By Denja Yaqub
He took the battle against the severe injustices oil communities have had to contend with since the discovery of the money spinner in Oloibiri on the 15th of January 1956 to greater heights, drawing global attention to the parlous condition these communities whose natural resources have been turned to natural disaster not just by oil companies but by a country that have never been led by anyone with concern and passion for the lives and conditions of people paradoxically living in areas of the source of global interest and deprivations such as the delta region of Nigeria has turned out to be. The entire country has been dependent on the resources of this region till date.
The perilous state of the Ogonis, the Ijaws, the Kalabaris, Ikweres, Andonis, Ikpeyes, Ogbias, Nembes, Ibanis, Etches in the central Niger Delta states of Bayelsa and Rivers as well as other oil producing communities of Western Niger Delta states of Delta, Edo and Ondo states, and the eastern flank of the region such as Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers where multinational oil firms are not only extracting the natural gifts of these communities, selfishly expropriating their resources in circumstances that do not only violate the health and rights of the host communities but also international standards.
For decades, since the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, these communities have had to contend with drinking water mixed with crude oil while their farms, especially fishing waters are continuously devastated by the pollutants that oil, one of the world’s most lucrative products, has turned to be, at least to these communities.
Aside environmental damages, the multinationals who daily expropriates billions of dollars out of the region to develop their countries, ignored the people at every point of necessities of quality life, leaving them in abject poverty without any consideration for Corporate Social Responsibilities until the people were mobilised against the injustice that the multinationals inflict on them.
A key figure in the struggle of the Niger Delta was Oronto Nantei Douglas, a law graduate from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology; a consistent mobiliser of people and resources; pro-democracy and human rights activist of undisputable global stature who was prominently involved in several protests across the country and abroad in the years the military held our country hostage.
His death early morning Thursday, April 9, 2015 came as a smashing blow much more to the human rights community, though the Jonathan government will suffer the pains of Oronto’s death because he was a key staff of the President, possibly the most powerful.
Most of the President’s speeches were evidently Oronto’s words. The campaigns for President Jonathan’s election in 2011 as well as preparations for the March 28, 2015 election clearly was not without Oronto’s landmark inputs, even while on his sick bed.
That the struggles of the people of Niger Delta assumed some serious ideological clarity and direction, especially during the years of military dictatorship points to the painstaking works of people like Oronto who criss crossed the country to assemble ideologically focused comrades to engage multinational exploiters in serious mass actions resulting in the formation of the Chikoko Movement and the popular Kiaiama Declaration, which he actively participated in drafting.
Chikoko Movement mobilised people and resources strong enough to daze those who thought the murderous collaboration of the Nigerian state with the multinational oil firms to kill the fighting spirit of the people after the unjust murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leading activists realised the stake had just been raised.
Oronto actively mobilised the global community against various degradations suffered by the oil communities such that their conditions became major subjects in intellectual and political discourse in several government and non-governmental gatherings across the globe. He had meetings with diplomats and heads of governments, including President Bill Clinton, to mobilise against the mass murder which environmental pollution in the region represents.
Oronto, a Fellow of the famous George Bell Institute in the U.K and the Forum on Globalisation in the United States made presentations in over 200 international conferences held across 50 countries where he had brought the conditions of his people to global attention. He also did a comprehensive, classical study on the role of Shell Petroleum in various rights violations in the delta region, titled “Where Vultures Feast” and co-authored with Ike Okonta, another consistent and very reliable activist.
Born to a humble family in his native Okoroba in Bayelsa State, down south of Nigeria in 1966, Oronto was co-founder of one of Africa’s most consistent environmental rights advocacy organisation, the Environmental Rights Action which later got affiliated to Friends of the Earth International, along with Architect Nnimmo Bassey, a reverend gentleman and foremost political activist who have also played very prominent role in mass protests across the globe not only on environmental rights issues but pro-democracy demands.
Despite political differences, Oronto related very well with all those he had met as he grew in life. He was a humanist to the core. Intellectually sound minded. Deeply involved in the struggles for democracy and human rights in Nigeria and was a founding member of several organisations, including the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, Nigeria’s premier human rights organisation.
His relationship with civil society groups was widely explored by the Jonathan administration during campaigns, policy formations and implementation, on very rare occassions the administration is free from the overbearing influence of global neo liberal institutions and interests such as the Breton Woods institutions.
Oronto was a very courageous individual, looking back at the days of mass struggles in the Niger Delta when he had to break military check points, security nets and other armed state agents to move around the creeks, mobilising people for mass protests, not the kind of commercialised militancy that the struggle eventually metamorphosed into.
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