69-year-old Ogoni youth leader who wants clean up to start, now

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(First used in BD Sunday)

There is a youth leader in fact, a youth president, always talking for the K-dere youths from Ogoni area of Rivers State. He is 69 years old and still waxing strong, leading the youth. He is also a chief. When he speaks in K-Dere, the youth have spoken. He was in Port Harcourt last week to do what he best knows to do, speak for the youth. His name is Ledor Mene.  He proudly announced his age at a workshop and attracted huge applause (or uproar). He was later to reveal how one of his children alone has six children.

Ogoni ethnic group in Rivers State is made up of four local council areas: Gokana, Khana, Tai, and Eleme. Gokana has 17 villages but two are very popular; K-Dere and B-Dere. Nobody has exlained what the K and B represent, apart from the constant violent skirmishes and inter-communal clashes that give them a new name. The area is always tense, the community people tell us.

Why would a people choose a 69-year-old grandfather to be not only a youth but a youth leader. BD Sunday gathered that the youth of K-Dere, like most other communities in the Niger Delta, are dominated by two rival cult groups. No group wants the other to rule over them. So, they recalled a man who once served as ‘King of the Boys’ and later served in other capacities in youth leadership.

He is now a chief but one with strong principles and unwavering stand on matters. They made Mene the youth president for three years. He has served for 18 months.

Now, the United Nations, through its agency on environment (UNEP), studied the Ogoni oil devastations that led to the formation of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and killing of the Ogoni matyres led by Ken Saro-Wiwa. The crisis led to the exit of Shell from the area and abandoned a large chunk of the rich oil field known as Oil Mining License (OML) 11 covering from Bonny to Oyigbo zones, with Ogoni in the middle.

The UNEP Report asked that $1Bn be set aside to clean up Ogoni areas in about 25 or 30 years of continued action. The FG set up an agency (Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project) and went to sleep from 2011 to 2016. The next FG now set up the HYPRP 2 to act faster and released $10m but the Ogoni people say they hardly see the difference in speed.

The FG says it has been busy, saying that many structured needed to be set up in line with the UNEP Report before any project fund would be released. The HYPRP says it has advertised for bids and that selection is in progress. The agency also said it has started demeontsrtion with two companies to serve as pilot project to the clean up proper.

Despite all of this, the Ogoni people say the clean up is more political than practical and have expressed fears with political interference, possible hijacking of the exercise by bigwigs, etc. What perhaps seems the biggest threat to the scheme is the question of where the fund $1bn is being kept. Shell once gave clues, saying oil majors have their own budgets in what is called Joint Venture (JV) Budget per year. They say this is where what would be spent per year is stated and presented to the senior partner, the NNPC and FG.

The next virus is the hidden desire of the Ogoni people for compensation first or instead of clan up. This distortion worked so hard that an NGO (Cnetre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, CEHRD) was supported to carry out a study to find out what the people actually felt, the perception study. It was discovered, according to the director, Sam Kabari, PhD), that the majority of the people want compensation instead of anything held. Fears are rife that if this perception and expectation gap was not addressed, post clean up era may be more troublesome in Ogoni than now.

So, who was it to reflect the minds of the youth at the workshop to unveil the study to the communities than the 69-year-old ‘king of the boys’? He stood in his erectness and spoke in halting English laced with anger. He said his people saw nothing but politics in the Clean up noise and that his K-Dere youths were angry. He said their anger was more due to what they saw as lies.

First, they were told by HTPREP officials that K-Dere would host the UN-recommended Integrated Soil Centre which was to be a centre for tests in West Africa. It would be testing the various parts of Ogoni polluted aeas before and after each clean up. Many looked up to it s a facility and job spinner.

Mene however said instead, officuals came now to say they want to give them an agric training centre. They people flared up, he stated. He urged the FG to come clean on the clean up instead of deceiving the ordinary Ogoni people. That could be why they chose a very old youth tested in integrity and truth because the people no longer knew who to trust in the authority chain from the FG to HYPREP, community leaders, the elite, NGOs, etc.

The debate over desire for compensation raged for hours at the CEHRD event but Kabari, also Ogoni, made it clear that since compensation was not built into the UNEP Report, it would be difficult to do it now. It could derail the exercise by seeking to know who should get what. An elder and deputy clerk in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Dumnu Lekie, advised the communities to allow the clean up to go ahead on UN terms than start a hunt for compensation that could derail the little gains made so far. He said the owners of parcels of land may claim compensation but that the pollution destroyed common facilities such as rivers and roads and forests that affected all.

After strenuous debates, the NGOs and leaders started seeing reason on why all effort should be on clean up and remediation than compensation.

Mene now spoke with BusinessDay after the workshop. His tone reflected the new understanding, showing that much effort needs be put in education the communities through proper ways and channels like CEHRD did.

Benefit from the workshop

Our belief was that the government was playing politics with the clean up but the answers I got on the floor is that the project is real, not politics, and that the actual clean up is coming up very soon and that it would go well.

My worry before

The issues agitating our minds before coming to this workshop were issues of free medicals and location of the Integrated Soil Centre. The youths were angry and we help rallies. K-Dere is a volatile community and I had no peace in my heart. The rally was with an NGO sensitising our people on the clean up. I asked a question that caused some uproar. Today, I will go home and tell the youths what I heard that would make the clean up go in peace and allow our people to live in harmony.

There was free medical programme launched in Ogoni communities. In Gokhana, the exercise took place in only three days for 17 villages. It did not afford our people any tablets or drugs. Only three persons benefited in it. It was not done in a proper way. This was why our people protested and dubbed it as Buhari’s politics to get our votes.

They also said they would locate the UNEP-Recommended Integrated Soil Centre but later, they say they would now give us agric training centre. Our people protested because we did not know how the first promise ended. Our area is a highly impacted area. That is our problem.

Appeal to HYPREP

Whatever has been earmarked for highly impacted areas to come and do it in K-Dere community.

Compensation or remediation?

We have now realised that there is no compensation in the UNEP Report but clean up and remediation. So, I will go and let my people know this and we will now expect training of the youths and jobs that will follow from it. This will make our youths to find sources of income and live by it. Let the clean up begin.

Conclusion:

Ledor Mene may be 69, may be a multiple grandfather, but his voice has vibration and force. He commands respect in his area. He has seven children with five boys. One of his children has six children while another has five. Yet, he is sought after by the youth to be their leader. This is why the deputy clerk renamed his position as ‘Youth Ambassador’ to the council of elders.

Whatever the case, the voice of the elderly youth is clear, the mind of the Ogoni people is clear, Let the Clean Up start, now!