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New efforts in Ogoni to drop threats, embrace constructive engagements

...Why legislative representatives in Ogoni run away from their people - finding

Should ongoing efforts in Ogoni communities succeed, the people may apply dialogue and constructive engagement to confront companies and governments to address their grievances. The objective is said to be to create a new messaging line that would reduce tension and win back fleeing investors and development partners.

A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Citizens Trust, led by Ogoni-born Lawrence Dube, has concluded the first phase of the programme aimed at teaching the communities how best to win their cases by dropping threats and violence for use of democratic space and discovery of enormous powers of their legislative representatives.

Citizens Trust is funded by TrustAfrica through Kiisi Foundation which is q donor-advised fund by TrustAfrica. The NGO is working to foster inclusive representation and legislative accountability in Ogoni areas of Rivers State.

According to Dube, the Executive Director of the NGO, the fund is from the out of court case proceeds from Shell to the families of the Ogoni Nine (including Ken Saro Wiwa) in 2008 who were the tragic heroes of the Ogoni crisis. The families set up the fund t help reduce tension in Ogoni by showing the people how to engage, not threaten investors.

It seeks to convince the Ogoni to begin to see themselves as citizens of Nigeria and seek dialogue to address their matters. This is done through a lot of media interaction and collaboration.

Dube told newsmen in Port Harcourt during the media interaction: “We have come to the end of the project or first phase of it, which is about fostering inclusive representation and legislative accountability in four local council areas of Ogoni ethnic nationality in Rivers State.

“This is in the face of feelings of injustices over the years leading to the Clean Up programme. The project is about creating interaction to engage Ogoni constituents on how to properly engage with their legislative representatives at all levels. It creates a platform for civic engagement, constructive dialogue, and democratic engagement.

“This is aimed at discarding the culture of daily carrying placards to protest one injustice or the other. Rather, to create a new attitude of sitting down to talk because it has been found that daily protests merely send signals of threat, not dialogue. Threat can only bring out fear about you by the oil multinationals and investors.

“Rather, it is aimed at creating civic actors to document your case, write to your representatives (Reps). If you do not do it that way, you become a threat. People will consider you as troublesome people.

“Ogoni must begin to see themselves as citizens of Nigeria and seek dialogue. Isolated grievances do not allow the Ogoni to market their case. Now is time for responsible and civic demands and presentation of demands.”

Some of the methods being used by Citizen Trust to create trust in Ogoni include Stakeholders roundtable by bringing together leaders of the people such as monarchs, farmers, workers, youth leaders, the women, and the representatives; Capacity Building and Advocacy; and Constituency Dialogue.

He said these ran from September 2018 to March 2019 while September 2019 to December 2020 was disrupted by Covid-19 pandemic. “Stakeholders Roundtable created engagement with the stakeholders on how to engage with their Reps, how to document their grievances into actionable petitions. It teaches how to list your grievances, how to know who should listen to you, and who should present the petition for you for effective attention in a non-threatening way.”

The next step, he mentioned, is to know how to submit your complaints. “Capacity Building teaches the stakeholders how to carry out the activities. It gives training and capacity to carry out the desired activities for effective results.

“Constituency Dialogue helps the stakeholders articulate the issues raised. It helps them map the various communities and know what their peculiar or general challenges were. For instance, In Gokana, education is down. They have environment issues, health, security challenges.

“These were carried out in all the four LGA areas of Ogoni. There was no imposition of what to say. Tai LGA has no nearby hospitals. People die easily. The nearest hospital to them is in Bori, Khana LGA area.”

The outcome of the regrooming of the Ogoni attitude is that they now imbibe ways to articulate the issues and submit to their legislative Reps.

Why Reps flee from their constituents

It has been found that Reps run away from their constituents in Ogoni and other areas of the Niger Delta. The Reps are said to be confronted with too many requests from their people. So, when they see you come, they flee. Its because you will place private requests.

It is to address this malady and bring the people closer to their Reps in a friendly and constructive engagement that Citizens Trust woks hard for peace. The people are next to be trained on how to correspond with their Reps; how to identify issues especially constituency office.

Dube said for now, the citizens do not seem to relate with their Reps because there is no clear place for that. “There is need to ask your Rep what he does with the Constituency Allowances because it is taxpayers’ money. A Reps media and constituency aide ought to be there to interact with the people and take media inquiries”

New university in Ogoni will press the real people further down

Dube said the Reps may not have ways of knowing what the people actually needed. He said while many jubilate that a university of environmental studies is on the way to Ogoni, they have not sat down to interpret it and know if is for the interest of the ordinary Ogoni person.

He said: “Reps need to understand what is needed. The university will rather consume their forests which form their greatest assets for sustainability. Cost of land will skyrocket. The real people will suffer and become strangers in their land while other people arrive to take up the positions in the university. New form of development will begin where land grabbers will emerge. Nobody will take stock of indigenous rights and benefits.”

The biggest task before the Citizens Trust, he stated, is how to win back the political space and how to help the people make their Rep friendly enough; and how to attract infrastructure that promotes social change.”

He scored the first phase of the programme as a success. “It got the buy-in of the community people. We were honest with the people and showed them our limitations and they knew the funding limits.”

The challenge however is that fund is too little. “The first phase exposed so much gaps in the communities and many decades of rot and deceit. People are now taking the campaign to the next level to sensitize their people. They arrange for experts to come and talk to them. People now challenge the space, ask questions. It is now active citizenship, and not just complaints, threats.”

He said the programme has let the people realize that the Reps are not kings. “They are people we elected to look after our rights.”

Ogoni clean up: Corruption in it will kill it

As an NGO that has worked closely with the real people in Ogoni since 2018, the Executive Director said hints from the communities indicated seething anger and a huge sense of disappointment. “Corruption in the exercise will kill it. We told the people to learn how to compose their grievances. They are complaining that Ogoni is under-developed.

“Digging shallow instead of deep holes to burry the contaminated soil. They say workers just walk about; communities are not carried along; and that there is no sense of community ownership of the project.

“Benefits: they do not see much benefits because the contractors are playing games. The people trust Citizens Trust on these matters and now bring their grievances to us. Clean up is likely to create crisis in Ogoni because the objective seems to be defeated. FG may soon be frustrated after sending Ogoni persons to handle it and still get protests by same Ogoni. The danger is, if Ogoni clean up fails, Niger Delta clean up may never happen.”

Gladday Isaiah, Senior Programme Officer of Citizens Trust, chipped in saying: “The process of educating the Ogoni communities should continue. This campaign should be extended to the churches, groups, etc. The people welcomed the initiative. There is a new orientation.”

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