The people of Rivers state will on Saturday, December 11, vote those who will occupy the state and national Assembly seats that were declared vacant by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Fegalo Nsuke, the publicity secretary of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) tells the struggle for the control of Ogoniland, the tales of death and the trading of blames from the army with the PDP and the APC in the state.
The forth-coming re-run elections in Rivers state will produce some of the most expensive legislators in Ogoni history. Over 35 lives had so far been lost in Ogoni just to produce legislators for the state and national assemblies.
Just after the annulment of the parliamentary elections held in 2015, a series of military invasions had led to the death of over 35 persons in Ogoniland. In the battle that followed, a polytechnic lecturer and many others including one John Gbarazia, lost their lives.
Immediate responses to the raids came from the leading political parties in the state. The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State argued that the 2015 elections which were largely won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were remarkably violent. With little sense of morality, the leading opposition party in Rivers State to a large extent defended the actions of the army in Ogoniland. The argument is that the raids are intended to flush the area of armed bandits whom they accuse of being used by the PDP-led government in the Rivers State, an area covering Ogoniland.
With an open mind, I have analyzed the representations of the army authorities since the recent raid on Ogoniland began in February and during their presentations before parliament in November 2016. I still cannot detach the motives of the raids from being politically induced.
On the night of the first raid, the home of Chief Solomon Ndigbara was destroyed in Yeghe. Armoured tanks were deployed in the raid and in what appeared to be a reprisal, the senatorial office of the APC was destroyed. In Bori, at least 10 persons were killed the following day, September 23, including a polytechnic student who had come to collect his call up letter for national service, three indigenes of Ebonyi state who were traders in Bori were also killed. In Zaakpon, at least one person was shot dead and an old woman of about 70 years was brushed down, she fractured her arm as a result. In Yeghe, a pregnant mother, a clergyman and at least 12 others were killed in the raids.
In a quick response, the Rivers State government said the raid on Ogoniland was targeted at armed bandits. The APC added a different dimension to it saying Governor Wike's call on the people not to vote their party in the re-run elections which was then scheduled for March led the people to protest.
It still does not resonate with me how a mere expression against a governor's comments became an issue for the army. Besides, there was no report that any protests turned violent within the period. Who were the armed bandits and who were the protesting party supporters? These questions seriously beg for answers.
While the APC and the PDP were joining issues, army authorities reported that the raid was in response to the kidnap of its informant in Rivers State, Mr. Pabby Koryene whom the army alleged was buried alive by a cult group. No name was immediately given to the cult group. Another twist was added to it when it was revealed that Pabby Koryene was actually a chieftain of the APC in Yeghe. His connection with army intelligence remains shrouded in secrecy till date.
Few days later, the army declared Solomon Ndigbara wanted for gun running and kidnapping. We began to move away from Governor Wike's approval to raid bandits in Ogoni, from the protest occasioned by Governor Wike's call not to vote a particular senatorial candidate, from the burial of an informant of the army and we began to see a media campaign against a former ally of the security forces - Solomon Ndigbara.
As soon as the army declared Solomon Ndigbara wanted for kidnapping and gun running, the camp of one of the contestants for the federal house of representatives released photographs of arms recovered from the home of Solomon Ndigbara. A critical examination of the images showed they were generated from the internet and intended to misinform the public.
While I do not intend to hold brief for Ndigbara, I see significant inconsistencies in the statements of the politicians and the authorities on the raid on Ogoniland since February 2016. It also worries me that the political parties do not care about the rights and safety of our people in their determination to win the forth-coming re-run elections scheduled for December 10.
Given the intensity of the defense for the raid by a section of our political class, I suspect fowl play in the search for Ndigbara. I have seen it before in 1995 when politicians connived with the military against Saro-Wiwa and the MOSOP leaders. Saro-Wiwa and eight others were falsely accused and eventually hanged by the government of Sani Abacha to silence a peaceful uprising and well coordinated opposition to state backed rights violation by Shell against the Ogoni people. The unanswered questions about the recent raids on Ogoniland and particularly on the community of Yeghe compels me to believe that the story of Ken Saro-Wiwa is being replicated in the hunt for Ndigbara.
From the point of view of a layman like me, the fact that there was no immediate report of kidnapping in the area and Solomon Ndigbara was not in hiding or previously declared wanted should raise some suspicion especially given the fact that a re-run election was ahead, I want to believe the uncoordinated position of the army, coming up with different defenses at different time, points to an attempt to seek an escape route for their crimes against the Ogoni.
There had been issues of kidnapping in Ogoniland but I believe the raid on Ogoniland in February was not about kidnapping. Ogoni people need clarifications on how Ndigbara who in November 2015 accompanied these same security men to Kaani to rescue a kidnapped victim suddenly became a kidnapper. Has Ndigbara ever been invited, quizzed by the Police for kidnapping or gun running since the federal government granted amnesty to Niger Deltta fighters which included Ndigbara? For someone like Ndigbara who had been collaborating with the Police to deal with security problems in Ogoni, if there be any security issues he needed to clarify, I want to believe that a simple invitation would have been fine and so for me, the raid on Yeghe which involved armoured tanks was much more than an attempt to arrest a known ally of the security men.
It is my conviction that if Ndigbara was the target of the military raids on Ogoniland, Mrs Ledee, a pregnant mother, would not have died. Alice Naanee Diginee. a 77 year old woman who died of shock as a result of the raids would probably be alive. I have a deep conviction that the raids on Ogoni needs an open investigation with public hearing held in Ogoniland (not Abuja) because I am convinced the truth has not been unraveled about the real motives behind the raids. I so maintain because if I were a police officer, I do not think I will fire a single shot to arrest a civilian ally found wanting.
It is regrettable that the army appear to have been be so easily misled, probably misinformed and maneuvered into this political game causing so much pain to Ogoni which will live with us for a very long time and continue to re-enforce our believe that the attitude of the Nigerian military towards Ogoni even in the civil dispensation may not have changed. Recall that the military dealth one of the most devastating blows to the Ogoni when on November 10, 1995, military authorities sniffed life out of 9 innocent Ogonis including Barinem Kiobel, Rev John Kpuinen and Ken Saro-Wiwa. They did nothing but spoke against state repression against the Ogoni people. Between 1993 and 1999, over 3000 others wee killed by state-sponsored repression against Ogoni activists calling for the respect of their fundamental rights.
An army who should protect us has become complicit in an attempt to suppress and destroy our peace.
Nigeria under President Muhamadu Buhari needs to address this level of perceived complicity of the army in prosecuting injustice in our system. The President as commander -in-chief needs to rise to protect the integrity of our armed forces. There cannot be multiple commanders for our army and politicians cannot so arrogantly boast about deploying the military even to crises areas. Our soldiers must be protected from such political influence. The army cannot be allowed to slide into further degradation and abuse the same way they have abused the police, withdrawing policemen who should be providing security for the people and making them private security men. I call on the president to save the Nigerian army from all forms of political abuse.
The elections are here again. December 10, Ogonis will choose parliamentarians. Elections which should enrich our democracy has become dreadful for our people. Many wish that day would never come for it appears to carry sorrow and trauma. A simple and civic responsibility to choose representatives has generated so much tension and killed so many. There is the likelihood that politicians will malign their opponents to justify another military invasion. This cannot be allowed to continue. We will all be watching. One thing is sure, someday, we will seek justice for the killings and today's perpetrators of crime against the people will surely be punished.
Fegalo Nsuke, the Publicity Secretary of The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), wrote from Bori, Ogoniland, Rivers state.