By Comrade Martins Abantlehe

Ogoniland became a National Treasure in 1958 when Shell Petroleum Development Company discovered crude oil, Nigeria’s most valuable resource in its major Communities. But in 1990, the oil-rich Ogoniland rose to international attention after a massive public protest campaign against Shell Oil, and Nigerian government led by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP, an unrecognized group by the Government). MOSOP’s protest which up till 1995 was in reaction to the oil pollution disaster which plagued the region with serious environmental degradation was caused by the over one hundred oil wells in the area. The 1993 MOSOP’s protest which was nonviolent has been met with violence on the part of the government and other interest groups resulting to the execution and imprisonment of many Ogoni leaders by the then Military regime between 1995 and 1998. But the Ogoni people remained relentless and have managed to secure a substantial amount of international awareness of their current situation.

Taming Environmental Degradation in Ogoni

In 1999, the democratically elected government of Olusegun Obansanjo set up a Presidential Initiative on environmental issues in the Niger-Delta but this did not bring hope to the people of Ogoni until 2009, when the Yaradua/Jonathan administration engaged the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to conduct an environmental assessment on Ogoniland. Subsequently, the comprehensive report nicknamed “UNEP Report”; was brought out after a year of study of over two hundred locations with over four hundred samples.

The UNEP Report which served as a baseline for Ogoni cleanup was launched. The government of Buhari/Osinbajo proceeded by flagging up the cleanup exercise in 2016 by creating the Hydrocarbon Remediation Project (HYPREP) under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Environment. Since HYPREP is a government body, politicization and government bureaucracy of the cleanup exercise becomes inevitable. This ushered in the beginning of the Cordaid’s Strategic Partnerships (SP) with Civil Society Organisations.

New Face of Ogoniland from Cordaid’s SP

Located on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, east of the City of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Ogoniland, extends across four local government areas; Khana, Gokana, Eleme, and Tai LGAs. CSOs have over the years in quizzical patterns engaged in activism-based Strategic Partnerships (SP) seeking a quick implementation of the provisions of the 2011 UNEP Report in the Cleanup of Ogoni.

A couple of CSOs made a huge impact recently in Ogoniland with support from Cordaid. In a Strategic Partnership for Lobby and Advocacy tagged: “Restoring the Social Contract”, Cordaid has funded eight major partner CSOs in Nigeria which according to the Executive Director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Monday Osasah, “…is a Partnership geared towards an inclusive, peaceful Niger-Delta based on equity and sustainability….”

The SP also aimed at empowering local communities to contribute to an advocate for their own aspirations for the future of the Niger-Delta. “….Cordaid brought what we can describe as ‘strategic engagement ‘to the issue of the cleanup. Before then, there were engagements across purposes but all of these changed. Engagements became more structured and organized with community, State, national and international linkage. The traction and peace you see today in the cleanup programme is a factor of this strategic partnership….” Osasah added.

For Comrade Darlington Obele, a youth leader and resident in Ogale community in Eleme LGA, Rivers State who spoke with Journalists against Delay in Ogoni Clean up (JADOC) Cordaid’s SP in Ogoniland remains conspicuous. “….We are grateful to this partnership between Cordaid and NGOs which has impacted positively on the community. Through this partnership, several meetings between HYPREP and the community leaders have been made possible which before now, we only read in the Papers or Radio and Television….”

Amongst the eight (8) partner CSOs in Nigeria Cordaid works with includes The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre (Kebetkache) which have a community-based activist background in the Niger Delta. The Centre for Environment, Human Right and Development (CEHRD) and Publish What You Pay Nigeria (PWYP) are both research-based advocacy organisations. They promote accountability in the international oil companies and community relations. The African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) are lobby and advocacy organisations based in Abuja, where they anchor the national-level advocacy components of CORDAID’s Strategic Partnership programmes.

