At least, his party’s campaign messages made him so. It was an offer that would attract many among a Nigerian political class where lies, failed promises, self interest, rights violations, and insensitivity to the sufferings of the poor were dominant.
Buhar’s long absence from political leadership, his previous success at prosecuting the War Against Indiscipline, WAI, were attractive credentials to impress anyone that he had something different to offer and represented a deviation from the politically corrupt system we now commonly acknowledge.
For me as an Ogoni, I understood that the decision of about 400,000 eligible Ogoni voters cannot determine the outcome of the presidential elections, though it plays significantly in the local and state contests. Besides, I had become worried that in over 4 years after the Ogoni UNEP report had been submitted to former President, Goodluck Jonathan, no action had been taken to implement it. There was clearly a rhetorical drama at play.
President Buhari’s announcement to fast-track the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland was for me a turning point. At least, it gave hope that our struggles, pains, losses, sacrifices and violations were not all going to be in vain. I began to see that Ogoni and its environment could possibly be saved from an inevitable calamity had the new government continued with the policies of the former regarding this issue.
At a recent rally in Gokana, Ogoniland, the president of MOSOP, Legborsi Saro Pyagbara expressed hope in the government’s commitment to a clean Ogoni. Pyagbara seemed happy with the efforts of the environment minister, Amina Mohammed, and hoped that her commitment will yield positive results. I saw the same commitment on the part of the minister during her visit to Ogoniland in February. Her assurances were firm and built confidence. But what followed has not been encouraging. It’s degenerating into the usual Nigerian political speech –some kind of “clean-mix” - a term that has been synonymous with political maneuverings at top government levels.
It’s time to back all the promises and commitment with action. The “Saint” reputation and “Integrity” of the president, Mohammadu Buhari could begin to come under question with the delay in concrete action to fast-track the Ogoni cleanup process. The president needs to show some concern about his promises and how his commitment and methods can be seen as different from what we have seen in the past. Ogoni is dying from a poisoned environment and just like the president found time to seek Ogoni votes for his presidential ambition, the president needs also to find time to visit Ogoni again and to tell them: “I am not for Shell, I am not for repression, I am not for death. I am for a healthy environment, I am for Ogoni rights and those of every Nigeria and that is why I am for everybody.” These words will not only help build Buhari’s image beyond Ogoni, it will engender greater love for him within Ogoni as the people watch to see further actions taken to implement the report.
I am conscious of the fact that there are several other issues affecting the Ogoni. The most outstanding is the failure of the Nigerian system to protect the Ogoni people and our environment. Yes! Nigeria has indeed failed to protect the Ogoni. But a starting point to address the issues will be to save dying population. Whether the pains will be forgotten and better relationship be built without suspicion will depend on government responses to these issues.
I have maintained that the Ogoni contribution to the Nigerian budget is greater than those of 20 states put together. We fund the Nigerian states in which the dominant Hausa-Fulani, Yorubas and Ibo ethnic groups split themselves into states and use the resources coming from Ogoni to sustain their unproductive state. It is appalling that most Nigerian states cannot survive without the federal allocations, yet, communities like the Ogoni where huge revenue are currently generated do not have even drinkable water. That should sound strange for people who thought that the stoppage of oil flow in 1993 meant that Ogoni no longer made contributions. They still steal our oil in parts of Khana and Oyigbo. Besides, we have two oil refineries in Ogoni, two seaports, two fertilizer plants and a petro-chemical complex. What we get from these institutions are waste emissions that worsen our environmental disaster.
The Nigerian law makers have not helped the situation, they have been very insensitive to the plight of the people who live in the hydrocarbon-polluted environment of the Niger Delta, where the deafening noise from flow stations wouldn’t give them sleep and the ravaging flares of Shell have killed the natural habitat. Nigeria and Shell has gotten the best out of the oil producing communities, yet even while on danger list, the environment is still not treated with some priority.
Despite the plethora of violations - political, economic and social problems facing the Ogoni today, we seem to have dwelt so much on the cleanup, not because it represents the solution but because we are on the speed lane to death. We want the government to urgently fix the environment and all our other demands including the right to self determination. We want to be able to live in Nigeria as a people with a unique identity and take responsibility for our future, fix our educational system, clean our environment by ourselves and not wait for the government or Shell to keep spills for 40 years when people’s lives will be in danger as we have right now. We want to address the needs of our people based on identified priorities and not depend on Abuja or the Port Harcourt before we can get water, electricity, medical care, schools and even food to eat. We simply want to control our own affairs like the Yorubas, Hausa-Fulanis and Ibos do in Nigeria.
Having made the promise to clean Ogoniland, president Buhari must uphold his integrity and douse the increasing agitation. Although the sluggishness with which the government has approached this problem does not truly build trust in the Nigerian system. President Buhari has a chance, not only to save his own name by keeping to his promise on the Ogoni issue but to build the confidence of the Ogoni people and reverse the negative consequences government failures on the Ogoni issue is having on Nigeria’s global reputation.
Written by: Fegalo Nsuke, Publicity Secretary of The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.