Editor’s Note: Ogoniland, the devastated zone within the Niger Delta region has been in the news over the years. Like most parts of Niger Delta, Ogoni has been in the news for deaths, hunger, neglect and abandonment by the federal government which sponsored the death of its illustrious son, Ken Saro Wiwa and others, called Ogoni 9.
Austin Oyibode of NAIJ.com took a trip to the area for on the spot investigation and here he has gory tales of life in Ogoniland for all Nigerians and the international community. The living condition of the people is not cheery.
Entering Ogoni from Port Harcourt, one of the biggest cities in Nigeria, one sees a community of people living in a closed and almost an isolated society. Although they are recognized as Nigerians, at least a part of Rivers State in Southern Nigeria, the people who speak Ogoni as their mother tongue have never been treated as Nigerians after the death of Ken Saro Wiwa. Saro Wiwa, the great son of Ogoni, was executed by hanging along with other Ogoni 9 following the directive of late Gen. Sani Abacha on November 10, 1995.
Woeful tales of a forgotten society
Driving through the villages in a hired car, the story of Ogoni, rather than changing for good it is changing for the worse as the years go by. Although our reporter could not visit all the villages that make up the four local governments in the area, the ones visited, Kegbara Dere, otherwise called K.Dere; B.Dere; Goi and Gio communities have bitter tales to tell as to the sufferings and abandonment of the people who have fed the federal government prior to the oil pollution which has brought the economy of the area to an all-time low. Besides the sightseeing of the impacted areas by the years of oil pollution, indigenes of Ogoni, including traditional rulers, respected community members and market women gave lurid details of life in the area. In their respective descriptions, one could easily conclude that there is no life in Ogoniland.
The experiences are bitter and according to the saying, experience will give a better account of the pains of the people. Yes, our reporter was well guided by a senior officer of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Anthony Aloa and a community leader, Morgan Norteh. As our guide moved from one community to the other, one could easily see that there is practically no life in the area as all their means of livelihood, including farmland, water, fishing equipment and living environment have all been destroyed by the pollution which swept across the area some years ago. The visuals of destruction and damages done by oil firms are the major sites in all the communities and are heartbreaking. But successive federal and state governments have continuously played on the intelligence of the people just to win elections and leave the people to their fate.
The roads in the area have nothing to write home about. Although some are tarred, the tarred roads are tarred in the language of politicians who could employ any language to score a political point as far as a car could drive through a road undermining the bumping nature or dust on it. Norteh, supported by MOSOP officer, Anthony, took our reporter round the two communities of K.Dere and B.Dere.
As they took our reporter round, Norteh felt pained over the total neglect of the area. He said prior to the ultimatum given to oil firms to evacuate the area, all the roads ever built were only constructed to their oil sites but not for the use of the village people in those places. He showed our reporter different roads that were directly leading to the oil exploring sites but only for the oil companies. He was particularly bitter over the devastation of the vegetation, a development which has affected crop production in the area. He took our reporter to one of the farmers, Mrs. Sarah Ganagana who shared her story with pains written on her face.
The travails of farmers, traders in Ogoniland
Mrs. Gnagana was seen in the farm, assisting herself removing grasses from her farm. But she told our reporter that her crops have never done well because of the impact of oil on the soil. Her crops do no longer grow well before dying off. She said she had farmed for over 30 years but all her years of farming have never brought improvement to her life. As our reporter concluded speaking with her and beginning to leave the farm, Mrs. Ganagana was expecting any financial assistance as evidenced from the expression on her face.
Mrs. Ganagana is just one of the farmers who have experienced the ugly hands of the action of the oil firms in Ogoniland. Mrs. Lizzy Friday, a market woman, also had bitter tales to tell. For her, whether farming or trading, none is of any benefit to the people of Ogoniland. Her reasons are not far-fetched, there is no money in the land. People do not have money to buy wares or foodstuff because there is no money from the farm. The farmlands are not doing well because oil has spoilt the land. Mrs. Friday told our reporter that she has children that go to school but due to the hardship in the area, she at times beg her fellows for money to send her children to school.
In Gio community in Tai council area, the story of suffering continues. Some members of the Gio community who volunteered to take our reporter through the village gave not too good stories of happenings in the area. Beside the large scale oil pollution, on October 2, 2016, another pipeline explosion occurred in the area, a development which led to another massive destruction of farms and farm produce. Cassava, economic trees and others were burnt as the explosion ran through the farms and devoured their produce.
But one suspicion they have is that from the explosion site to the post of the Joint Military Task Force is not more than 10 minutes’ walk. But the vandals operated successfully and left the place without any action from the security operatives. Another mobile police post which has police officers and members of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) was close to a stream where a pipe carrying crude was blown up but the officers whose post is just a stone throw from the point of vandalisation could not apprehend the vandals. The spill from this pipe ran through the water and polluted all the water in that area. Besides polluting the, it destroyed the environment and ate up all the vegetation.
