Dr. Peter Medee is the President of KAGOTE, the acronym that encompasses the four council areas of Ogoniland in Rivers State. He is also a senior lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt. Austin Oyibode of NAIJ.com spoke with him at his office where he revealed the President Buhari’s programme and good intention for the Ogoni people. Excerpts:
How do you describe life in Ogoni land?
The environment in Ogoni land has been devastated due to the failure of the previous governments as well as long activities of oil production. These have devastated the economy of the place. As such social life of the place has been affected. However, the present federal government is making some efforts to see what it can do to put the place in order. This is starting with the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme Report on Ogoni land. The last administration in the state has been able to build some schools, health centres and modern secondary schools. The two model secondary schools operational in the state, one is in Eleme.
The United Nations report on Ogoni land was a report of investigation by UNEP and this report was submitted in August 2011. The previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan who is from the Niger Delta and whom we felt as our brother would be able to take the level of devastation and the genocide of the place seriously didn’t do anything. He neglected it.
For the six years he was in government, he abandoned the place and played politics with the whole process. In the dying days of his administration, he tried to make some efforts by putting in place some strategies to make him win elections by sending the permanent secretary of the ministry of petroleum to the place. That did not give any result.
So, the place has remained like that and everyday people are dying there as a result of the high level of benzene that is highly contagious. With that the place has been greatly neglected and that has been the state of the area.
So, you mean throughout the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan he didn’t do much for Ogoni land?
Nothing, not issue of much, nothing was done to put the place in order. No effort to see the report of the environmental studies implemented. Apart from that, there was no structure, no drinkable water, no health centre, no school, no federal presence was felt in Ogoni land. The only school that was there which was the Rivers State Polytechnic, the present state government came, changed the name, thereby localizing the institution and making it look like a private institution. And few months later, upgraded another school in Port Harcourt to a polytechnic status and as we speak now, there is drift of students from that school to the Port Harcourt school.
This is because nobody wants to go to the hinterland of Ogoni that is so devastated, without roads, to go to school. And so the whole place has been abandoned. But the present federal government has come with the sincerity of purpose and we are hopeful that with the efforts so far, the place is going to be developed. The present government has made some efforts in trying to clean up the place.
First, we got a commitment from the president when he was doing electioneering campaign when he came to Ogoni, he gave the commitment that he would clean the place. Few months later, he set up some fast track actions that will endear the efforts to clean up the place. And the Minister of Environment visited, made some consultations with a stakeholders meeting and efforts that accumulated into the launch of the programme.
After the launch, two major boards were set up, the governing council and the board of trustees. I’m a member of the board of trustees, we are making efforts for the cleaning processes to actually start on the impacted site. But as we speak a lot of efforts are taking place, the cleanup has commenced but there are a lot of processes that are part of the clean up.
Those processes are on, the governing council has met, they made some proposals that will lead to establishing the management structure of HYPREP and also the efforts to get the funds ready so that we can start receiving the fund from the international oil companies that will be donating the money for the clean up, because it is not federal government money that will be used for the clean-up.
The money for the clean up will be contributed by the international oil companies. That money, according to them, is ready. The federal government is putting up regulatory authorities and structures to receive the money.
Mind you, the present federal government is down to earth, it is making any plan to mangle the process. It is following due processes and they are making sure that every bureaucratic processes are being followed, that’s why right from the meeting, we’ve been able to set a lot of processes that will ensure that we do not compromise standard while we are making efforts to get the clean up done.
Every regulatory structure, every management structure and legal structure are being put in place and I can tell you that in a very short time, some of the emergency measures will commence. That is where we are now. But I can assure you that with the cooperation the Ogonis have and their readiness, their high expectations, the required environment necessary for the cleanup is quaranteed.
KAGOTE, the group I head, has done a lot of sensitisation and I know some other groups in Ogoni land, the supreme council of the Ogoni traditional rulers, we had a lot of interface and they are fully ready to make sure that the clean up is done without any hindrance. I also know that MOSOP is doing a lot of sensitization and mobilization to make sure that the best environment that is required for the successful clean up of Ogoniland is not compromised. These are some of the updates from the area.
You made mention of the Rivers State Government changing the name of the polytechnic and lowered the standard, are you now saying that the state government is not well disposed to the Ogoni people?
Yes, the Rivers State Government is not well disposed to the area. If the state government were well disposed to the area, it would have been very interesting to retain the state government symbol in that school. First, he removed the symbol of the state government from the school, thereby making the school look like a private school and secondly, the one he now put in Port Harcourt, the one in Ogoni can no longer compete with it.
