While nations are at the COP 17 negotiating on how to protect host communities and their livelihood, indigenous people of Ogoniland are being harassed and detained in the quest to grab their land.
Five Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) staff, activists and two journalists who visited Ogoniland to witness a protest by aggrieved Ogoni people whose farmlands were being surveyed by heavily-armed military men preparatory to the establishing a military cantonment have been detained.
The protest which started from Sogho community in the Khana Local Government Area of Ogoni, Rivers State, spread to other parts of Ogoniland, including Korokoro in the Tai Local Government Area where heavily-armed thugs associated with a known paramount ruler in the area beat up the activists and confiscated the cameras of the journalists, seized their mobile phones and other personal belongings. The activists were subsequently handed over to a police team of 10 from the nearby police post in Nonwa in the Tai LGA who were lurking around.
Activists arrested include Michael Kanikpo head of ERA/FoEN Port Harcourt Office, members of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum(OSF) and others whose identity are yet to be known as at the time of the issue of this release. Tekena Amaofiori, a correspondent of the African Independent Television (AIT) and a camera man whose name is still unknown were also arrested.
ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey said “We completely disapprove of the militarization of Ogoniland and this shameful action which seems a clear throwback to the military era when peaceful protests were viewed as an affront to the military establishment and responded to by silencing of perceived opponents. The activists and journalists detained must be released immediately and unconditionally” .
Bassey explained that: “Rather than this unacceptable detention which rubs salt on the injury of the genuinely aggrieved Ogoni people who recently commemorated the 16th anniversary of the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni people, the Federal Government should be thinking of how to engage the people for remediation of their degraded environment as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in its assessment of Ogoniland”.
“Foul play is suspected here. Is the planned establishment of a cantonment in Ogoniland a systematic way of breaking down the resistance of the people to allow Shell return to Ogoniland? We demand an answer and promptly too. Not only must a comprehensive probe of this ugly incident be carried out. The paramount ruler who allegedly ordered the beating up of the activists along with the suspected thugs that carried out this action must also be questioned and prosecuted if found culpable”.
Bassey reiterated ERA/FoEN earlier articulated position that government immediately compel Shell to start decommissioning in Ogoniland and begin the cleanup of the area, even as he added that government’s silence on the cleanup exercise nearly four months after the release of the UNEP report and the sudden plan to establish a cantonment in Ogoniland is a calculated attempt to bring Shell back through the backdoor.
He said Shell must not be allowed to come back to Ogoniland and demanded a complete halt of any survey for construction of the cantonment and immediate release of the activists and journalists as their detention without cogent reason is unacceptable.
After massive environmental degradation comes a military cantonment. Would Ogoniland ever be free from abuse?