Fostering Achievement of Community Empowerment (FACE Initiative), based in Yenagoa, is conducting advocacy activities to prevent artisanal mining and crude oil theft through illegal oil bunkering. All these account for Cordaid’s multi-stakeholders strategy in making a case for the people of Ogoni according to Dr. Akin Oke, Lobby and Advocacy Coordinator Cordaid Nigeria. “Ours is to build a multi-stakeholders engagement… We are capacitating Communities in Ogoni, in the Niger-Delta” the Lobby and Advocacy Cordaid Nigeria’s Partnership said recently….”

Each of these CSOs and their advocacies with unique goals no doubt brought succor to the people of Ogoni. A closer scrutiny of the various interventions by these CSOs under the Cordaid’s Strategic Partnerships says it all.

AFRICAN CENTRE FOR LEADERSHIP STRATEGY AND DEVELOPMENT (CENTRE LSD)

For the Centre LSD’s intervention in Ogoni in the first instance is a function of the capacity and the track record it has our have built over the years but contact with Cordaid upped this capacity especially leveraging learnings from our Cordaid work to improve our work in other of our thematic, our enlistment into the Cordaid SP has also what can be described as a strategic engagement to the issue of the clean up”, Executive Director of Centre LSD Monday Osasah stated in an Interview.

According to Mr. Osasah, “…before the partnership, there were engagements across purposes but all of these changed. Engagements became more structured and organized with community, State, national and international linkage” Osasah said.

The creation of the media amplifying group named Journalists Against Delay in Ogoni Cleanup (JADOC) is one of the engagements. JADOC members who travel to Ogoni from Abuja in sponsored trip by Cordaid also had a firsthand knowledge of the SP. According to one of JADOC’s members, Emmanuel Bagudu, who also witnessed the SP, the people of Ogoni are now hopeful. Stakeholders now throng the area and are now forcing HYPREP and the government to be more active in the cleanup. The experience is not different for Conrad Labe, another JADOC’s member who was also in Ogoni, said the trip has better informed his understanding of the plight of the Ogoni inhabitants. “The trip to Ogoniland by JADOC provided a firsthand knowledge and understanding of the plight of Ogonis. Not only did the trip availed the JADOC the opportunity to make on the spot assessment of the area, it helped in shaping the ideas on how to best report the Niger-Delta issues” Conrad acknowledged.

Mr. Osasah added that Cordaid’s work has improved Centre LSD’s lobby and advocacy skills and afforded Centre LSD a more nuanced approach to community engagement and stakeholders mapping and tactics of collaborative work while still maintaining their independence as an organisation. We have benefitted from Cordaid lobby and advocacy approach, partners’ reflection meeting and mentoring….Our success stories are huge but can be summarized by the leverage the Cordaid project has given to Centre LSD in the industry and sector”.

On the outcome of Centre LSD’s SP with Cordaid on Ogoni, the policy dialogue sessions organised by Centre LSD says it all. The Executive Director of Centre LSD acknowledges that the SP has benefited his organisation in a number of ways as well as host communities. “Cordaid SP through our engagements with communities, has created real opportunity for community people to learn and understand better the issues of the cleanup and how best to engage with HYPREP. It also afforded the opportunity to vent their emotions and through the dialogue, HYPREP understood better the plight of the communities that subsequently informed their intervention”. Osasah added.

CIVIL SOCIETY LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY CENTRE (CISLAC)

For CISLAC, taming bureaucracy and depoliticization of the cleanup exercise is the core drive of their SP with Cordaid. “…we have successfully de-politicized the clean-up process by ensuring that all tiers of government, irrespective of party affiliation buy into the recommendations of the UNEP report….” CISLAC’s Programme Management, Salaudeen Hashim stated in an interview.

Mr. Hashim added that CISLAC in its SP with Cordaid, has mobilized champions at vertical and horizontal levels within and outside the region to engage in a national conversation. “…we have also worked consistently to advocate for legislation of HYPREP to cover the 30 years window recommended for the cleanup by UNEP.

