Nigeria: Ogoni: Oral Intervention at the Working Group on Minorities 2006
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Aug 14 12:55:33 UTC 2006
Ogoni: Oral Intervention at the Working Group on Minorities 2006
At the 12th Session of the Working Group on Minorities, MOSOP highlights
the situation for the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, calls
for a conditional moratorium on oil production and UNHCR action concerning
Ogoni refugees in the Benin Republic.
Human Rights, Council Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of
Human Rights 12th Session of the United Nations Working Group on
Minorities. Geneva Switzerland 8th 11th, August, 2006
Agenda Item 3a. Reviewing the Promotion and Practical Realization of the
Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,
Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august gathering.
I am Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, a representative of the Movement for the
Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the umbrella organisation for the
about seven hundred thousand Ogoni Indigenous minority in the Niger Delta
The Ogoni story exemplifies the case of the reported violations by the
Nigeria government and multinational corporations, of all the human rights
standards that the United Nations set out to protect when it was formed
some sixty years ago and which is still continuing in this early years of
the 21st century with raven ferocity.
Mr.Chairperson, it is worthy to note that since Nigerias return to civil
rule about seven years ago, it is alleged that rather than embarking on
programmes that will ensure the protection of our physical existence and
recognition of our identity as a group, as stated in Article 1 of the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Minorities(UNDM), the Nigeria
government has continued with a privatisation and liberalization programme
that requires the intensification of the exploitation of oil and gas which
has resulted in the massive destruction of our environment and its
resources. This has led to unplanned movements and driven many Ogoni
people and other Niger Delta communities to extreme poverty and possible
extinction. On the onset of the regime, it is estimated that about 75% of
the Ogoni population live below poverty line, today that has increased to
85% percent of the population.
Last year, Mr.Chairperson, the Nigerian government took the encouraging
step of submitting their combined periodic reports which fell due and
outstanding since 1994 to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination. The MOSOP submitted a Shadow Report to the Committee. In
our report, we highlighted the critical need for the Nigeria State to
include the ethnic and religious variables which were lacking in the state
report as a requirement in the impending National Population Census that
was to be conducted. This is a serious requirement under Article 1 of the
International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial
Discrimination(ICERD)which is also reinforced in Article 1 of the UNDM.
This is very crucial for the recognition of our identity as a people and
that of other minorities that has been assimilitated into larger cultures
and ethnicities. The fulfillment of this requirement would have ended the
myth of the claim of large population by some ethnic and religious groups.
Sadly, reports came to our attention that the majority Hausa/Fulani led by
their emirs protested against the inclusion of these variables in the
census and the Nigeria government in flagrant disregard of the CERD
Recommendations as contained in the document CERD/C/NGA/CO/18 which calls
for the inclusion of indicators disaggregated by ethnicity, religion and
gender in the Population Count has conducted the National Population
Census without the inclusion of these variables. Thus, denying us yet
another opportunity of recognizing our identity and that of other
minorities in Nigeria.
Non Recognition/Non Development of Minority Languages
Mr.Chairperson, one of the greatest assaults on our collective identity as
a people is the alledged commission of cultural genocide by the Nigeria
government through the systematic destruction of our language, the carrier
of our identity. Articles 1.1, 4.1-4 of the UNDM requires the Nigerian
State to put in measures to protect and promote the development of our
The Federal language policy actively protects and promotes the development
of the language of the majority ethnic groups of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo by
making them part of the national curriculum while neglecting the languages
of most minorities. The constitutionalisation of this act of
discrimination by the government is provided for in section 55 of the 1999
Nigeria constititution which states that the business of the National
Assembly shall be conducted in English and in Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba when
adequate arrangements have been made therefor.
It will interest you to note Mr. Chairman that as I speak here today, I
cannot read nor write in my language, not because I chose to but because I
have never had the opportunity of learning my language as it was never
part of my school curricula. Such is the fate of thousands of members of
Forced Evictions, Refugee Situation and Population Movements
Mr.Chairperson,last year, we brought to the attention of this Working
Group the forced evictions of a large number of members of the nearly
eight thousand Ogoni population resident in the Agip Shanty town in Port
Harcourt who were becoming victims of multiple discriminations and
violations. Following the occupation of Ogoni in 1993-1998 by the
governments Internal Security Task Force which embarked on an alleged
scotched earth policy of raping, torturing and arresting of individuals
and the summary burning down of whole communities and homes, most Ogonis
fled from their homes to take solace in the shanty towns where they built
new houses at great costs while others went on exile.
