Showing posts with label Nembe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nembe. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oronto Douglas: The Strategist Behind The President

Oronto Douglas

The Strategist Behind The President

Oronto Natei Douglas, 45, is a leading human rights attorney in Nigeria. Fifteen years ago, he served as one of the lawyers on the defense team for the celebrated Ogoni leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by military fiat on November 10, 1995. Douglas co-founded Africa's foremost environmental movement, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, and has served on the board of several non-profit organizations within and outside the country. He remains the first Niger Delta activist to have been hosted at the White House by a serving American President in the heydays of President Bill Clinton. Douglas is a Fellow of the George Bell Institute, England, and the International Forum on Globalization, USA. He has presented papers in over 200 international conferences and has visited over 50 countries to speak on human rights and the environment. With his friend, Ike Okonta, he co-authored Where Vultures Feast, the ground-breaking study on Shell and human rights violation in the Niger Delta. Oronto Douglas is the Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Research & Documentation. He spoke to Nengi Josef Ilagha recently, in London.

Q. To begin with, could you be so kind as to recap your involvement with the struggle of the Niger Delta minorities in the past decade?

A. Well, my involvement with the Izon movement goes back to my days at the university. I was the national mobilization officer of the National Union of Izon-Ibe Students under Cassidy Okilolo who was then President. Within this period, I was also involved in clan activities. I was involved in the movement for reparation to Ogbia, and I was a key player in the Nembe-Ibe Students Union. The Izon nation is a constellation of beautiful stars, otherwise known as clans, and all these stars have their unique potentialities that help to make the Izon nation great. There was the need to awaken, inspire and encourage these clans to stand and build the Izon nation so that the Izon nation can build Nigeria. That was the foundational dream.
We went on to a broader movement, Chikoko, founded in 1997. We realized that our first duty was to awaken the Niger Delta. There was the need to wake up the Urhobos, Isokos, Ishekiris, Ijaw, Efik, Anang and so on -- to wake them up beyond rivalry, beyond individual nation identities, to bring them all together under an umbrella. Now, the best place to start would be home. So we sat down with other patriots and agreed that the Ijaw question needed to be brought to national and global consciousness in a very focused and intellectual way. There was the need to articulate our grievances and views to the rest of the world, so that justice can be brought to bear on what has been happening to us these past many decades. That platform was actualized on December 11, 1998 in Kaiama.

Q. What is your assessment of the struggle so far?

A. I believe that we have achieved the first three cardinal objectives of the struggle. First, we have raised the consciousness of our people, and located that consciousness within a national and global compass. We have also achieved the second leg of the struggle which is the cohesiveness of the Ijaw nation. We have to speak as one. The foundation of the Ijaw National Congress, INC, in 1994, as a cohesive collective of all the Ijaws irrespective of clan, was a major stepping stone. But it needed to be galvanized by a youth arm, as exemplified by the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, to help push the Ijaw agenda onto the global stage. The third objective was to convince Nigerians that there was a problem in the Niger Delta that needed to be addressed. Ken Saro-Wiwa and Ledum Mittee helped to raise Ogoni issues to global awareness and appreciation. But when the Ijaws and other surrounding nations added their voices, it became clear that something needed to be addressed urgently. Three issues are yet to be achieved. One, the question of self determination. Two, resource control. And three, the question of environmental justice. These matters are still pending and they call for urgent attention.

Q. How can these outstanding issues be settled?

A. A number of paradigms have been thrown into the struggle. The paradigm of violence, for instance, was not in the equation. But if violence is not checked through dialogue, it is likely to stall the process of Nigeria’s advancement to the top twenty most prosperous and most advanced nations of the world. Fortunately for Nigerians, the blueprint of amnesty was accepted and is being implemented, in spite of occasional hitches. A second option that was also thrown into the equation was the still small voice of people who contend that what is needed is a region that would be self-sustaining in a way that is close to true federalism. The third reason it has not happened is that the elite of the Niger Delta are yet to understand the gravity of the problem in their region.

In 1895, if you recall, King Frederick William Koko rallied the Nembe people and demanded that the Queen of England and the Royal Niger Company be not masters in the oil trade by cutting them off and expecting the Nembe to eat mud, which is what the British wanted to subject the Nembe people to. King Koko stood up to say no to oppression, no to injustice, no to economic and imperial subjugation. That objection has reverberated into the present and will resound into the future. What happened in 1895 is happening today. The dramatis personae have changed. Where you had the British, you now have the elite of Nigeria. Where you had palm oil, you now have crude oil. And where you had the transnational company and the machinery of governance as represented by the Royal Niger Company, you now have Royal Dutch Shell. It is something our people need to understand, that nothing has changed.