This is because I was sitting on the board of the governing council and I can tell you there were a lot of programmes that were approved for the school to have standard and when we approached NBTE for accreditation, we were given some criteria to meet so that they could accredit some courses like Marine Transport, Architectural Design and others that will add value to the school. We made a lot of processes, it took us about 18 months to recruit teachers and now the present government came in, sacked those teachers, and because they were sacked, we couldn’t get accreditation for those courses.
The institution was denied accreditation for those programmes and as it was denied accreditation the governor came in, changed the name of the school which was very good before. Some of us were apprehensive because we felt that Ken Saro-Wiwa has been an international figure and if you must immortalize him, we have the River State University of Science and Technology which came in when he was commissioner for education in Rivers State. So, it will not be out of place to name it after him. So why name him after the school in Ogoni? You now come and upgraded Rivers State College of Arts and Sciences to Port Harcourt Polytechnic.
As we speak now, all the students who have finished their ND that are going for HND are leaving the school, there is a mass exodus of students from the school to Port Harcourt and by so doing, the economy of the place is being compromised. So, some of us who are leaders of Ogoni are not happy. We called the governor and said ok, upgrade the school to a university status which we know is within his ability or return the name to Rivers State Polytechnic and bring the government symbol back to the school. Or name UST after Ken Saro-Wiwa or the one in Port Harcourt, name it after any of the Ikwerre sons. There are a lot of notable Ikwerre sons, name it after any of them. This is so that the two schools will look localized.
This he did not do. So, as we speak now, the school is at the mercy of the governor because no new programme is going on, no new structure is in the place. Meanwhile, the one in Port Harcourt is now being acclaimed as the world’s best polytechnic but the one in Ogoni is dying. And we know that the governor can do something to make the two schools compete favaourably well. We are not against him, if he wants to build 10 polytechnics or 20, no problem but put the money, get the place stimulated and life will go on.
The other day, the lecturers were demonstrating that they are not paid salaries and now you are building another polytechnic, you have not paid salaries of one, you are building another. There is a problem. But we trust that the governor will be sincere enough to be able to put the best in the school so that the school will also get the best and then grow. We will be very happy if the governor does that.
For now, how is economy of the place?
Well, the business life in Ogoni has been devastated as a result of long time oil activities. The land has been destroyed and once you destroy land, the mangrove and swamp, destroy the source of drinking water, then what is left for the economy of the place? The economy of the place is based on agriculture and agriculture is premised on land, swamp and mangrove. That is where you get the fish and the farm produce. Once these sources of livelihood are destroyed, what is then left for the livelihood of the people?
Apart from that the benzene level of the underground water is something that is a challenge to the area. We are hopeful that with the effort of the present federal government to make sure that the environment is clean, the economy of the place will be restored. And with the efforts too that the state government is doing to put a road into the place, the economy of the place will be restored. So, we are looking at these areas both from the federal and the state government.
But contrary to what you have said, some people said nothing has been done in Ogoni land with regards to the cleanup
We are following the processes one after the other and everything has to be done. So, if anybody tells you nothing is happening, tell the person that you met somebody who is part of the process and he is saying things are happening, the process is on. And the federal government is committed, it’s doing its very best to make sure that everything that will ensure the cleanup of Ogoni is done and is not compromised. And that is what we are doing, we are working.
What is the state of the health service in Ogoniland?
The last administration built some health centres in the place and those health centres were manned by doctors and nurses and they were functioning. But with the take off this present state administration, all those health centres have been abandoned. Now as we speak, apart from one of the General Hospitals that is being renovated by the distinguished Senator Magnus Abe, all other general hospitals in Eleme, Bori, Bodo, they have nothing to write home about. You can go and see for yourself. When you get there, you wont see any sincere effort of government in the place.
You hardly see doctors there because of insecurity in the area. But I think with the amnesty programme of the state government, some sanity will be restored into the place and the medical doctors can go back to site and if they are paid and their conditions of service taken seriously, they will go back. But I know that there were health centres built and were manned by doctors and were working before this administration came in. At the take off of this administration and the shortage of funding to the government, a lot of sectors collapsed including the health sector. But I think as things are taking up, may be the governor will put things in order in the place.
What is the full meaning of KAGOTE?
It is the acronym for the four council areas in Ogoni land. KA for Khana, GO for Gokana, T for Tai and E for Eleme. It is the apex socio-cultural organization of the Ogoni people. It was founded in 1947 when the Ogoni division was formed. And it was formed to act as a political platform with which we can engage the government. It was formed by leaders of the place. We have kept the association alive till today and presently I’m the president.