Unfortunately, in the early part of last year, it has been reported and I
have witnessed the Rivers State governments demolition of these shanty
towns without providing alternative accommodations or payment of
compensations to these people. More than one year after the demolition and
forced evictions, most of the victims are still living like fugitives
while eleven persons had died. Such is the pitiable situation of Nigerias
Incidental to the above is the case of nearly two thousand Ogoni people
who fled into exile and were uprooted from their roots in the wake of the
militarisation of Ogoni by the then military dictatorship and the one
thousand five hundred who are still left stranded at the UNHCR Camp in
Benin Republic, whose situation we have brought to the attention of this
Working Group since 2001.
While expressing our thanks to countries that have extended their hands of
fellowship and provided homes to persecuted Ogoni people over the years
and gratitude to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
for their humanitarian commitment to the Ogoni people, we wish to restate
that the slow pace of attention and focus on the remaining Ogoni refugees
at the UNHCR Camp in Benin is casting a somewhat dark shadow on the work
of the refugee commission. A solution is needed.
Ogoni and Shell Relationship
Mr. Chairperson and members of this Working group, I wish to inform you
that in the coming months, Ogoni will be moving into another stage of
differences with Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Nigerian
government. By the Middle of last year, the Federal government announced a
Peace Process between the Ogoni people and Shell Petroleum Development
Company and appointed a facilitator for that process. As a responsible
organization committed to dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the Ogoni
crisis, though not without our own misgivings,MOSOP had welcomed the
process stressing that so long as the process is transparent and genuine,
we would be willing to participate in it.
Events in the past months are pointing to serious difficulties. While it
was generally agreed in the facilitators Joint Draft Concept Paper that
Shell suspends all activities in Ogoniland until all issues have been
sorted out, it has been reported that the company has been trying to enter
Ogoniland without engaging in the proposed talks with the active
connivance of the Nigerian government. Shell is presently trying to build
a gas plant in the Ogoni community of Ban Ogoi.We are also receiving
reports that with the support of the Federal Government, the company is
planning to embark on a remediation of Ogoniland that has not been
discussed with the Ogoni people and is also outside the Peace Process.
This is a recipe for crisis. We ask that the Working Group on Minorities
draw attention to this serious situation.
Realizing the discriminatory impacts of the 1978 Land Use Act and the
Petroleum Decree of 1969 which divests the Ogoni people and other oil
bearing minorities of their rights of ownership and possession of land and
their rights of participation/consultation in the economic exploitation of
the oil resource which have implication on their rights as eloquently
expressed in Article 4.5 of the UNDM and Article 2 of ICERD, the CERD in
2005 had recommended the repeal of the 1978 Land Use Act and the 1969
Petroleum Decree. Till this moment, the government has not taken any
serious step aimed at addressing these issues.
Political Participation and Accountability
Members of this august gathering, the Nigeria government have repeatedly
touted the creation of local government areas as a way of dealing with
problems of Nigerias minorities. State and Local government creation
exercises in Nigeria is what the Late Ken Saro Wiwa described as the most
illogical, quixotic and unabashedly shameful practice of the Nigeria
According to the late Sage, Obafemi Awolowo, in a true federation, every
ethnic group whether big or small is equal. But what is equal in a
Nigerian Federation where the Hausa/Fulani with a little contribution to
the national coffers in terms of revenue, have above two hundred and
seventy(270) local government areas spread into eleven(11) states while
the Ogonis are consigned to just four(4) local government areas. Even in
terms of population proportionality, this is undermining the rights of the
Mr. Chairperson, the exercise of State and local government creations in
Nigeria were largely driven by the motive of transferring the enormous
revenues generated from the resources of the Niger Delta to the majority
territories as states and local governments became the platform for the
distribution of the Federal revenue otherwise called National Cake while
at the same time giving a semblance of devolving power to the minorities.
A recent Human Rights Watch report from April, 2006 provides greater
details about this situation.
As the elections of 2007 draws near, political violence is now on the
increase, for example, the murder of a prominent politician a week ago and
it is reported that politicians have begun to amass small arms in
preparations for the elections reminiscent of the 2003 experience. Our
organization has prepared a fuller report on this situation. The security
of lives of the ordinary citizen is being greatly compromised. It is
alledged that with no control over the security agencies, minority
nationalities that at the moment have no adequate and constructive mode of
participation are going to be consumed in the unfolding battle for power.
