The need for sustainable peace and development in Ogoni has remained a major concern to critical stakeholders. The twist of events in Ogoni in recent time no doubt reveals the imminent collapse of the vestiges of communal bond that once defined the collective existence of the people.
Renowned for its foremost role in environmental rights advocacy, Ogoni land, like most Niger Delta communities, has over the years received its fair share of conflicts and growing agitations with grave implication for sustainable peace and development in the area.
A cursory look at recent event in Ogoni indicated that various communities were wedged under the yoke of unbridled violence and dehumanising human security situation, with untold consequence of wanton killings, population displacement and gross underdevelopment.
However, the prime objective of Ogoni in the Niger Delta struggle for political, economic and environmental justice in the Nigerian state has continued to place Ogoni on the centre stage of global discourse. As such, various stakeholders are seeking collaborations and measures of averting further crisis in Ogoni and opening out the area for development.
One of such concerned stakeholders is an international Non Governmental Organisation, NGO, known as the Academic Associates Peace Works. (AA Peace Works). The NGO, last December, organised the first Ogoni Dialogue Forum in Port Harcourt to discuss the way forward for sustainable peace and development in Ogoni. The forum recorded a huge turn-out of participants from Ogoni and far-reaching decisions were reached.
As a follow-up to the event, the A.A. Peace Works recently organised the second Ogoni Dialogue Forum to consolidate on the gains of the first meeting.
Held at the Atlantic Hall of the Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt, under the theme; “Opening up Ogoniland for development, the need for collaboration and coordination”, the forum, which was funded by the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s Niger Delta Stability Programme and administered by the Stakeholders Democracy Network (SDN), was attended by stakeholders from the six kingdoms and two special areas in Ogoni, cutting across four local government areas of Tai, Eleme, Gokana and Khana.
In her remark at the event, the Executive Director of A.A. Peace Works, Dr Judith Asuni, said the forum was a platform for Ogoni stakeholders to discuss issues relating to peace and stability in Ogoniland.
“We in the A.A. Peace Works are concerned about the peace and development of the Niger Delta Region, particularly Ogoni. This forum is organised to avail the Ogoni stakeholders the opportunity to proffer solutions to the challenges of insecurity, instability and under-development in Ogoni”.
She commended the Ogoni stakeholders for turning up for the event and urged them to make meaningful contributions and recommendations that will bring lasting peace, stability and development in Ogoni.
In his key note presentation, a lead discussant at the forum, Dr Nuka Gwara, noted that the crisis in Ogoni were instigated from “without and within”. He listed some of the major causes of conflict in Ogoni to include attitude of political elites, divide and rule tactics, weak traditional institutions and their selection mode, intra communal conflicts, unhealthy competitions, loss of love among Ogoni communities and get-rich-quick syndrome among youths.
Dr Gwara noted that the engulfing conflicts in Ogoniland had impacted negatively on the lives of the people.
“When conflict engulfs a community, there is always a dislocation of the people. People run away from the area of conflict or where they do not feel safe enough. People abandon their sources of livelihood and live as refugees, deprived of their communal comfort. The general standard of living of the people is destabilised”, he said.
He emphasised the need for social re-engineering and sensitisation of the people on the importance of peaceful co-existence, and urged the participants to see themselves as peace agents by spreading the peace gospel in their respective communities.
Dr Gwara also identified the need to deploy collective mechanisms to fight poverty in Ogoni land, which he described as a “formidable foe”.
Speaking at the event, the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr Legborsi Pyagbara, raised an alarm over a plot by some oil companies to cause crisis in Ogoni, by resuming oil exploration in the area through the back door.
He said MOSOP and the Ogoni people have not given consent to any oil firm to resume oil exploration in the area, noting that major issue of concern now was the “remediation of the Ogoni environment through the proper implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoni environmental clean-up”.
Also speaking, the chairman of the forum, Prof. Barineme Fakae, commended the A.A. Peace Works for their concern towards promoting peace and development in Ogoni.
Prof. Fakae, a former Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, urged all Ogoni stakeholders to key into the process of peace building and remodeling Ogoniland for development.
The forum ended with a resolute commitment on the part of all Ogoni stakeholders to embrace peace and save Ogoniland from slipping into further chaos, anarchy and desolation.
Some of the far-reaching decisions included the need to “shun all acts capable of distorting peace and escalating violence in the six kingdoms and two special centres, namely Ban Ogoi and Bori; to work with relevant stakeholders towards disarming, demobilising, rehabilitating and reintegrating our youths who may have been involved in cultism and militancy”.
The forum also resolved to “carry out electioneering campaigns, voting and participate in the electoral processes in a peaceful manner in accordance with the provision of the Electoral Act of Nigeria and guidelines issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); and shall not finance, arm, support, or affiliate with any group that has the intent to instill fear and cause violence in any part of Ogoni”.
Other resolutions were: “To create an enabling environment for smooth implementation of the Ogoni clean-up and other recommendations of UNEP Report; to continue to engage government at all levels, multinational corporations, civil society groups, philanthropic organisations, financial institutions, academia and technocrats towards the development of our local economy to create jobs and income for our people”.
The forum also resolved to strengthen the Ogoni conflict early warning and early response system and work closely with security agents and key community stakeholders to ensure peace in Ogoni, as well as strengthen the traditional institutions and values in order to respond to contemporary conflicts in the oil rich area.