delta. The area has been struggling for improved living standard and improved environmental condition brought on by oil exploration and production in its territory. Chains of events, in 1995, led to the death of many prominent sons of Ogoni, including Ken Saro Wiwa - a writer, television producer, entrepreneur and the principal founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Ledum Mittee, a lawyer, and compatriot of Ken Saro Wiwa, who is part of the struggle, is now President of MOSOP.

He spoke with Luka Binniyat and Yemie Adeoye of the Vanguard during the recently concluded Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference held in Abuja. In this interview, he distances MOSOP from the Federal Government peace initiative in Ogoni land headed by the respectable Rev. Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, saying the committee only implemented a script engineered by Shell. He also talks about tension in Niger-Delta, and a way to mitigate the development while also calling for the release of Asari Dokubo.




What is your take on the way that the CWC (organiser of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference) deliberated on the problems of the Niger Delta?

I did not attend all the sessions. But, looking at the frame work of the programme, I would say, generally, it was a good idea. I think it is driven more about investment – what can be done to get investment into the place and for which purposes. I don’t know where people like us fit in. The problem right now is that the legal license is not enough to operate an oil field. You get your Legal Licences here in Abuja; you still need the Social License from the people in the Niger Delta. So, I think more discussion should be on how we get that Social License between the people, so that our Legal License from Abuja can be meaningful on the ground. I didn’t see much of that at the CWC sessions. But, the CWC is a foreign outfit. And it is driven by the motive of getting more investment for its people to better their economy.

So, for me, who comes from the grass-root, I would love to see us discuss how we can get the Social License from the people. I didn’t see much of that in the session I attended. Even the industry people were taking a different outlook. I see a deflection of responsibility. The government people say, “Oh! We are doing fine. You can ask the industry.” The industry says; “It is not our business. We are not supposed to do anything.” And that just gets one laughing, because no one in the grass-roots listens to such talk.

There is a joint partnership between government and the oil companies. So, we hold both of them responsible for what is happening in the Niger Delta. They have to map out what percentage of responsibility they want to do. It is not for us to go and look at that; “you have 40 per cent, so you give us 40%.” That is their business. And the more they waste time, the more the situation gets worse. So, that’s my impression.

What do you think is the outcome of the presidential envoy for peace in the Niger Delta, especially in Ogoni Land, headed by Rev Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, as far as MOSOP is concerned?

As a group committed to non violence, we always embrace any opportunity for dialogue.

But, we are also not afraid to say that once a dialogue process is faulty, we must just be there to fulfil all obligations. We think that most times that you hear about dialogue, it is actually not dialogue. It is that someone wants to talk to you. And so, he calls you and says what he wants. He does not think that you have a say about what to do. Father Kukah's committee, we welcomed it. He worked out the rules of the games in what he calls the “concept paper”. He said; “this is what we are going to do”. We said, ‘fine, and we participated in the process of drawing out the concept– what is supposed to be the rule of the game.

After that, that was the end. No meetings were held. And, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the man picked something which Shell suggested and said we were going to do that. What I hear them say is, “look, there is no need for a meeting. We will do what we know best to do for you and then tell you the outcome”. That’s not dialogue! So, even the rules that the process produced were breached from the beginning. I wish to say that our people are not afraid to say that even if we embrace dialogue, we are not afraid to say, ‘look! This process is stupid, and we can’t be part of it”. So as far, as we are concerned, that process is dead. I mean, look at it: you want to talk to a people who are angered, and you never called them for a day and say, “lets talk”.

This thing they are doing will cause trouble. It takes one or two mad people to create a disaster. And then you will now say, “a whole people have been there”, but you caused these problems. You don’t ask people to talk! You go to some chief and try to give them money! And everybody who knows about the history of the Ogoni should know that these things have caused troubles in the past, even a perception about those things. And to imagine that people that we thought are respectable would embark on a process as this… maybe we were too trusting about the process than we were supposed to believe. So as, far as we are concerned, it is one of these several initiatives which were supposed to achieve a predetermined outcome. Not something that we should be able to participate to resolve the matter.

For instance, the rules that he puts down is that parties were going to choose their own people who will be their representatives in the talks. Then they will call the talks. We said apart from Shell in Nigeria, you need to bring Shell International because they are the people who call the shots. They agreed. They said, ‘when we have agreed, we will submit our agenda”. Shell will submit her agenda and these things will be put in a milestone and both sides will now agree - “we will talk these first, when we finish with that, we will go to the next”. Now, both sides submitted their agenda.

For our people, maybe to talk about an apology is far more important than anything else than to say that might be the first thing that we want to talk about. All of a sudden, they sent us a paper that Shell said they want to clean up. And so, we must do clean up! We have not sat down to talk. What we now hear is that they are not comfortable with the list that we submitted as our representatives”. Who is supposed to choose who talks on our behalf? So they want to talk to those they want. Is that the process that we should be part of?