FOSTERING ACHIEVEMENT OF COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT (FACE INITIATIVE)

The success story brought by Cordaid/CSOs SP is not different for FACE initiative says Inatimi Odio, a Senior Programme Officer at FACE Initiative. “Before the Cordaid SP, there were one off advocacies and sensitization on the environment, but the SP between FACE initiative and CORDAID first centralized the sensitization and advocacies on the Ogoni cleanup and gradually spread into Bayelsa, creating environmental awareness for people to take responsibility for their environment which is fundamental to ensuring a safe and clean environmental and the basis for engaging fellow community members and the companies/government to restore their social contract”.

The SP also increased FACE initiatives understanding on the dynamics of conflict and how some stakeholders take advantage of conflict to benefit them (conflict entrepreneurs). “With the intervention of Cordaid’s SP, FACE now better understands advocacy processes, understanding advocacy audience, stakeholders mapping, and knows what strategies would be more effective on different scenarios and audiences. Agenda setting and collaborative engagement are key strategies that FACE learnt in the course of implementing the SP programmes” Odio added.
On what is FACE’s story of success as a result of the Cordaid SP, Odio enumerated as follows;

“1. Communities taking the lead and owning the Kalaba community in Okodia Zarama came up with bylaw to hold vandals responsible for vandalism oil infrastructure. Rice farmers in Buoama community in Brass LGA (Bayelsa) fought against bunkering and artisanal refining by pressing on chiefs and CDCs to take action against youth carrying out bunkering and artisanal refining (illegal mining) Community representatives from Ikarama in Okordia/Zarama, challenged the lack of transparency and accountability in the GMoU process, through increased knowledge on advocacy, the GMoU process and the need accountability by SP facilitation.

Through increased capacity on nonviolence conflict management, communities in Okordia Zarama resolved land disputes and collaborated with law enforcement agencies to reduce cultism and vandalism activities in the area. Increase in report of vandalism, bunkering and artisanal refining activities to CSOs and government agencies for appropriate actions.

2. Communities embrace farming as alternative livelihood in coastal communities.

Communities in Akassa Kingdom in Brass LGA embrace rice, cassava and vegetable cultivation as alternative livelihoods to their fishing livelihood, and bunkering and artisanal refining that became very prominent in the area at the advent of bunkering over the last year.

Other outcomes of the intervention of the FACE and Cordaid SP is the fact that Communities have benefited increased access to information, increased knowledge in lobby advocacy and non violence conflict management strategies” Odio acknowledges.

KEBETKACHE WOMEN DEVELOPMENT AND RESOURCE CENTRE (KEBETKACHE)

For Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre (Kebetkache), the Cordaid’s SP afforded them an avenue to not only deepen staff capacities but is also an opportunity to sensitize the Ogoni teaming public who before now, did not understand the meaning of UNEP and what the UNEP report entails until the marriage between Kabetkache and Cordaid SP. “Some Niger Delta activists heard about the UNEP report on the assessment of the Ogoni environment but they did not see the report or understand the recommendations. Women in Ogoni had no in-depth knowledge about the UNEP report and lacked the capacity to engage with the report. Our first engagement on the CORDAID Restoring the Social Contract project on 22 November 2016 revealed that many community women groups in the Niger Delta had no knowledge about the UNEP report” says the Executive Director of Kebetkache, Emen Okon in an interview with us.

According to Ms Okon, the interaction of Ogoni women with the media on the UNEP report was very low at Kebetkache’s first engagement with women in K-Dere community though a few meetings were held in the community on the cleanup process, women including those who participated in those meetings did not understand UNEP report is and what the planned cleanup process was about. This paved the way for the need for the SP between Kebetkache and Cordaid. The outcome according to Okon was fruitful.

“Cordaid SP has broadened the network of civil society organizations Kebetkache works with. Our capacity for lobby and advocacy with stakeholders has also increased since 2016 when we started working on the CORDAID Restoring Social Contract Project. Besides we have also gained knowledge and improved skills on communication strategies. The women livelihood assessment has sharpened the skills of Kebetkache staff in the research process” She said.

Highlighting the specific areas Kebetkache benefited from the Cordaid’s SP, Okon says include: “Lobby and Advocacy, Planning advocacy process Assessing impacts of intervention in terms of identifying progress outcomes and visualizing changes and progress made towards achieving the pathway of change, Identifying the linkages and the intersection between extractive, conflict and fragility with beneficial ownership of resources, the use of COMMCARE and Mentimeter for evaluations and surveys”.