Again, there is no drinkable water in Ogoniland. Our reporter was perplexed when he was shown a stream with flowing oil on top but children were all seen swimming on top of the water. The children could not be blamed because there was no other source of water for bathing and they are also ignorant. Also, the only source of drinking water in Gio community is a small stream but covered with leaves from trees and grasses around the area. A child was seen drawing water from the stream. Our reporter was told that the people have no other source of water but the only one available was that one laden with fallen leaves and flows to nowhere.
Near abandoned health institutions in Ogoniland
There are some health centres in the Ogoni but from what NAIJ.com saw it is better there is no hospital than an hospital being in a place but no doctor nor any health personnel attached. The health centre at B.Dere is almost abandoned. Our guide both from MOSOP and the community visited the hospital but to the consternation of the visitors there was only one health officer on ground. The community leader, Norteh Morgan, prompted her to speak but she turned down the plea. She rather said she is a civil servant and as such she has no authority to talk on the state of the hospital. She cannot be blamed, she is a civil servant and at least she has her salary but the indigenous of the area who are 90 percent among the poorest can go to hell.
But going round the hospital, there is a picture of abandonment written everywhere. In an hospital covering a large expanse of land, there is no doctor, no nurse and any other health official. All the rooms in the hospital were empty with no furniture in them, except one with a single patient and her baby. All others were empty, no furniture, no drugs and no patients. It was learnt that the doctors that were supposed to be on duty had left for the city of Port Harcourt.
Morgan told our reporter that the doctors leave for Port Harcourt for their private work in the morning and return in the evening to spend the night in the quarters built for them by the community. Our reporter saw many of the rooms under lock and key where the doctors are quartered but abandoned the job for their private businesses in Port Harcourt. He said among all the buildings in the hospital, not one was built by the Rivers State Government but only pointed at about two or three that were built by the office of the Millennium Development Goals, a defunct programme of the federal government. He said others were built by members of the community with assistance from their people in Cameroun.
Morgan also showed our reporter the hospital bus which was donated by Shell but to his chagrin, a matron of the hospital took the bus, with the inscription on it to Port Harcourt and converted it for personal use. This, he said the matron did undermining the fact that it was donated for the hospital use. He also showed a generating set which seemed to have rotted away with no care from the hospital management board in the state.
Weak education system in Ogoniland
There are also schools in the area but they are in dilapidated state. Morgan and Anthony, our guide took us to one of the secondary schools in B. Dere, Community Secondary School. Although there are buildings which appear new, Morgan said due to the effect of the pollution, the roofs of the schools do not last long. “The roof you are seeing now was renovated in February this year but you can see how it is now. It will suffer the same fate as the one that has been destroyed. They are suffering the effect of corrosion from the polluted air. If you put a basin here when it rains, it will be completely dark, the water you will see will be dark because of the kind of water coming from the polluted air”, Morgan explained.
When asked what the state government has done for the school, Morgan said the state government has not done anything for the school. He said “I don’t know whether they know a community like this is existing. Despite the lot of wealth we have contributed to the society, this is the reward for our effort. This is a community that in the 1975 to 1978 was contributing over 80 percent of the revenue of Nigeria through crude oil. Since then, nothing has played out for us as benefits from oil. This school building was not built by state government but by community effort.
“The community built all the blocks in the school, government presence is not felt here. The government only pays staff of the school but does not care for any other matter that concerns the welfare of the school. We packed the equipment that were supposed to be in the laboratory and stored them in one of the classrooms in the school to avoid them being destroyed either by rain, sun or stolen by thieves”.
He showed our reporter all the efforts of the community to put the school in order. He took our reporter to see all the failed portions of the school, the chemistry lab, physics lab, biology lab and others. All the laboratories have all gone into extinction, there is nothing to show that there was a laboratory in that school. The buildings have collapsed and become a shadow of themselves.
He explained that the people in the area are political orphans since they have never produced a member of the state house of assembly once, no councilor, hence the community has no voice, who could speak on their behalf in the corridor of power.
“We have written series of letters to different ministries, we have not heard anything from them. We don’t know why and what exactly to do. The new Governor Nyesom Wike does not know that a community like this exists in Rivers State, talk of doing anything for it. If they know they only see it in papers but they have not visited to see for themselves. The commissioner for education is not even known to me let alone students will know. So, how do we get them attracted to this place? The possibility of moving a permanent secretary to this place is not there, let alone a commissioner.
"If they must see things, it is only things in Port Harcourt and the urban settings. They can never set an inch out of Port Harcourt. This is Gokhana Local Government. They have not visited even Eleme that is close by talk less of coming to Kegbara Dere. So we have this difficulties”.
Many of the community leaders and traditional rulers who spoke to NAIJ.com in Ogoni and Port Harcourt, revealed the poor conditions of the people while some said the people are daily dying of cancer. Some said the biggest activity in Ogoniland as at present is burial ceremonies because people are dying of cancer and pollution related diseases. The people are waiting for the promised cleanup by the federal government. They have waited for years with no respite. The people believe that if the cleanup is eventually carried out and the economy of the place bounces back, life will return. But will that ever be? Will life ever return to the area? Only time and event will tell.