“It’s the height of absurdity to sow little but weeds in the first half of one’s lifetime and expect to harvest a valuable crop in the second half”. Percy Johnston
Distinguished Senator Sir,
I bring you greetings from the very depth of my heart. It’s my hope that this letter meets you at your good moment, to enable you dispassionately ponder on its content. To be sure, had I a better avenue to reach you, I would have happily exploited it, but I had no alternative, hence this open letter.
I heard your unmistakeable thunderous voice on the popular Port Harcourt Radio Station, Rhythm 93.7FM yesterday, railing against the Rivers Government’s Plantain Plantation cited in Ogoniland. You threatened to lead a protest march against the agro-allied project.
Other Ogoni leaders have alleged that you are deviously orchestrating a nocturnal move to invade and laid waste the plantation using jobless Ogoni youths that abound to consummate that bizarre plot.
The reasons I gleaned as the fuel for your intended action after listening to you are in two folds:
You contend that the Ogoni are not monkeys to play host to the Banana Plantation while other projects of choice, according to you, are concentrated in the Ikwerre axis of Rivers State by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
You also incredibly declared that citing such project in Ogoniland is an affront to the UNEP which established through the publication of a report after a scientific study of the Environmental Impact Assessment of Ogoniland that Ogoni is excessively and dangerously polluted with hydrocarbon. Your baffling argument is that the banana harvested from the farm will not be fit for human consumption by reason of hydrocarbon pollution that must have drilled into it. You concluded that the project must be resisted by Ogoni people.
Much as I know that you are entitled to your opinion on the project and on every other issue affecting the Ogoni as one of the leaders of the place, I must hastily but respectfully point out that your position on the plantation is queer, unfortunate, regrettable and baffling. I hope I am able to, with all amount of humility, respect and candour, state why I think that your position is untenable and why I will be enjoining the people to jettison it in the paragraphs that follow.
It was Adlai E. Stevenson who said that ” a hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation”. Your second tenure at the Senate was still running when the idea of the plantation was muted and agreed by the Rivers State Government. As a representative of the people then, you were in the finest position ever contemplated to speak against the idea if you felt it was against the interest of your people, but you never did, or if you did, it was not given any reasonable media attention as your recent outburst against the project. I therefore find it as a hypocritical move that pander to amusing populism and unnecessary showmanship for you to have waited agonisingly for more than two years after you were voted out of office by the people to raise dust about a project of which existence you knew from Adam. If your concern is genuine–I have no doubt it’s not– is it not a little belated, dear Distinguished? Wherein lies the sincerity, the altruism of this sudden outburst that is materialising from you?
Indeed, Senator, I do not in any way share your baseless pessimism of the likely health hazard you think the consumption of banana from the plantation would unleash. That’s a statement that shouldn’t have emanated from the mind of a man of your standing.
As a matter of fact, the agro-allied project in question is cited on part of land belonging to my ancient community of Kaani along the East-West Road. There’s absolutely no scientific basis for the unsettling fears you have voiced as to the toxicity of the banana that may be harvested from the plantation. The soil of the hectares of land on which the project is cited was tested by a team of expatriate geologists and agricultural engineers and certified appropriate for the project. Moreover, every month, my mother sends me garri prepared from cassava harvested from farmlands in my community. I have not suffered any heath problem for consuming the garri sent from my village.
Most importantly, Ogoni is an agrarian community, with more than 80 percent of our population engaged in subsistence farming. We all eat the farm produce from Ogoni and we are here. Outsiders too buy our farm produce from the Bori market and other markets in Ogoniland and resell in markets in Port Harcourt and other cities of Nigeria.
Of course, there’s no denying the fact that Ogoni people face real environmental danger every day as a result of hydrocarbon pollution, but even in the UNEP report, the hectares of land on which the project is cited is not mentioned as one of the areas impacted by hydrocarbon pollution. How then, dear Distinguished, did you arrive at your rather sensational claim that banana from the farm will not be fit for human consumption? I find that too an unnecessary populist propaganda!
Another thing which shone through your outburst, Distinguished, was your uncanny ingenuity to reinforce ignorance among the people to galvanise their rejection of the plantation. It was Wayne Dyer who said that “the highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about”. Immortal Shakespeare also quipped ” I say there’s no darkness but ignorance”. Trying to bamboozle the people by stating that because the project is agricultural, it’s totally worthless is to say the least very unfortunate.
I co-authored a publication of Ogoni Generation Next Project in 2010 signed by one Engr. Tombari Deeyor in which I graphically elucidated the near inexhaustible benefits associated with banana plantations and the concomitant secondary processing industries that can spring up in Ogoniland if the plantation is optimally harnessed.