Exoneration of the Ogoni Nine
Mr. Chairperson, The right to redress, as set forth in the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and
numerous other instruments, is a key right in international human rights
law. It is a key preventive measure against cycles of further conflict and
violations of human rights. Redress will provide the ground from which
sorely needed reconciliation and the protection of human rights can grow.
The international community will remember that on November 10, 1995,
Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow
activists of the Ogoni People-The Ogoni 9 were hanged by the military
government of Nigeria. In resolution A/RES/50/199, the General Assembly
condemned the executions as arbitrary and the tribunal as flawed and send
a fact finding mission to Ogoni. The Secretary General presented the
missions findings to the Fiftieth Session of the General Assembly in
The mission condemned the tribunal, stating that it did not have
jurisdiction to try the Ogoni Nine, and did not conform to applicable
international and regional human rights law, or to domestic law. The
mission recommended redress to the Ogoni People including financial relief
to the survivors and assistance in improving the socio-economic conditions
of the Ogoni people and the Niger Delta in general.
However, nearly eleven years since the execution, the Nigerian government,
now under civilian rule, has failed to address the plight of the Ogoni
people and to protect their human rights. The recommendations of the
Secretary-Generals fact finding mission and the African Commission have
been completely ignored. Despite President Obasanjos stated commitment of
May 2002 to clearing the names of the Ogoni Nine, the Nine remain
convicted of a crime for which they were unjustly accused and unfairly
This is happening in our view because Ken Saro Wiwa and his fellow
colleagues are from a minority ethnic group and discriminated against. We
make this assertion based on the fact that the current President of
Nigeria, General Obasanjo from the majority Yoruba tribe was accused and
condemned in 1995 for Treason-the highest crime to be committed against a
nation-state. In 1998, he was released from Prison, cleared of the crime
and subsequently won elections to become Nigerias President. It is
instructive to note that by Nigerias constitution, no condemned person is
eligible to contest elections into any political office. General Obasanjo
was able to contest because he was cleared of the crime on the basis that
he was unjustly tried and condemned. The same situation that applies to
Ken Saro Wiwa and co.
In the light of the foregoing, we wish to recommend as follows:
That the Working Group:
1. Urges the Nigeria government to set up a process of clearing of the
names of the Ogoni Nine.
2. Calls on the Nigeria government to provide adequate protection
mechanism for minorities in the constitution and government policies and
3. Calls on the Nigerian government to provide an enabling environment for
the conduct of free and fair elections in 2007
4. Prevails on the Nigerian government to provide a mechanism that will
lead to the equal and proportional representation of Ogoni people with
other nationalities in the forth coming elections as the present situation
appears to completely marginalize the Ogoni people in political
5. Calls on the Nigeria government to take active step in removing the
veil of impunity that is perceived to surround political and electoral
violence in Nigeria.
6. Pressures the Nigeria government to stop the crude and damaging process
of economic liberalization and privatization that is driving the vast
majority of members of oil bearing minorities to extreme poverty.
7. Asks the Nigerian government to stop the ongoing militarisation of the
Niger Delta and withdraw all its military officers from the area.
8. Calls on the Rivers State Government to pay compensation to those whose
homes were demolished during the demolition of Agip Shanty Town.
9. Calls on the Nigeria government to respect the decisions of
International Human Rights bodies and implement the various
recommendations of the 67th session of CERD which affects minorities.
10. Calls on the Nigeria government to promote multicultural education in
schools especially to put in a national process of minority language
education. The present reification of three languages should be stopped
11. Requests Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria to suspend all
activities in Ogoni until all the matters is resolved.
12. Requests that a well defined process of improving the socio-economic
conditions of the Ogoni People is put in place by the Nigeria government
as a matter of urgency. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has
failed the Ogoni people. Only one project has been implemented between
2000-2004. (See the previous MOSOP report, More than Rhetoric for further
We also request that:
1. A moratorium be placed on oil production until and when an
environmental audit has been done in Ogoni
2. The Independent Expert on Minorities issues consider visiting Nigeria
for her to better appreciate the situation that Nigerias minorities face.
3. The UNHCR expedite actions on remedying the situation of Ogoni refugees
in the UNHCR Camp in Benin Republic.
Legborsi Saro Pyagbara
International Advocacy Officer
Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)
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