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A. Sampson: Ogoni Boils Over Branding By Soldiers

Niger Delta: Ogoni Boils Again Over Branding By Soldiers

By Akanimo Sampson
Port Harcourt

THE Ogoni people of Rivers State, a major oil and gas ethnic group in Nigeria's Niger Delta, appear to be bracing for a renewed confrontation with the armed security forces over the branding of their mass organisation, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, as a flurishing militant group by the military authorities operating in the volatile region.

The Ogoni who are said to be an ethnic nationality of over 500,000 in population, was locked in a mass struggle for environmental justice in the early 1990s that culminated in the seeming extra-judicial execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight of his other Ogoni leaders on November 10, 1995 by the then rampaging maximum military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.

The Ogoni quest for socio-economic and environmental justice resulted in one of the worse forms of repression on the resilient people. The Ogoni crisis is perhaps, one of the best known cases around the world because of the sustained media attention it attracted.

This time around, the special security outfit, the Joint Task Force, JTF, coupled by President Umar Yar'Adua's administration to tackle the Niger Delta problem via the ''security approach'' seems to be drawing the ire of the Ogoni people for labelling their organised group as a militant organisation.

MOSOP's Information Officer, Bari-ara Kpalap, told this reporter on Monday, in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, that the Ogoni group is viewing their branding by the JTF as ''mischievous and unfortunate''. MOSOP and some other Niger Delta civil society organizations were however, branded by the JTF as militant groups.

But the branding seems to ne built on what MOSOP activists are seeing as faulty intelligence inconsistent with the realities on ground. Regrettably, the now controversial branding appears to be exposing a seeming malign ethnic malice of the JTF, and compromising its role . According to MOSOP, ''we strongly believe that the declaration was merely intended to create an excuse for a violent clamp down on the organizations and the people''.

The rest of the chat with the MOSOP spokesman runs thus:

''We find it difficult to understand that whilst the Federal Government is working with these organizations to resolve the Niger Delta crisis on one hand, its security outfit marks them as militant bodies on the other hand. This trend, if not checked, in our view, would undermine the dialogue (peace) process. MOSOP would thus advice government to be wary of this spurious report callously authored to create negative impressions and fear in order to attract more funding of its violent operations in the Niger Delta.

We would like to enlighten the JTF that MOSOP is a non-violent umbrella body of the Ogoni people, which non-violent articulation of its legitimate demands for justice has not only been acknowledged and endeared the Movement and the Ogoni people to the world but also earned her encomiums and awards. MOSOP has won many important peace prizes including the famous Live Livelihood Award, which is an alternative Nobel Prize. Only recently, the Rivers State Government publicly commended MOSOP for its peaceful advocacy and asked other communities and bodies in the region to emulate us.

We therefore want to make it very clear that we do not need the approval of the JTF for MOSOP to exist. Neither are we going to succumb to any blackmail, brazen intimidation and barbarism. We believe in the legitimacy of our cause and since we were able to survive past similar approaches; the present option is no doubt doomed to fail.

It is disturbing that instead of addressing growing concerns that the task force is involved in various human rights violations including extortion and brutality, it is seeking the imposition of punitive attention on legitimate and law abiding organizations in the Niger Delta. Besides the above violations, oil theft and militancy are said to be thriving in the region as a result of the connivance of the JTF as they are said to be aiding and abetting the activities of these outlaws for financial gains. Their involvement is said to range from provision of vital security information, selling arms and ammunition and provision of security cover to oil thieves and militants. These are serious allegations that should draw the attention of the JTF and not branding acknowledged peaceful organisations as militant groups.

We call on government to discountenance the report as it is not credible but misleading and capable of sparking more problems than providing answers''.

ENDS

**************

Akanimo Sampson, is the Co-ordinator of Journalists for Niger Delta (JODEL), a media group concerned with the affairs of Nigerria's oil and gas region.

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