In that publication, I elicited the wonders that banana export is doing to the economies of countries like Uganda, Israel, Mexico and many other countries of the world. I also expressed optimism that the banana plantation may well prepare Ogoni people for economic life in post-oil Nigeria. Oil is a wasting asset, it will dry up some day, even as its exploitation has not benefited the Ogoni people in any way, safe the blight and the blood and the sweat and the bullets and the gallow! I need not go over the huge economic benefit of the plantation and the gargantuan employment opportunities it’s capable of generating. I will surely revisit that later.
I was a little sad, Distinguished, that you were consciously stirring the waters of ignorance among the people about the nature and importance of the project just to discredit the government of Rivers State that brought it.
If you consider the fact that you had eight consecutive years, and the most lucrative period of the PDP government to change the lives of the people of Ogoni, to source for employment opportunities by exploiting your undeniably vast contact in public and private sectors for our army of unemployed youths; to attract better things to the area; and eight years are gone with little or nothing to show for it!
Distinguished, you chaired the upstream and downstream petroleum committee in the senate when you held sway. How many youths from the area did you help secure employment for in the oil industry?
What did you add to Ogoni? Where is the trophy you won for the people? What is the legacy of your representation? How well did you do for Ogoni people?
The Ogoni people since came up with their verdict of your stewardship, and it was embarrassingly negligible in impact. Yes, you built one of the best houses in Port Harcourt! Yes, you drove in the best cars available. Yes, you were influential in the senate. But how did others who voted for you benefit? How many projects did you nominate as constituency projects for eight years. Of course, you grew richer, and Ogoni did worse, as always. You didn’t even build a constituency office for eight years in Bori. You abandoned the city! You were often in expensive hotel suits in Port Harcourt when you visited, locked away in splendour from the poverty of the people you represented. They had no access to you. You were just too important for them! But now, you will lead a protest with those same people?
The kind of populism you are embarking on now was the same thing you did in January 4th, 2011, where at a gathering of Ogoni Day at BMGS, you incredibly roared, ” I have a dream, that by this time next year, we will be celebrating Ogoni Day in Ogoni State” And the people caught hysteria! They shouted and clapped and danced! Then, you needed their votes for the third time, so you had to beguile them for want of better achievement to showcase.
But even as they clapped, I almost cried. I knew the power to create state in Nigeria was not in your hand. You knew that too. I knew that Nigeria’s constitution was, and is, written and rigid with cumbersome amendment procedures, you knew that too. I knew that Nigeria had no constitutional history of state creation in democratic dispensation, you knew that too. But why did you tell the people you had a dream that Ogoni State would be created the following year? You wanted the third term badly, and that was the only populist message that could sell. So you gave it to the people, whether you were sincere or not did not matter! But because the people latter realised that you had only enriched yourself to their detriment, they rejected you at the poll.
You are at it again, Distinguished, this time, threatening to torpedo a government project that is capable of employing many thousands of Ogoni youths which you failed to help.
You expect that the same youths you failed to help in any meaning meaningful way when the possibilities were present with you will follow you again? Count me out, Distinguished!
It would be interesting to see how many Ogoni youths will be ready to do your incredible bidding this time.
But I have to implore, Distinguished, that you immediately perish that thought! We don’t have so much in Ogoni, and you have not brought anything yourself. Don’t destroy the little we’ve got just to feather your political cap and eclipse us into any round of splendour, only you!
The possibilities of the Banana plantation to Ogoni people are endless. If you want to lead a protest for the optimization of that project, I will clamour for people to join you, and I will join you too. If you want to protest that the local people should have a special buy-in by way of shares and ownership, I will join you.
If you want to do anything, either now or in the future that will add to Ogoni as a race, as a people, you can count on my support, Distinguished. But on this one, you are only projecting your interest in the cloak of populism.
And where is your voice, your roaring thunderous voice for the implementation of the UNEP report? Where is your voice for the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road? Where has your voice gone?
You’ve often vaunted that the President is your friend. So what strategic benefit to your people has your proximity to power conferred? The President is your friend, yet Ogoni people are drinking poison as water. The President is your friend, yet the Bodo-Bonny road is abandoned. The president is your friend, the East-West Road, especially the potion that leads to Ogoni is so bad that your people spend endless hours in traffic! I used to think that people exploit their proximity to power for the benefit of their people. That’s the Nigerian reality.
But what are you doing? Instead of adding to the Ogoni people, you are bent on destroying the advantage that someone else has given them.
Please don’t do it. Let nobody do such a thing.
Thank you and God bless you.