In order to attract meaningful sustainable development going forward, the federal government has challenged the people of Ogoni in Rivers State, to fashion out united and dignified front with a common voice to table their problems for solutions.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, who stated this during a roundtable dialogue with enlarged Ogoni stakeholders at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Tower, Abuja, last Thursday, emphasised that it was only when the people form a strong team of impeccable leaders would the government take them seriously, and religiously address emerging problems hindering progress in the area.
Kachikwu explained that the age-long distrust and lack of confidence in government has negatively impacted on development in Ogoniland, reassuring that the federal government was committed to the development of Ogoni communities.
The minister noted that the government was interested in addressing all outstanding issues of concern to Ogoni people, including the holistic clean-up of Ogoniland in line with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report Recommendations, resumption of oil exploration, inclusive participation in governance and execution of development projects in the area, stressing that the activation of all these would create jobs, unleash small and medium scale businesses to drive economic growth, and fast-track peace and development.
He specifically noted misconceptions that the federal government had issued operating license to RoboMichael to explore for hydrocarbons in Ogoniland, which had ignited perceived tension in the area, but clarified that what the government did was basically to authorise the issuance of preliminary licence to the indigenous oil firm to enable it engage the people and test its capacity to deliver mutually beneficial business interests to all stakeholders in Ogoni.
Kachikwu reminded the delegation of the importance of getting it right this time around by understanding and keying into all activities presently ongoing in Ogoniland, adding that the Ogoni question was no longer a local issue, but an international one that requires strategic partnership of all players, including Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, traditional rulers, youth and professional groups, KAGOTE and the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) to achieve consensus on issues and meaningful development.
“I am very committed to finding solutions to these problems. There was no reason to stop oil exploration, provided it was done properly. The ideas have been met, but there is need to move forward. Oil communities must not be neglected in anyway, there are vital components, which the federal government must look into critically in addressing the issues in Ogoniland,” he added.
He reminded the leaders of Ogoni that confrontation would never solve any problems in the area in particular, and the entire Niger Delta in general, saying, “We must find a way to sincere and honest engagement. When you break pipeline, we all suffer it; so, the best option I think is to engage aggressively.
“We are compelled by the constraint of time to do the needful because oil that is not extracted for 25 years could be explosive once it finds a little window of escape,” Kachikwu said, insisting that the government was not interested in any particular oil company resuming exploration activities in Ogoniland and would only give nod to companies that have shown not just capacity to deploy best technology and global best practices but have integrity, trust and confidence of the people.
The minister expressed happiness at the success of the meeting, and promised to hold subsequent meetings in Ogoniland, admitting that the people would feel a sense of belonging when government interacts with the grassroots more regularly and delivers on agreements reached.
Earlier, the National Coordinator, Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, Chief Gani Topba had submitted a list of demands of Ogoni people to the minister, including regular meetings to resolve issues relating to resumption of oil exploration, SPDC apology to Ogoni people on the murder of late Kenule Saro-Wiwa, federal government’s exoneration of the Ogoni Nine, connection of all Ogoni communities to the national grid, youth employment, among others.
Topba assured that once SPDC was able to apologise for the Ogoni massacre, KSWA would take the initiative to mobilize the people to ensure that SPDC resumes oil exploration in Ogoniland.
Also speaking, MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara accused the federal government of causing the problem in Ogoniland, and challenged the government to implement the letters of the Ogoni Bill of Rights and the Justice Oputa Panel Report as it concerns the Ogoni question.
Pyagbara expressed the hope that a better framework would be put together to drive result-oriented engagements with the people of Ogoni going forward, and noted with regret that it took the minister so much time to do the needful in order to restore peace in Ogoni.
Ogoni delegation to the parley included the leadership of MOSOP, KSWA, KAGOTE, representatives of traditional rulers, youth and professional groups, among others.
In addition to the top echelon of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the other oil companies at the meeting were the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a subsidiary of NNPC; SPDC; and RoboMichael.