People have died in Ogoni; people have lost their lives. And if anybody anywhere thinks that those sacrifices are something that people will just forget and go into anything that is not credible, well, I do not think that is right. And I think soon, maybe people like us will just step aside. And then they will be confronted with the intense anger that people on the ground have in those circumstances. I see that they want to form a situation of blackmail because when it happens, they will say, ‘you caused it’. Because you have said that that process is bad”.

So, for MOSOP, the psychological healing, like the apology, stands above other demands?

Of course! You must first clean our minds. All minds must be clean! If you have a problem with someone- someone killed your father- what would you want him to say. Then he says, ‘well, I am gong to build a house for you.” you will want to say, ‘look, my friend, that thing that you did was wrong in the first place”. You must first heal the mind, before healing the body. That is very important. People do not understand what it means for a people to be given the opportunity to say that, this is what you have done to me, and I feel you should say, ‘I am sorry for that’. But, you have other people say, “Oh don’t worry; we want your oil to flow. As far as oil flows, no problem. This oil is supposed to fuel Nigeria; it is supposed to go into the pockets of the corrupt people who are ruling the country. So, forget them and go”. Then you say, “Oh! I lost my brothers, I lost my sister. So, was it supposed to be for this that I lost what I have?”

Are you saying that Shell is back to Ogoni land without the consent of your people?

No! That is not what I am saying! They want to be back…

They are not back to full operation?

I have not seen them. Maybe they are trying to find ways of getting in. And some of the ways that they are going about it, as far as I am concerned, borders on blackmail. In fact, I think it is some form of terrorism. For some time now, all the papers are carrying the Shell PR to say, “Oh! Ogoni! There is fire from their oil wells. They won’t allow us inside. They don’t allow us inside” And you ask, ‘where is the fire coming from? Who is responsible for the fire?’ Federal government has said to Shell, ‘look,  as far as we are concerned, after ten years, the laws of this country says if you are not operating an area, we should take it from you”.

Now, it is more than ten years that Shell operated there. If you don’t show that you can do it, government said it wants to cancel it. Shell protested and threatened to sue the government. Government baulked. They said Shell says the law says you should give us sometime. “Okay, we will give you one year to see whether you are around”. Is it not a co-incidence, some odd co-incidence that when they gave them twelve months that fires are now going out at the flow stations. And I have heard people confess to me, who said, ‘look, we were asked to put fire to one or two of these locations. And one of these people that was responsible for that, Shell, paid him N50 million.

He has bought a Humer Jeep. A young boy that has no job! All because he can carry arms and guide Shell officials who will claim that they want to put out the fire, but they want to do something else. And so you now find a situation where people now use thugs to set fire to oil well in order to achieve a purpose of blackmailing the people; that we are not allowing them. That, I think, is not just a function of blackmail, but terrorism! If you read the EFCC Act, the definition of terrorism is when you try to use these things to force people against what they are supposed to do.

I think that is exactly what it is. But, my problem in this country is that there are some people that are above the law, particularly the companies. They are above the law. Certain things that they do, if you do them, you will be grabbed. For example, if you kill someone today by gun or knife, that is murder. Everybody will shout that you’ve killed somebody. But, if you poison someone from pollution; if you put gas in a place; if you put carbon-monoxide and a person dies, that is not murder. So, the companies are getting away with murder. Someone is doing what, ordinarily, in some parts of the world, he will be held. Yesterday, I was just laughing.

They said some companies in the US – I read it in the papers – had sentenced some company executives to some very heavy fine for bribing Nigerian officials to get contracts in the oil industry. Now, those people in their countries, the companies, are being punished for giving bribe. But here, the people who got the bribes are, in fact, given national honours. So, that is the problem that you find. Unless we are able to break these barriers, we will continue to have motion without movement.

Give us your idea of a solution to the Ogoni problem?

It is to talk. You see, the problem with this country is that if you look at the situation here and you look at what happened in South America, there is a difference. In South America, their government stands for the people against oil companies. ‘Don’t exploit my people’, that is the position of their government. Here, the governments take a position: ‘Companies! What do you want? Anything you want, don’t mind my people, I will suppress them.

We can bring in soldiers to back you, I can bring Mobile Police to back you, I can do anything you want, provided you get me the money’. So, once that situation happens, the government ceases to be a credible arbiter, because they have become one-sided. So, when government says it wants to enter into dispute between the community and oil companies, you do not have the confidence of anybody. So, clearly, what we need now, in my view, is, maybe, to look for people of credible character in the society; that may not necessarily be in government. They can be the arbiter into the matter between communities and oil firms.