When the historian and philosopher, Will Durant wrote that, “Eternal vigilance is the price of order as well as liberty,” he was drawing attention to the degradation of our public order by increase in the anti peace forces.
Unfortunately, the pursuit of economic freedom and mutual co-existence in our society today is greatly threatened by the growth of an intolerant spirit which debases our humanity.
In Nigeria, the Niger Delta region has remained in focus because of the prevalent agitations accruing from decades of perceived injustices meted on the people.
There have also been multifaceted approaches to these seemingly intractable issues of insecurity in this part of Nigeria but not much has been achieved.
As part of measures towards addressing the issues of insecurity in the Niger Delta, Non-Governmental Organisations and other stakeholders have continued to map out modalities of bringing lasting solutions to identified problems.
An international NGO, the Academic Associates Peace Works, recently organised a one day Ogoni Dialogue Forum under the theme, “Peace and Stability in Ogoniland: The Current Contexts, Challenges, Solutions,”
The event which was held at the Atrium Centre in Port Harcourt last December was organised by the NGO in collaboration with the United Kingdom (UK) Government as part of measures to addressing the issues of insecurity in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta region in general.
The programme which was administered by the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) in line with the UK Government’s Niger Delta stability programme, was targeted at a proper diagnosis of the problems through stakeholders’ involvement with a view of addressing them.
One hundred and fifty (150) respected leaders (sons and daughters) from across the six kingdoms and two special areas of Ogoniland, cutting across four local governments in Ogoniland, namely, Tai, Eleme, Gokana and Khana.
The focus of the dialogue and roundtable discussion was to critically examine the deteriorating human security situation in Ogoniland which has led to the clashes, killings, injuries, population displacement and stalemate of the Ogoni clean-up exercise which has grave implications for stability and development.
A key participant and moderator of the event, Dr. Nuka Gwara called on the participants to see the first Ogoni dialogue forum as an avenue for sober reflections and to critically evaluate the security situation in Ogoni land.
He commended the organisers of the dialogue forum for their initiative and called for greater collaboration among relevant stakeholders towards tackling the challenges of insecurity in Ogoni, nay Niger Delta.
In his keynote address, an educationist, Dr. Lebatam Ndegwe, said the root cause of crisis and insecurity in Ogoni were as a result of both internal and external forces. He identified a missing link between the Ogoni traditional elites and the new breed and called for a convergence of ideology between the two forces.
He noted that the drive for the prime objective of Ogoni, by the nation’s political class was not genuine, arguing that “Ogoni has burn the brunt of oil politics in Nigeria despite its enormous economic contributions to national development.” Another guest speaker, Chuks Ofolue, identified the lack of a productive economy as major cause of conflict in Ogoni and the Niger Delta.
He decried the absence of law to promote local ownership of oil in Nigeria, stating that the presence of oil in Ogoni and the Niger Delta has not created the desired economic impact in the area in terms of capacity building and sustainable economy.
He also canvassed for the diversification of the economy by taking advantage of the mass arable land in Ogoni for agricultural activities. “Ogoni has a beautiful landscape suitable for agriculture, I want to recommend that this natural endowment should be put into the fullest use to promote a thriving rural economy, oil at the point of extraction is useless, because they are refined without the input of the oil bearing communities and sold back as finished products,” he stated.
He said, “over 200,000 people enter into the Rivers labour market from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria because of the strategic economic disposition of the state among the comity of Nigerian states.”
Regrettably, he noted that the State has been yoked by such economic burden as the State was battling with nexus of accommodating such yearning interests.
Ofolue who is also a chief economist with the BRACE Commission said the absence of an articulate economic plan was a major disincentive to the development of the entire Niger Delta Region.
In his view, the Anglican Bishop of Ogoni Diocese, Rt. Rev. Solomon Gberegbara, who chaired the event accused the federal government of Nigeria and Shell over the gross underdevelopment of Ogoni land.
He noted that the federal government and Shell’s disdain for Ogoni was demonstrated in “the level of indifference and lack of sincerity of purpose shown in the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Project, UNEP report in Ogoni land.”
Earlier, Comrade Uche Ifukor of the A A Peacework, has urged the participants at the event to make meaningful contributions towards the promotion of peace in Ogoni land. Some of the basic issues identified by the participants as the driving force of conflict in Ogoniland includes; conflict of expectation as a result of the Ogoni clean-up exercise, political dimension to trends of cultism, communal crises and armed violence, excessive high rate of unemployment among the youths and lack of alternative economic livelihood.
The participants also noted that core Ogoni values and beliefs have been eroded as a result of globalisation.
The dialogue forum also came out with a 12- point communiqué and recommendations. Highpoints of the recommendations were that; “the bureaucratic bottleneck hampering the Ogoniland clean-up should be removed; the Federal Ministry of Environment should provide a supervisory role rather than managing the Ogoni clean-up exercise; the legal framework for the implementation of the UNEP Report should be reviewed; Federal Government should establish entrepreneurial skill acquisition centres and ensure an enabling environment for agricultural development; the Rivers State government should commence the second phase of amnesty programme in Ogoniland, which involves training and empowerment of repentant cultists.”
The communiqué also urged traditional rulers to remain politically neutral and not support any cult group, but establish a central coordinating body for the Ogoni Council of Paramount Rulers, a sub-group of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, a sub-group of Ogoni Traditional Rulers Council.
The participants also advocates for the setting up of a peace building committee in Ogoniland with the capacity of Ogoni citizens built in conflict prevention and management, and urged the political representatives of Ogoni to be accountable to the people.
The participants condemned the prevalence of “polithug violence” in Ogoni, and urged youths to embrace peace and chennel their talents towards creative endeavours.