She added that through the L&A audits Kebetkache has gained increased knowledge on financial management. On the general outcome of the SP, Okon said that Kebetkache has successfully promoted increased awareness on the need for women participation in the implementation of the emergency measures and the cleanup in Ogoniland.

“Kebetkache has built the capacity of women in Ogoniland to recognize their rights to participate in the cleanup process. Kebetkache built a relationship between women in Ogoniland and the media through regular quarterly media briefs. Also Ogoni women have become more proactive in engaging with the cleanup process through a coordinated platform that emerged from the Kebetkache interventions and the established collaboration with NOSDRA and collaboration in the area of training women on environmental monitoring. A coalition of Ogoni women development Initiatives was formed from Kebetkache interventions providing a platform for women to express themselves on cleanup matters. This platform has helped to increase women’s voices in the clean up processes” She said.

The November 22, 2016’s resolution arising from Kebetkache’s first intervention in the Restoring Social Contract Project, which was a convergence to create awareness among women on the UNEP report and the cleanup process to adopt every December 17 as the Niger Delta Women’s Day of Action for Environmental Justice to build synergy with environmental justice groups and promote solidarity among women groups to increase campaign for environmental and climate justice which has been sustained since 2016 till date, Ms Okon says has Kebetkache’s biggest success stories.

“The emergence of the Niger Delta Women’s Day of Action for Environmental Justice from Kebetkache’s interventions in the Cordaid SP/Kebetkache’s with other women groups and the media which have marked and observed on December 17, to increase women’s voices for environmental justice with over 600 women and men marking the Day of Action every year since 2016 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State is our biggest stories”. Okon concluded.

THE CENTRE FOR ENVIRONMENT, HUMAN RIGHT AND DEVELOPMENT (CEHRD)

As far as the Centre for Environment, Human Right and Development (CEHRD) is concerned, Cordaid-CEHRD’s Strategic Partnership has further strengthened CEHRD’s capacity in project implementation across the Niger Delta. “Cordaid’s Strategic Partnership with CEHRD has further strengthened our capacity in project implementation across the Niger Delta. The intervention has further deepened our work with communities and also created a platform for CEHRD to partner with other CSOs with the same mission to advocate for environmental justice in the Niger Delta region”. Executive Director, CEHRD Rukevwe Siekpere-Ekine said in an interview.

According to Siekpere-Ekine, “Cordaid through several workshops and capacity building programmes has improved the capacity of members of staff in strategic lobbying, expanded CEHRD’s network and initiated platforms to enhance CEHRD’s visibility. The strategic partnership has also provided platforms for collaborative works amongst member organizations through which knowledge sharing and understanding of the focal field has been enhanced”.

On the general outcome of the SP, she said has contributed to a sustainable remediation of polluted sites in Ogoni and the larger Niger Delta, to contribute to a sustainable Niger Delta region. “The Cordaid SP with us has resulted in advocacies the implementation of UNEP’s recommendations on the environmental degradation in Ogoniland. Thus, the themes of our SP programmes are majorly focusing on contributing to a sustainable remediation of polluted sites in Ogoni and the larger Niger Delta”, She said.

She added that the SP avail CEHRD the privilege of another publication titled “Communities’ Perception Study” of the Ogoni Cleanup Project. The Executive Director added that the research sets the tone for the community participation and inclusion in the Ogoni cleanup and provided advocacy and lobbying frameworks for critical success areas in the Ogoni clean-up project. The research also outlined recommendations by communities towards achieving a sustainable and acceptable remediation project in the Area.

“In one of our publications, “Integrated Baseline Study” supported by Cordaid’s SP with CEHRD presents a baseline of the environmental, health, human rights and gender situation in Ogoniland before the Hydrocarbon pollution remediation project’s (HYPREP) intervention, and offers recommendations to various actors involved in the process, proffering indicators with which to monitor the clean-up, remediation and restoration of Ogoni communities. The report has been presented to diplomats in Nigeria, the Nigerian senate and House of Representatives, with each body commending the report and promising to act on the recommendations” she acknowledges in an interview.

