By Sunday Ani

The president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Fegalo Nsuke in this interview, speaks on various issues including the development of Ogoni land.


Recently, there were attacks against some Ogoni communities that led to deaths and missing persons. You condemned it and warned against further attacks. What really caused the attacks and what is the situation right now?

The attacks were orchestrated by two scenarios. The first is a persistent land grab from our Ndoki neighbours. The second is an oil well in Ledor community, which has been renamed and given to a neighbouring Ndoki village by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to pave the way for exploration. These unhealthy acts did not start today. Right in the early 90s, some 14 villages of Ogoni including Ledor were attacked by Nigerian soldiers and decimated. That aided the land grabbing from neighboring villages, and now that the people are resettling and find their land taken by neighbors, there are chances that tension and conflicts will ensue.

On the other hand, the NNPC has been too desperate to drill the wells in Ogoni despite decades of conflicts. We are engaging the government on all these and hope that the issues are resolved soon. We hope that the government provides a smart response team to protect the people in that area and forestall further conflicts.

Within Ogoni, there are still cases of intra and inter-communal crisis in this age. You just don’t know the community that can turn against their neighbour over land or chieftaincy tussle. Why does this situation persist, and what is MOSOP doing to promote peace in Ogoni communities?

Conflicts are part of every society. In Ogoni for example, some politicians sponsor conflicts. You will notice that tension and conflicts erupt in Ogoni mainly prior to every general election. That cannot be coincidental. Otherwise, how do you explain that unemployed youths, who only act as political thugs during elections, get access to very expensive arms to deal with political enemies? They are sponsored.

What is important is that the government should be able to enforce the laws and restore order. Our responsibility is to detect the early signs of conflicts and alert the relevant agencies of government to take necessary action. So, we will continue to play that role and expect the state to fulfill their part.

You have consistently condemned the approach of the Federal Government in pursuing the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, especially the provision of basic things like water and healthcare for the people. What has changed in terms of improvement and which area is yet to get attention?

The UNEP report is not rightly implemented. What we have is a fraudulent scheme that is diverting the cleanup funds. There is nothing to show for the cleanup itself outside the propaganda of the (HYPREP). Secondly, there are two key components of the cleanup itself, the surface pollution and the underground pollution, which is affecting the drinking water sources. You do not use laterite to cover surface pollution and claim you have cleaned the place. What happens to the thick layer of oil that sits on our underground water that we drink everyday? I think the bigger problem with the cleanup is that the government is not acting right despite the complaints we have raised.

For example, former President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an audit of HYPREP; where is the report? The looting is continuing and the government might have discovered that releasing the report will seriously damage its anti-corruption stance, so they kept quiet. We expect funding for HYPREP to be halted and a proper audit undertaken. Then a new leadership will be constituted with specific mandates on milestones to be achieved. We have seen that giving HYPREP the freedom to do what they like allows them to divert the funds and claim they trained people.

How can you be asked to clean surface and underground pollution and you use the money to train pilots, while the people still live with the pollution and cannot find water to drink. That is financial misappropriation. So, what we expect is to say the least, President Bola Tinubu will sack the current management of HYPREP and work out a competent team that is ready to execute the UNEP report appropriately.

I am particular about water, because some Ogoni people live in communities, where the water has been polluted and can’t drink from the wells that are meant to serve them. Some have placed the blame also on the state and local governments for not living up to expectations. What is your position on that?

The gravity of the pollution is not something local government councils can handle. It is true that the surface and underground waters are polluted, but what is far more important is how we are dealing with the threat. Some experts have shown me that the oil that sits on the underground water table in Ogoni is so much that if recovered can generate up to $50 million. Is that not frightening? But HYPREP is busy with covering up surface pollution and leaving the most severe aspects of the pollution. HYPREP cannot tell us how much oil they recovered from their surface cleanup because they covered the surface with laterite and did not do a proper cleanup.

There was a time you raised alarm over the respiratory and cardiovascular health of Ogoni, mainly people living in areas that had been polluted by oil exploration. Then you claimed that people were dying from the air they breathe in and from the water they drink. Do we still have the same situation or is there an improvement due to the efforts of the government?

The situation has not changed at all. It cannot change while the people still drink poison as water. But these are not just mere claims; they are factual and based on the sicknesses we experience and diagnosis from the medical centers. This requires an immediate intervention which unfortunately, we are not getting with the present management of HYPREP.

Presently, across Ogoni, there are expectations over the Ogoni Development Authority (ODA), an idea you mooted and being sold to the Federal Government to fast track development in Ogoniland. You speak about it passionately, wherever you have the opportunity. What is special about ODA?

