The Gbo Kabaari Ogoni, made up of Ogoni elders, has written a protest against letter over an alleged plan by the Federal Ministry of Environment to deploy soldiers to Ogoni communities to provide “security services” for the clean-up and remediation project.

Senator Bennett Birabi, Chairman of the Ogoni Elders Forum, said it is "ludicrous" for the Federal Government to contemplate such an idea, despite the delay that occasioned the much desired cleanup for two years.

The letter read: “We recall Your Excellency that when you flagged off the remediation project in Ogoni about two years ago, it was received with enthusiasm as our people have long yearned for the clean-up of our heavily polluted land in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP).”

“It is therefore absurd to all right-thinking persons why a project so enthusiastically received by our long-suffering people should now require the deployment of troops for its implementation. We are not unaware of the fact that in the recent weeks there has been one or two incidents of youth groups who have peacefully protested against what they see as the exclusion of Ogoni and people of the Niger Delta and their companies from the remediation processes. It would thus appear that the planned militarization of the area seems to be the Minister’s response to such peaceful protests.

“We believe that if the troops deployment is not to be seen as a ploy to spark off violent crisis in the area that would be used as an excuse for the abandonment of the project, we pray Your Excellency to kindly intervene with a view to calling off the planned troops deployment. We believe that whatever concerns of exclusion that are being expressed should be best resolved through dialogue and not by force of arms, especially in a democracy.

“We wish to point out, with the benefit of hindsight, that any security concerns that may be entertained are best served by injection, not exclusion, of the local people into the project instead of troops deployment which invariably would lead to gross human rights abuses and thus, create a negative perception of the government. That would, in turn, exacerbate conflict rather than promote peace and security of lives and property.

“Furthermore, any need for extra security could be better served by use of security companies run by retired Generals from Ogoni who can be engaged to provide result-oriented security, instead of deploying soldiers who, as experience has shown, may end up becoming the problem. The practice of engagement of the local people in projects has been repeatedly adopted to great success even by foreign companies in Ogoni. It is also noteworthy that this project is projected to last for so many years, and we do not think that a military deployment, even with the best of intentions, can be sustained for such a long period.

“We, therefore, request you to use your good offices to cause the reversal of such contemplated counter-productive deployment of troops, as it would only lead to further breakdown of law and order. We wish to assure you that Gbo Kabaari Ogoni, and indeed the Ogoni people, will be very pleased to offer the necessary assistance that will enhance the smooth execution of the project.”

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