By Innocent Eteng/Port Harcourt
For many people, the name “Ogoni”, in Rivers State, is one only synonymous with poverty, environmental degradation, cultism and anything negative. But a non-governmental organization (NGO) wants to change that narrative. It has opted to see only the positives. It wants to help others do same. It also wants to collectively haul investments into Ogoni.
That NGO is Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN). It is now working towards bettering the livelihood of people in Ogoni land through innovative support, especially within the agricultural value chain.
Agriculture used to be the people’s cherished occupation, until many parts of Ogoni became oil-polluted, even as serious as refined oil being buried eight centimetres underground, according to a 2011 report on Ogoni by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
For example, Goi is a community in Gokana Local Government in Ogoni. It never played host to any oil company. But in 2005, a serious oil spill occurred at neighbouring (community) Bomo Manifold belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC. The spillage moved through the water body to Goi, contaminating water sources and lands.
As a result of the contamination, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) asked natives to migrate to neighbouring communities because the land was uninhabitable. It warned against practising agriculture in the land nor eating food and fruits grown in the area because they were all poisoned.
But the Federal Government has begun cleaning up polluted sites in Ogoni and SDN believes lifting the people’s livelihoods should go with that clean up exercise. It also believes lifting those livelihoods must be collective.
Hence, on February 15 and 16, SDN organised an event at Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt titled “Technical Workshop on Livelihood Innovation in Ogoni Land”. Delegates were drawn from government, donor agencies, NGOs, religious and civil right groups to deliberate on replicable innovations capable of raising living standards and supporting smallholder farmers.
“In basic terms, we see the challenge that approaches towards promoting livelihoods in Ogoni have not changed drastically over the last two decades. There are some moves on skill based training and agricultural extension but this have generally not taken advantage of new technology or lessons from elsewhere.
“Our perspective is that there are a range of innovative initiatives that could be applicable to Ogoni. They should be considered carefully on whether and how they can be transplanted. The workshop provides an opportunity for an initial survey of these approaches,” SDN said via a summary paper distributed at the workshop.
Organisations that were represented at the workshop were: HYPREP; Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP); Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE); British High Commission; International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA; Trust Africa; Social Action; Catholic Relief Service, CRS; FOSTER; Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, CEHRD; Citizen Trust; Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND); Kebetkachi.
Environmental Right Action, ERA; National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills in the Niger Delta, NACGOND; Real Estate Investment Trust, REIT; BRACEDCOM; Point Engineers Limited; also had delegates.
Ilugo Cletus, SDN’s Civil Project Officer on economic diversification, Port Harcourt, said innumerable potentials and opportunities abound in Ogoni, which the NGO is aimed at pointing the world to for investment.
“It would interest you to know that beyond environmental pollution, environmental degradation, youth restiveness and all that, there are other potentials that Ogoni has. It may also interest you to know that in Nigeria, plantain wine has been achieved at IITA in Onne, which is also in Ogoni land,” Cletus said.
Adding: “Now, if that technology for instance or that processing idea is further translated into economic value, it would help to change the narrative in Ogoni. Beyond this, Ogoni is a fertile agricultural land where agriculture can thrive. There is Songhai (Farm) Rivers over there (in Ogoni). Cassava can be produced in large commercial value or quantity in Ogoni. Transportation system can also be developed in Ogoni land. And then with proper market linkages, Ogoni can be shown to the world map and then people can do business in Ogoni.
“Beyond this, post harvest challenges arising from poor storage facilities can be enhanced and then share prices can be enhanced. This way, the narrative of Ogoni land which is usually about environmental degradation is improved upon and then the world would see a better Ogoni land.”
Cletus said mindset change and appeal to financially-able organisations through the workshop makes the whole idea possible.
“Mindset Change is what we need to carry out and what we need to talk on. What we mean by mindset change is trying to tell an individual (farmers and indigenes) to change from the old long attitude or activities that he or she has done over the years that has not resulted to positive results. But then we cannot set mindset and Keep the person in a vacuum.
“We are trying our best to organise a forum where government officials and the investing public would meet. From this discussion with those that are invited, both at the local and international level, there would be a high level meeting where we would appeal to right-minded individuals with the resources and abilities to see opportunities in Ogoni land and harness them. That is our interest and that is what we intend to continue with,” he said.
MOSOP president, Legborsi Pyagbara, said the workshop is timely and necessary at this time since clean up without restoration of the people’s livelihoods would lead to nothing significant in addressing the long struggle for equity.
“It is not just a message that is coming now, even though it is mentioned here. It is a message that we have also said before that we need to deconstruct the narrative.
“There cannot be a successful clean up without a concomitant economic recovery and that economic recovery has to be situated within the context of recovering livelihoods that have been lost.
“Part of what happened in the period of the oil exploitation is that we said our local economic support systems were destroyed which is (crop) farming and fishing. Moving forward, if we are doing cleaning and we don’t restore back to that livelihood, that cleaning would not be successful.
“So I think that the discussion here is timely, very important and appropriate. For us, it is something that we can take back to our people. It is something that we can encourage our people to get involved in because poverty knows no body,” Pyagbara said.
A discussant and delegate from the Market Development in the Niger Delta, MADE, Tunde Oderinde, said with the calibre of organisations represented at the workshop and as long as the drive towards innovative upgrade of livelihoods in Ogoni is not dependent on government funding alone, the idea is a sure success.
“What we are talking about is a system where the private sector play their role, NGOs play their role, beneficiaries play their role, government play their role, donors come in and play their role; you would see such a move beyond the timeline of any project or person who facilitates it.
“In as much as it is not government-dependent and donor-dependent, then we are on the right path. What we are talking about is building a system for sustainability,” Oderinde said.