By EMMA AMAIZE, regional Editor, South South
Comrade Sunny Ofehe, The Netherlands-based Nigerian activist is an advocate of no-violence in the Niger Delta struggle. He is the founder and president of the Hope for Niger-Delta Campaign, a non-governmental organization, based in The Netherlands.
His frame belies his capabilities and through his campaign, the international community are beginning to understand the difference between the real Niger-Delta struggle and militancy in the Niger-Delta. Ofehe, spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the struggle.
Birth of my activism in Netherlands
I disembarked in The Netherlands about more than 15 years ago, precisely November 27 1995, which was exactly 17 days after the brutal hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa and the eight Ogoni martyrs.
As an activist from the Niger Delta who has experienced the environmental impact and human rights abuses resulting from oil operations in the region, which have only benefitted the Nigeria government and the oil giants with untold hardship on the people whose environment has been greatly damaged, I felt the need to initiate a campaign to raise much awareness on the untold sufferings of the Niger Delta people in The Netherlands.
It would be recalled that after the 2003 elections in which greedy politicians freely spread weapons among youths to violently win the flawed elections, it was clear that the Niger Delta was heading towards another violent phase. This further reinvigorated my resolve to begin a campaign within The Netherlands. I needed an official platform to carry out this campaign and decided that setting up a non-governmental organisation will help lend the voice that the region needs internationally.
Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) was eventually founded in 2005 with its headquarters in Rotterdam. The organisation has since then grown from strength to strength with much awareness already raised. We are not relenting as much effort is being made to expand the campaign to other European countries through participation in the EU activities.
Like I earlier said, having lived in The Netherlands for many years and finding out that as strategic as the Niger Delta is to the economy of country and Shell having its headquarter here in The Netherlands, yet the people are not aware of the consequences of oil operations by Shell on the people of the region. I decided that this lack of information must become a thing of the past.
Dutch not pleased with N-Delta situation
I have interacted with the Dutch people at every level and must tell you that the majority of them have a good heart and are not happy with the situation in the Niger Delta particularly after the killing of the Ogoni 9. Realising this about the ordinary Dutch people gave me the momentum to feed them with information that could answer the many questions that bothers them about the role of Shell and the Nigeria government in the protracted quagmire that has engulfed the region since oil was first discovered in 1957.
What was the initial perception and impression of the Dutch about you and the organization in the early stage and now?
In the beginning, the task was daunting task; I had to fight many stigmatised factors. The only story that gets an attention in The Netherlands has always been how Nigerians are involved in the scam business (419) and banks related frauds. Nigerians have been profiled to be dubious and criminals.
These factors affected the early stages of my campaign, as many people see my campaign as being backed by fraudulent intention. When I attend meetings, you are confronted with the issue of trust and most readily be prepared to be turned down. Whenever you raise any initiative, your background is quickly checked and when it’s known that you are a Nigerian, you are quietly alienated.
I was determined to prove that in as much as I will agree that few Nigerians are involved in vices inimical to the image of our country, Nigeria, there are still many descent and hardworking Nigerians scattered all over the world. I never allowed the stigma to weigh me down and kept believing in the cause. I felt a sense of God’s hand in the cause, because I was surprised at how all the obstacles were being out-manoeuvred.
I have always grown up knowing that no success is achieved without first overcoming the challenges and in this case the challenges were fighting the stigma of being a Nigerian. My determination paid off after I was scrutinised by many and they all found out that my agitations were genuine and devoid of any unscrupulous and dubious tendencies.
Today, I feel very satisfied looking back to those horrible beginnings and also using my campaign to prove to Nigerians that your genuine actions can most times, help to improve the already battered international image of our great country, Nigeria. Today, I see myself as not only fighting the Niger Delta cause in the most nonviolent and peaceful way, but also helping to raise the standard of how Nigerians are being looked upon outside Africa.
The struggle for resource control has been on for a very long time now, do you believe it could be realized?
I am a strong supporter of resource control but with a very simple condition – that the leadership of the Niger- Delta region must first free themselves from the hands of our current corrupt political leaders. The biggest corruption in the Nigeria polity today is taking place in the Niger Delta!
We must realise that apart from the statutory federal allocation to all Nigeria States, the Niger Delta also receive 13 per cent derivation from revenue earned in crude oil extraction. Can we now say that the Niger Delta states have seen more development since they started receiving this increase in federal allocations? The answer is capital NO! Where is the money and what has been done so far?
Is there any political leader today in any of the Niger Delta states that can stand out with transparent honesty and we can say he is corrupt free? When names like the Odili, Ibori, Igbinedion, Alamaseighas and other past leaders from the Niger Delta are mentioned, what readily comes to people’s mind is corruption and greed.
I have been told by many people that we need an increase in derivation from the current 13 per cent a minimum of 25 per cent, I am a proponent of this increase only on the basis of proper utilisation of the current 13 per cent, otherwise, we will be fighting an increase that will only swell the pockets of the few current oligarchs.
We can only achieve and win the battle for resource control if we can prove to other parts of the country that we are ready for a zero tolerance when it comes to corruption. Its election period now and I hope we can vote for the right candidates who will have the ordinary people in mind and rule with the fear of God, knowing that service to the people is service to God. Until then, the call for resource control should not be our ultimate goal for now. The people of the Niger Delta are not ready yet until we flush ourselves off greedy political leaders that we now have.