NIGERIA: POOR NIGER DELTA COMMUNITIES GET SUCCOUR FROM NETHERLANDS
In Niger Delta, where natural resources appear to be in abundance but with so much poverty in the land following the failure of successive governments, hope seems to be coming from far away Netherlands.
A Nigerian-Netherlands based activist, Comrade Sunny Ofehe, has designed a project that would cater for the basic health, social-economic and infrastructural needs of the people from several impoverished communities in the region.
Ofehe recently inaugurated an organisation christened the Sunny Ofehe Foundation (SOF) with the aim of helping to turn sorrow to smile and frustration to hope in the poorest communities of the region.
The activist believes that the Niger Delta is blessed with abundant mineral resources, particularly crude oil that has made Nigeria the eighth largest exporter thereby generating billions in revenue to the country but the people of the region live in penury and abject poverty.
The people of the region who are mainly into fish farming have apparently lost their flora and fauna to the continuous devastation of the environment and this is exactly what Ofehe has been fighting against.
Before now, Ofehe founded his Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) in 2005 to push for non-violent campaign in the Niger Delta region at the peak of the Niger Delta arms struggle.
After he left the shores of Nigeria in 1995 to seek political asylum in The Netherlands, he started a campaign for justice, peace and development in the Niger Delta.
That campaign had taken him to several international conferences around Europe. More, in particular, was his campaign to the European Union (EU) where he had given testimonies of the situation in the Delta.
He used the organisation to draw attention to the destruction of the environment by oil companies and there is no doubt that he is set to do same with the newly- launched non-profit charity organisation.
In the face of the struggle, his mother was killed in Nigeria in October, 2007 for reason yet to be established but he has never been deterred to abandon the struggle and desire to contribute his quota to the growth and development of the region.
Ofehe championed the crusade against environmental injustice in the oil-rich but strife-torn region at the heat of the Niger Delta crisis. He raised awareness by filming oil spills, as well as documenting acts of sabotage to pipelines by oil thieves in the Niger Delta.
At the heat of the Niger Delta crisis, Ofehe preached non-violent struggle to the then dreaded ‘militant’ group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), when he visited their camp for a documentary.
Ofehe, who has been in the vanguard for the non-violent struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta has this to say about the terrible situation which had befallen the region considered as the goose that lays the golden egg ; "I have been in the region and have seen the devastation and level of poverty. The people need your help and support.” Ofehe stated this in response to a question on why he decided to float the non-profit organisation.
The Delta is like "a land flowing with milk and honey”, as referred to in the Hebrew Bible to the agricultural abundance of the Land of Israel. The phrase is used in the Book of Exodus during Moses' vision of the burning bush.[3:1–22].
Today, the phrase could be said of the nature of Niger Delta, Nigeria region rich in black oil and other natural resources but which is currently losing its natural resource in exchange for dollars accruing from oil exploitation and exploration activities in the region.
Giving graphic picture of the situation in the region, David Kosipre who is a fisherman in Nembe area of Bayelsa State but because of the nature of the environment, now uses his fishing boat to run ferry services, said: “The way of life I knew as a child, when we used to eat fresh fish straight out of the water, is all gone”.
He lamented that the land is now impoverished and that they now depend on help from individuals, non governmental organisation to survive.
“These oil people have reduced the stock of our fishes. We have to buy it frozen, whereas we used to get it fresh," he said, as his boat cut through a film of thick sludge coating the water.
Douye Enegete is another fish farmer in the Niger Delta. He said life in the poorest communities of the Delta is hellish despite the oil boom in their back yard.
"I barely feed my two children. They used to be in school, but there are no fish to sell, so I had to pull them out. Oil is a curse on us”, he lamented.
William Okoro, in his 60s, is a farmer and fisherman in Azama community in Delta State. He has been living at the riverine community since birth and had all his children there. He said his people rely on food supply and medication from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that cares.
"We need food and medicine here before any other things. They should bring animal for us to cook and ‘chop’ because there are no more fishes in the river,” Okoro said, adding "Please tell them to bring different, different types of tablets to supplement the food because you know ‘se pikin dem don dey sick plenty."