Q. Let’s look at the resort to violence. Until the amnesty initiative came along, no one knew anything about the range and caliber of ammunition that was under cover in the Niger Delta. What’s your assessment of the amnesty programme so far?

A. The amnesty idea came from the people and was courageously embraced by President Yar’Adua. Make no mistake about it. The programme was designed and articulated by the people of the Niger Delta, embraced by the militants and the Federal Government which was bold enough to announce and implement it. This is the true story. If the people had not articulated it themselves, they would not have accepted it. You know the Ijaw. Nobody pushes them around. Nobody imposes anything on them. Nobody can enslave them. Nobody can destroy them, except they want to destroy themselves. So, the gospel of amnesty was generated by the communities and peoples of the Niger Delta, and accepted by Yar’Adua. Credit must go to Yar’Adaua on that score. Now, what progress have we made? The very acceptance of the amnesty was a victory, a glaring and decisive moment in history. There is no struggle in history of this sort where the people themselves broker the idea of peace and reconciliation. It has never happened.

That historic momentum need not be stalled. The second element of progress is the understanding that after the battle, people need to sit down and dialogue, to move the process of peace and development forward. A very powerful message thus goes out to say dialogue is the best in every situation, and this is directed at the present and future generations. The third progress report is the challenge of development itself. How do we re-integrate? How do we move forward? Our people and comrades in the creeks have to come back to normal life. The process of re-integration and regeneration is a major challenge. If we don’t manage it well, it could further compound an already precarious situation. We have to handle it very delicately and sustain the peace.

Q. You are credited as being the brain behind the landmark publication “100 Reasons Why We Must Control Our Resources.” Do those reasons still obtain, or have more been added to them?

A. We are credited, not I am credited. Take note of that. I may have been instrumental to the document in question but I don’t want to take the full credit alone. We worked as a team, as a collective. And let me say that the reasons we gave have not been addressed. They are reasons that demand immediate attention. But when you work in a system that has variegated and multiple issues, you tend to say your yacht must come first, and that’s what the Niger Delta people must insist on, and rightly so. The 100 reasons articulated there are reasons that all minority ethnic nationalities can identify with, even though the document was issued as an Ijaw manifesto for progress. It was a follow-up to the Kaiama Declaration, a back-up campaign to give the propagators, the articulators, and the advocates of the movement enough material to enable them evangelize. That is one document that Nigeria, Africa and humanity cannot ignore, now and in a hundred years hence. So long as the issues of Ijaw land and the Niger Delta, the denial of their land, their right to clean air, so long as these issues are yet to be addressed in the sanctuary of intellectuals and decision makers in government, we cannot claim to have made much progress.

Q. In the view of some analysts, the INC has been comatose, not as effective as the youth wing. What do you think of the purported disparity in performance and popularity between both bodies?

A. I do not agree that the two bodies are different. The IYC is the youth wing of the INC, although they emerged under different circumstances. But the overall goal is the same, and they are together. If you take Britain as an example, the Churchill era is different from that of Harold Wilson, different from Tony Blair, different from Gordon Brown, different from David Cameron. But Britain remains the same. The leadership of the INC may have applied different strategies over time, but the same overall goal of self-determination, of resource control, of the progress and development of our land and people, is kept in focus. Let me tell you something. My dad is about 83 years old. The way he will articulate the issues of the Niger Delta may not be the same way you will do. He will probably be calm, wise and diplomatic. You and I will be more fiery, more aggressive. But that is not to say we don’t believe in the same cause. The INC and IYC are like that. One is calm, gentle and wise. The other is vibrant, fiery and pushful. It is important that we do not create disparity between these two bodies for the benefit of the Ijaw nation.

Q. As a social activist currently serving in government, one who is in the picture of things at a close range, what are the future prospects for our nation?

A. I am hopeful that Nigeria will remain united and in pursuit of a common destiny. But what we need to get right is the basis of our union, and we need to establish this through a bold, brave, all-inclusive article of the union that will be called the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a document that will inspire hope and ensure that the bounties of Nigeria are for one and all, and not just a few. Once we get that right, nothing will stop Nigeria from ruling the world. Nigeria has the capacity of great elasticity to withstand any threat.

