Chief Goddy Nwikpo is a leader in Ogoniland. He is the chairman of the council of chiefs in his community in Khana Local Government Area, Ogoni, Rivers State. In this interview with Austin Oyibode of Legit.ng, he speaks on the pains of the Ogoni people, their aspirations, and calling on the federal government to make good its promises of cleaning to the Ogoni land.
Tell us about Ogoni land
There are two versions that tell the history of the Ogoni people. One says we migrated from Ghana, another says we migrated from Akwa Ibom State. But the one that is properly documented is the version that says we came from Ghana as fishermen and that as migrant fishermen, we were fishing until we got to Bonny. They called us visitors and as such they were not ready for us to stay with them, they sent us to the hinterland. On getting to the hinterland we found a place which is known as the traditional headquarters of Ogoni people. If you want to take chieftaincy titles or whatever is important in Ogoniland you want to do, you must first of all get to the place to take permission from the ancestral home of Ogoniland (Nama). It is one of the ancient communities in Ogoni.
Tell us how is life in Ogoniland since after the devastation of the place
Well, life in Ogoni has not changed. Why it has not changed is that oil production devastated the place. It devastated the farmlands, the rivers, there are many rivers, small creeks are everywhere. That is where our livelihood is, fishing, weaving mat but as it is now nothing can survive because of the destruction of the environment. The water is not drinkable because every water you fetch, you see oil on top of it. So, we don’t have water, even the water we have now we call it borehole. But the moment you just dig and see water, you are happy but that level of water is not good enough if you don’t go deep. But we don’t have the facilities to go deep.
In fact there are some areas, the water there is coloured. And they still drink it. So, the water we have is not drinkable. It is all creeks, people wash their clothes there, they go to toilet inside and somebody is down there fetching the water for domestic use and drinking because they have no alternative. So, we don’t have water. And then there is no light, the light there comes may be once in a month. When the PHCN officials come, they bring outrageous bills for the people to pay. They even prefer their moon light to the PHCN light because it is epileptic.
Farming is self subsistence, it does not take us to anywhere. We were so blessed that we can tap oil from the palm trees, go to the farm and get some yams and vegetables and continue your living. We don’t really depend on western style of living because we don’t have the means of living westernized lifestyle. It’s a kind of sedentary and substistence lifestyle that we live in ogoniland. We don’t have anything, the only industry there is just the local government and to get there is a problem. One can do anything to get there because that is the only industry in the area.
You can now see that it is quite a herculean task for people there to survive. Because of that you see a lot of enmity, youths who don’t have anything to do will become restive. Any opportunity they have, they are ready to catch on it. This is because there are no opportunities for employment, no jobs for them to do there. No opportunity for growth and no opportunity for development.
There are oil firms operating there, what have they done for the communities?
For now there are no oil firms operating in Ogoniland. I was the person that sent letters to Shell, Chevron and NNPC, they were the ones operating then in Ogoniland. I sent letters to them on the 22nd of December 1992 when I was the secretary of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. We gave them 21 days to respond to our demands but because they didn’t respond, on the 4th of January 1993, we sent them packing because they did not respond to our desires.
That means all the oil firms have left the Ogoniland
Yes, they have all left the place.
So, how are the people surviving since there is no oil firm paying royalties and engaging the youths?
We have not been surviving with them. A lot of people don’t have oil and they are surviving. We have never survived on the basis of oil companies in Ogoniland because we have never enjoyed their oil. The roads they make are only to their locations, their oil wells. The light they provide is only to their locations. So, our survival has never been dependent on the oil companies, no, it has never. Since that 1992 and 1993, no oil company has ever operated in Ogoniland. Whether they do what they parallel drilling I don’t know but there is no oil firm is in Ogoni today.
How is the education sector there, are there schools, if there are, how are they?
There are schools but most of the government schools are dead. What we have a lot there are private schools. Catholic schools, Apostolic schools, Methodist schools are springing up to the disadvantage of the government schools. Even the public schools they don’t pay their teachers and because they don’t pay them, the teachers are not committed. They look for other things for survival. Most of the schools have no chairs, no tables, it becomes difficult to learn in such an environment.
What about the health services?
Health services, well when Amaechi came in, he built a lot of health centres but the point is that you can build health centres, that is not enough, there should be drugs, there should be doctors. Most of them do not have drugs. And most of the people sent to them are youth corps members and you know youth corps members are inexperienced people.
Now, the cleanup so far, how has it been?
Nothing has happened. As far as that clean up is concerned, nothing has happened. They started by saying they needed a centre of excellence. My community said we have a big piece of land, if that will bring the needed peace we give you to use for the cleanup. But after that flag off, nothing has happened. No information on what is happening, sometimes we hear that there is no money, some will say the money is not there, some will say the government is not interested.
The money is supposed to come from all the oil companies. They are all supposed to bring their quota into the cleanup. NNPC, Shell, but for now nothing has happened. Nothing fundamental has taken place apart from the stories we hear on the radio and the visits we have seen.
What is your role in your community?
I’m the chairman of the council of chiefs in my community in Khana Local Government Area. And I’m the coordinator of the stakeholders meeting in the community.
So, what have you used that office to do?
Well, what can we do but as an enlightened person all I try to do is to ensure that there is peace because these youths are so restive that if you don’t control them well, you see trouble. Go to Ogoni and you see a lot of communities that have been burnt down due to maybe wrong information or misinformation but my pre-occupation has been to enlighten the youths so that they don’t take wrong decisions. I have also made sure that for instance this dualisation of Ogoni road, there would have been a lot of problem, people were making a lot of trouble. So, we ensure that there is peace in the area.
We talk to them to be law abiding. But in doing that, commitment has to be there. If not that I have a job doing, it’s not easy going to the village and talking to them, you must buy them food, give them drinks, share money to them. If you just talk with mouth, it doesn’t make sense. They wont listen to you. But because I have a job, when I go there, I’m able to share some food, drinks and give them some money.
From what you have said, one can see that there is still much underdevelopment in the area, what do you have to tell the federal government in this regard?
The federal government shouldn’t pay lip service to the cleanup of the area. Because when people are not honest, they give impression they want to do this when in actual fact they don’t want to do it, then they are playing politics with it. They shouldn’t play politics with the Ogoni cleanup exercise. We have had enough problems, we don’t need any more problem. They shouldn’t say what they cannot do. They shouldn’t pay lip service. If they want to do it, let them come and do it. It should also not be tied to election period. This is an international programme. The UN, the world is aware of the programme. The youths are ready to fight, they are so desperate. There is nothing to play politics about.
And the worse thing is this. The moment they see that you are not with them, you are a dead man. The moment they discover that in this struggle you are a black leg among them you are a dead person. And the moment they hear that you went to Abuja, and the movement is connected to MOSOP, they will say he has gone to Abuja, he has collected some money, you are a dead man. So, they should not put innocent person in trouble, either they are doing it or not doing it.