Erebo Charly Binama is the wife of the oldest man at Ubafan community, an Ijaw enclave in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South West of Delta State. She used to fish in the river but right now; she said crude oil has spoiled everything. “The crude has polluted the river. It has destroyed our means of livelihood. It has devastated the soil, spoil our net and hook including our engine boats,” she lamented.
For her, life is difficult in the creeks except a well-spirited individual come to their aid. “The crude oil spill in our environment has driven many people away from our community because there is no food to eat. Many things have gone wrong here,” she said.
Also, Evelyn Aaron is a house wife. She is into fishing and has five children. They all live at Ikangbene community in Delta. “We have not been eating good food because we buy other food stuffs from the money realised from the fishes we kill in the river. Since the river has been polluted, life is now very hard,” she said.
She added that the odour in the river, resulting from the pollution is offensive and unhealthy to their lives, saying “The odour is offensive and not healthy for us and the children.”
This is the case in several communities in the Delta. More than 90 per cent of inhabitants of houses in Delta, Bayelsa and Port Harcourt, River State capital, use borehole because government has not been able to provide the people with ordinary pipe borne water.
At a recent gathering at the Airport Hotel, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where the “Sunny Ofehe Foundation” (SOF) was officially inaugurated, Ofehe said the non- profit organisation was borne out of the burning desire to give continuous succour, better health services, clean potable water to the poorest communities in the Niger Delta.
The NGO which is targeting people in Delta, Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers and other neighbouring states is set to attract international collaboration to provide educational materials/equipment, scholarships, small scale infrastructural projects and other aids to the poorest inhabitants of the targeted communities.
With the motto: "Together we can make a Difference", Ofehe recalled with an emotional laden voice his youthful days in the Niger Delta region before he escaped to the Netherlands as a young refugee for the safety of his life.
Years after, Ofehe still laments the situation in the region which he described as deteriorating.
However, he said there is hope, stressing that his Foundation was determined to carry out a “Material Deliverance Mission" to the region from the international front to help the needy communities and inhabitants who have remained voiceless, poorest and needy till date.
He reiterated the poverty level among the inhabitants of the region who live in penury despite the huge natural resources in their backyard.
Hans Berkhuizen is the European Director of the Milieu Defence en Friends of the Earth, one of Ofehe's collaborators in the struggle to emancipate the Niger Delta region. He bemoaned the lingering deplorable and highly unhealthy environmental malaise in the region, saying the state of the environment was as a result of activities of oil multinationals such as Shell.
Specifically, Berkhuizen recalled the Ogoni saga and critically re-echoed that the sufferings of the inhabitants of the poorest communities in the Delta were “extremely unacceptable”.
He therefore called on the oil producing firms to do more to alleviate the “death rates and threats posed by their continuous gas flaring in the communities.”
In the same vein, Victor Ebikabowei (aka ‘General’ Boyloaf), commended Ofehe for the initiative which is tailored to chart a way out for the deprived locals in the Delta.
'General’ Boyloaf was a Field ‘Commander’ of the outlawed Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and one of the first ex-militant leaders to embrace the Federal Government amnesty programme.
Boyloaf, who was in Rotterdam for the inauguration of the SOF, expressed delight over the project which he said came in the face of the ongoing environmental devastation and human right abuses in the region.
He frowns at the reports submitted to the headquarters of Shell, in The Hague about the situation in the Delta, saying the painful agitations of the poor Niger-Deltans were not reflected in the reports.
Boyloaf said that armed struggle in the region was as a result of neglect of the region by successive governments as well as the “dubious act of oil exploration companies to the detriment of the locals.”
“The long deprivations, marginalisation and neglect of the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria distressed by the political mis-governance and economic strangulation angered by the destruction of our God-given land propelled the formation of MEND,” he said.
He therefore expressed optimism that the Ofehe’s Foundation would bridge the poverty gap and bring smiles, comfort and happiness to the sorrowful faces of the poorest inhabitants of the area.
Festus Keyamo, a leading humanrights lawyer in the country who served as a guest speaker at the inauguration, noted with dismay the lamentations of the suffering locals, saying the people of the region have been impoverished for over 40 years.
He lamented that the Federal, State and Local Governments have done nothing to help the communities on the basic health and infrastructural needs.
Keyamo said the only way to open a new agenda towards bringing durable development and lasting peace to the region was to elect credible people that could be supported by international humanitarian organisations like the SOF into government.
Written By Joe Ogbodu