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The ODA is a proposal approved by the Central Committee of MOSOP as a pathway to permanently resolve the Ogoni problem. The idea is that a fair proportion of Ogoni resources be set aside for Ogoni development. Our position is that the Ogoni struggle was a direct protest against underdevelopment and has been exploited to serve personal goals over the years. We cannot allow that information manipulation which has kept us struggling for other people to continue.

So, we want the issues of the environment, infrastructure, job creation, security and all that to be addressed with the ODA being operationalized. It wouldn’t matter how it is done; what will matter to us is that it is protected from political exploitation and secured to only serve the good of the Ogoni people. We need the Ogoni people to understand that it is a total disservice to be walking on a land that has the capacity to produce 500,000 barrels of oil daily and still be poor. So, the idea of the ODA is to get the Ogoni people to benefit from the natural endowments in the land and be transparently involved in addressing the social problems they face.

No matter how beautifully you paint the idea, there are people out there, who feel that ODA might fail to deliver, that it might be hijacked by selfish individuals. How would you respond to that?

There is currently desperation to frustrate and hijack it. Their usual strategy is to incite internal conflicts and use it as an excuse to intervene. The next thing you hear is a committee to address the conflicts and incorporate the views of everyone; even people who do not know the definition of MOSOP will be out to resolve the problem, and it ends up in their pockets.

So, exploiting people, misinforming them and keeping them in perpetual slavery to always hijack and spoil what others have worked for is the modus operandi of some unprogressive Ogonis. But I am glad that the people now know they have been exploited in the past and the idea is overwhelmingly accepted. So, we will certainly win.

I understand that you are currently battling with some prominent Ogoni over ODA because they feel sidelined or that you did not consult widely before you came up with the idea. What is the true picture?

When it comes to the struggle of the Ogoni people against Shell and the Nigerian government, MOSOP led and sustained that struggle. That critical group called MOSOP is most fundamental because they have the capacity to make it work or fail and they were the people I needed to convince first. It would have been erroneous to start consultations with the people who are only interested in the business side of it and how they can exploit the process for personal gains.

I must admit that consultation is an ongoing process and I have met with chiefs, professionals, women, youths, students and so on. I have also done extensive community based consultations with town hall meetings and civic education, using the mass media like radio to explain the beauty of the ODA. But there are people whose whole lives depend on the conflicts. Some of them were presidents of MOSOP. They wish we could sustain the agitation, send them to the governing council of HYPREP and they continue to make money while we keep being heroes of the struggle.

These are the people who trade with us, generate internal conflicts with the hope that they can frustrate us. Unfortunately for them, that is no longer tenable. No more will that slavery continue.

Is this connected to the recent announcement of a new MOSOP leadership, which the community coordinators of MOSOP have rejected because they claim there was no election because your tenure has not elapsed?

I am not aware of a MOSOP election where a new leadership emerged. That news is a fraud and should be disregarded as it is completely baseless. I preside over the Central Committee which is empowered to conduct elections and I have no knowledge of any election process. MOSOP’s election is not a secret affair in a private hotel in Port Harcourt. People should understand that the monetization of the Ogoni struggle, which went on for years, is no longer tenable and oil production in Ogoni will resume for the good of the Ogoni people and the Nigerian state no matter how much they gang up against it. Ogoni is tired of internal slavery and I can say that at this time, the internal slavery is defeated and terminated.

The other camp claims that there is a court judgement in their favour, which propelled the election. How true is that?

No! No! No! Have you seen the judgement or judgment order? They displayed their ignorance, thinking that their usual information engineering will work for them. A court judgement is a pronouncement. There was no such thing. The court judgement is only a dummy they sold as part of the manipulations our people have been suffering in the past. They need to understand that Ogoni have chosen the part of progress and not deceit anymore. Throughout your tenure, you have battled the factionalization of the MOSOP presidency.

Before the emergence of the new MOSOP faction, there was another faction. Ogoni people are not happy with this trend, and would want to know why you people simply refuse to work together. This is their seventh attempt. The mistake they make is to think that they can stop us by giving some impression that there is disunity. They do not understand that the more they try to create confusion, the better and easier it becomes for us to operationalize the ODA and trigger the development process.

We cannot be discouraged because we believe in our ideas and they will work in the interest of the Ogoni people no matter what anyone anywhere decides. They are free to choose the path they want to take. Unfortunately for them, Ogoni can no longer remain in slavery, pain and poverty for them to exploit and make money. I expect that at this time, they should understand that things have changed and the era of manipulations and lies are over.

How would you like to be remembered as MOSOP president at the expiration of your tenure?

I will only continue to give my best; generations to come will judge whether I have done well and acted in their best interest or not.