I received an update this week from the European arm of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People about the struggle of the indigenous people of the Niger Delta against both Royal/Dutch Shell Oil and the civilian government of Nigeria.
Lazarus Tamana, European Co-ordinator and President of MOSOP-UK sent me this update on the situation in Ogoniland right now:
Since the end of the military rule and the repression, which sought to crush MOSOP, there has been little of the change that many hoped for under civilian rule.
The issues, which MOSOP has sought to confront on the environment, rights of the indigenous peoples and minorities, representation and democracy remain as critical today as five years ago.
MOSOP has responded to the new civilian environment by re-establishing its core campaigns within Nigeria but there is a very long way to go to move Shell and Nigeria's elites in government from rhetoric to action.
MOSOP currently faces another critical period as it seeks to promote better participation and accountability in local elections to be held in the early part of 2003. Unfortunately many political players have learnt that violence pays if you wish to retain power and the challenge for a non-violent movement will be considerable.
MOSOP and the Ogoni Foundation, a British charity set up by Ogoni people, recently conducted a report on voter registration in Nigeria, which highlights the problems with fraud and marginalisation, which many communities will face. Future reports will seek to provide early warning on political violence that is a critical fear for human-rights and democracy campaigners in the country.
One aspect where individuals and groups can help is being aware that those in government in Nigeria are still sensitive to international attention when human rights abuses occur. Interventions by Human Rights Watch (who have recently written a report on how little has changed in the Niger delta crisis) and Amnesty International are known to have saved lives on several occasions.
MOSOP's relationship with Shell remains very troubled, with MOSOP able to point to the clear gap between the quite fantastic material on stake holding and best practice that you will find at http://www.shell.com and the reality which communities confront when dealing with the company.
MOSOP has maintained its position that there should be an independent environmental assessment made in Ogoni, which has been ignored, by Shell and the Federal government despite UN recommendations dating back to 1998. From MOSOP's perspective the cost of facing and cleaning environmental damage is something which Shell and the government are not yet ready to face, a position which is becoming increasingly apparent when observers query why Shell insists on continuing gas flaring in the Niger delta until 1998 while bringing online new sources of gas every single day.
Your interest in the Ogoni cause, however small, may help to prevent one disaster -- the possibility that companies like Shell conclude that if they spend enough on PR they can ride out storm such as the one that engulfed Shell after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and colleagues in 1995.