Military invasion of Ogoniland: Matters arising
By Fegalo Nsuke
Last week's invasion of Ogoni which saw the untimely death of an estimated 42 persons is an indication of the crude and brutal Nigerian military and underscores the need for a re-orientation of our armed forces. It highlights the need for military reforms in Nigeria to give priority for the respect for human rights of citizens and in particular the respect for the sanctity of human life.
While the military claim its actions were targeted at capturing former Niger Delta militant, Chief Solomon Ndigbara, alias Osama, the Army's recent depredation in Ogoni is clearly motivated towards something different from its claims.
Ndigbara is not a stranger to the Security Forces. On November 22, 2015, Chief Solomon Ndigbara in alliance with the Police and a combined team of security personnel were in Kaani, Khana local government area to rescue the kidnapped bursar of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic. Ndigbara was, and had always been an ally of the security men. Nigerians and indeed all men of conscience will need some explanations on how this ally of the security-men became so difficult to arrest.
Between January 10 and February 23, 2016, the Army embarked on three operations in Yeghe. During the first operation, the home of Ndigbara and every property the men could lay hands on were destroyed. In the second operation, residents were scared with heavy gunshots. And in the third and very recent, innocent children, women, men, traders, students and passersby were shot and killed, houses and other properties were destroyed - all these, the Army will want us to believe were targeted at capturing Chief Solomon Ndigbara.
The statements of the political gladiators force my inclination towards disagreeing that the army depredation was targeted at capturing the former militant, Solomon Ndigbara. The unsubstantiated claims by the Army have been supported by statements credited to the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike and Senator Magnus Abe. All point to the fact that there is more to the raid on Yeghe and Ogoni than a search for Solomon Ndigbara.
The Governor's early reaction to the operation was that it had his full backing and was designed to keep the peace. The Governor himself did not mention the incidences of violence, unrest or crime that warranted the deployment of the Nigerian Army to Yeghe to "keep the peace".
Senator Magnus Abe added a new dimension to it. He accused Governor Wike of causing the crises. He hinged his argument on Wike's speech at Senator Lee Maeba's 50th birthday celebrations in Luuwa, Ogoniland where Wike called on the people not to vote for Senator Abe of the APC. Senator Abe’s revelation signals a political dimension to the crises and keeps one pondering if the army had come to protect Senator Abe or his supporters. Unfortunately, there was also no reported clash between the PDP and the APC supporters. But how a mere call not to vote a candidate at elections became an issue for the Nigerian Army to crush locals is something that still does not resonate with me.
This Ogoni episode portrays much more than meets the eye and we seem to have only gotten a tip of the iceberg. It appears to me that as the parliamentary re-run elections scheduled for March 19 approaches, we could uncover a greater part of the iceberg. Of course, there will be more inciting speeches, but let me hope the Police will be allowed to do their jobs and the killer soldiers will be kept away from us.
Last week a high powered delegation led by the Honourable Minister for Environment was to visit Ogoniland for a stakeholder meeting bothering on the cleanup of the environment. The Army raid disrupted the visit. The meeting had been rescheduled to hold this Thursday, March 4. At a time when everybody and political groupings in Ogoni wants to take credit for the implementation of the Ogoniland cleanup, we hope that some crises in Yeghe again or some other Ogoni community will not disrupt this week's visit.
Painfully, the targets of these raids are also the victims. Innocent Ogoni women, men, children and businessmen who live in Ogoni going about their daily activities. Definitely, Ndigbara was not the target. If he was, then arresting him should have been one thing so simple to accomplish.
So, could there have been a compromise? From the Army's kidnapping and gun running accusations, to Governor Wike's keeping the peace and then to Senator Abe's supporters whom Wike incited, all three seem to have some kind of defense for the attack on Yeghe and the rest of Ogoni last week. But the incoherence in their speeches is a clear pointer to a possible compromise.
One thing is clear. The world and all men of conscience are watching. I urge them to rise to save the innocent population of the Ogoni, especially the Yeghe people as the elections approach. If we remain silent on this issue, we share in the blame and genocide being committed by the Nigerian Army.
The author, Fegalo Nsuke is Publicity Secretary of The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Port Harcourt