Q. For the first time in 50 years, a minority element from the south of Nigeria is at the helm of affairs in our nation. How does that strike you?

A. It goes to show that there is a spirit of never die in Nigeria, a spirit of endurance and bravery, a spirit of excellence. The point is that President Goodluck Jonathan who hails from Oloibiri where oil was found, and schooled there; who governed Bayelsa and worked before that as an environmental director at OMPADEC, now NDDC, did not desire to be President. Fate and the goodwill of Nigerians, and above all the almighty God, took him from that swamp land to make him President of Nigeria. Clearly, God is sending a message to us. That message is for the good of the Nigerian people. The true and final story of the Goodluck presidency is yet to be told. Once it is told, Nigerians will say thank God.

Q. How much is expected of President Jonathan? What should be his focus in the next few months?

A. He has articulated what he wants to achieve, and I totally agree with him. He is focusing on three key issues. One, delivering on credible elections so as to guarantee qualitative leadership. Two, ensuring peace and stability in the Niger Delta. And three, ensuring constant electricity supply in our country. On a broad scale, you can guess what the absence of power has done to the march to industrialization in our country. He has already demonstrated unrivalled excellence with regard to the matter of credible elections on three occasions. The Edo State House of Assembly elections are a good example. PDP’s honour was at stake. Yet ACN won, and the world hailed because Jonathan insisted on credible elections. Governor Oshiomole flew to Abuja to thank Mr President for standing on the path of patriotism and truth to guarantee credible elections.

In the Anambra gubernatorial elections, President Jonathan insisted on fairness, that he would not tolerate any form of rigging or violence or abridging the fundamental rights of the Anambra electorate to vote and be voted for. Peter Obi won in the end. Nigerians applauded. It was one big leap for democracy. These are milestones to show that he’s on the path to the ideal of conducting free and fair elections that will give our nation a better political character in the eyes of the world.

President Jonathan is a man of peace. He believes that justice must be done to the people of the Niger Delta. He has demonstrated commitment to peace in the Niger Delta, not through violence, not through brigandage, but through sheer political, diplomatic brinkmanship, sheer deployment of that calm, honest nature that he is endowed with. He also takes seriously the security of lives and property in the country in the on-going process of restoration. The Goodluck Jonathan I know is not a man of vengeance who goes after people who wrong him or trespass against the nation. He is a selfless leader that Nigerians can trust.

Q. What should be the focus of a President with a virgin mandate who hails from the south, come 2011, with specific regard to the Niger Delta, in order to achieve credibility?

A. What the peoples of the Niger Delta want to enjoy is what God has given to them, to see these resources translate to development. The poor state of our villages is obvious. Mud houses, zinc houses. Darkness everywhere. No roads. Coloured water. The dream of Mr President is to see that there is a significant departure from the culture of want and deprivation, a major shift in policy at the central level, and a drastic shift in attitude at the communal and state levels that will enable our people to enjoy the fruits of their endurance.

It may take time for our roads to be constructed, time to transform the environment. It may take time to construct bridges from one community to another. But it will not take time to ensure that every citizen cultivates hope, their fundamental rights respected, and to see food on their tables. If at the local government level, the chairman and councilors are accountable for the resources at their disposal, and if the same obtains at the state and federal levels, that will help a lot. If my community, Okoroba, were to receive N100 million from compensation, and we fail to deploy that fortune to durable purposes, then we can only be said to have contributed to the underdevelopment of Okoroba.

In most local government councils, unfortunately, the income is shared rather than applied to useful economic purposes. A percentage should go to education, a percentage to infrastructure, a percentage to health. That is how it should be. But they prefer to share the money amongst themselves, what they call “kill and divide.” Of course, that doesn’t help anybody. The responsibility is both at the individual and national levels. No one is excluded from taking responsibility for the infrastructural growth of the community. It is a collective effort. We have a duty to insist that justice be done to the land and peoples of the Niger Delta. It is a historic responsibility that we cannot shy away from. We have to confront it and defeat it.

About the Author:

His Royal Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha Mingi XII, is the Amanyanabo of Nembe Bayelsa State, Nigeria.

Also recommended: Epistle to President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta Matters

Click here for more published works of the author.

© 2010 - Nengi Josef Ilagha Mingi XII. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any format or medium without the prior permission of the author and copyright owner(s).