Several communities in Ogoni have benefitted immensely from the CEHRD-Cordaid’s and other SP through; sensitization and awareness creation around the clean-up activities/process amongst communities and key stakeholders, Facilitated platforms where communities and relevant stakeholders discuss issues as it relates to the cleanup and other environmental issues in Ogoniland and Trained Ogoni communities’ leaders on how to advocate for environmental justice peacefully. Other ways communities benefited from the SP includes; strengthened the capacity of Ogoni community leaders and youths on lobbying and advocacy strategies, Publication of researches, depicting the Ogoni communities and residents’ perspectives of the Cordaid/CSOs’ story of impact of 5 years Lobby and Advocacy project in Nigeria’s Niger Delta’s region.

Mrs. Florence Ngirim is an indigent widow and a mother of four who resides in Ogale community in Eleme Local Government in Rivers State. Mrs. Florence told our team that indeed, the presence of CSOs has empowered her and other indigent widows by providing them skills and soft loans for business start up. “Since I lost my husband 10 years ago, I struggle to feed and send my four children to school without help but two years ago, some people came to our community and selected 50 of us and trained us. I was trained in sewing and after the training, I was given a sewing machine with which I have used to feed and send my children to school”, she said.

Mrs. Florence’s and other stories resonating across communities in Ogoni and of course, the entire Niger Delta communities is an indication that the CORDAID- CSOs’ SP is not only transforming lives and providing alternative livelihood for the oil rich but polluted Niger Delta region but also bringing issues of environmental degradation more international exposure and visibility. The intervention is also building the capacity of Ogoni youths on monitoring to assess and reporting project impacts in the communities, training community youths in data collection and analysis as advocacy tools.

CONCLUSION
Other SPs between Cordaid and CSOs are also result driven. The SP between the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), PWYP, and MOSOP also impacted immensely on Ogoni people. “CISLAC and other SP members have successfully de-politicized the cleanup process by ensuring that all tiers of government, irrespective of party affiliation, buy into the recommendations of UNEP”. The Programme Officer in charge of Cordaid/CISLAC’s SP, Salaudeen Ashim stated recently during a webinar. According to Mr. Ashim, “CISLAC and other members of the Cordaid’s SP have mobilized champions at vertical and horizontal levels, within and outside the region to engage in a national conversation on the subject of the cleanup rather than an ethnic conversation”. He added that “CISLAC have also worked consistently to advocate for the legislation of HYPREP to cover the 30 years window recommended for the cleanup by UNEP. The SP has formed an alliance and is also said to have audited the EIA Act and find it to be insufficient with recommendations for Social, Human Rights, Health and Gender Impact assessment as a component that should be included”.

He acknowledged that CORDAID’s SP has also engaged strongly towards the legislation of Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) and the Petroleum Host Impacted Communities Development Bill which are critical tool for a flourishing region and restoration medium for social charter. “Coalitions such as CISOC and Journalists Against Delay in Ogoni cleanup (JADOC) were also created by the SP to simplify and put pressure both on government on the one side and the larger citizens in terms of awareness, training and advocacy Developed accountability framework on the cleanup using a wide range of indicators and tools”.

This has worked so well with the demand that a CSO desk be institutionalized within HYPREP and CISLAC is leading strongly on this and currently working with HYPREP to put specific institutional policy regime in place such as a communication strategy, Livelihood plan, and avoidance of casualization by HYPREP in various communities, re-pollution plan and the implementation of the emergency measures. “Publish What You Pay (PWYP) is working to ensure that the Ministry of Environment buys into the process and reduces the bureaucracy of HYPREP. CLSD is engaging on 2-sides of the coin, community, CSOs and government reminding them of the commitment and the implication if such a mandate is not delivered. All these outcomes from Cordaid Nigeria’s SPs have summarily brought hope to the people of Ogoni especially in the face of the novel Covid-19, SPs similar to that of Cordaid becomes inevitable.

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