Tony John, Port Harcourt
In reviewing the work plan, concept of advocacy and community organising in preparation for their roles in advocating for the timely and effective clean-up of Ogoniland, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Fostering Achievement of Community Empowerment (FACE), recently organised an advocacy training for community groups on the clean-up exercise.
Executive director of FACE, Mr. Inatimi Odio, noted the purpose of the training was to build capacity in advocacy and community organising. Odio called on the authorities involved in the cleaning process of Ogoniland to get the communities involved as they are organised.
Odio said: “Community organising is building people, power and capacity in communities, to solve stubborn problems. We are here to train them (community-based groups) in building relationships with individuals and institutions to increase the chances of reaching a solution that benefits everyone affected by the problem.
“There is need for them to involve the communities in the cleaning process in their capacities, leadership growth and community organising, because they have been able to organise themselves, advocating on issues that involve their environment.”
He expressed satisfaction on the training and commended the participants for their performance.
“I am satisfied that I have achieved what we set out to achieve today, because, looking at the interactions, the kind of questions they asked, how they picked up the challenges that they have encountered in their advocacies, the ideas and explanations given by the participants tell us there is progress in terms of knowledge gain. The knowledge that has been shared has made the participants richer in terms of knowledg,” said Odio.
Speaking on power mapping within the spheres of advocacy, the programme manager of FACE, Alfred Ngonabo, opined that the community needed to understand power, mapping of key advocacy targets, allies and opponents.
“They need to understand power play, it is not everybody they will need to go to. They need to understand who is at the helm of affairs that they can speak to, how to lobby, not sitting somewhere, identify powerbrokers, map out and carry out their advocacies,” he said.
Ngonabo said he was optimistic the participants would practice what they had learnt.
“The essence of our meeting was participatory, not just talk. I am confident that, after this training, the participants are going to make use of this training for the benefit of their communities,” he said.
However, residents of the communities expressed their divergent views.
Chairman of the Community Development Committee, Buan, in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State, Mr. Barikpe Tumbee, noted that, with the training, they would sensitise their people on environmental issues.
Tumbee also highlighted the major issues in Buan community and called on the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to know that the community was very polluted.
He said: “Our lands, water, air have been polluted. Since its pollution, the oil spillage affects us so much that the forest, and acquatic animals have gone into extinction. The soil is no longer exactly what we met about three decads. Since Buan is not one of the communities marked for environmental clean-up, we have come to register our protest so that HYPREP will know that Buan is one of the communities that are highly polluted.”
He appealed to HYPREP to provide potable water and a healthcare centre for the people. He also regretted that the oil spill had caused pain and hardship in Buan community.
Similarly, Matthew Osaronwaji of Agbi Community, Ogale Clan, in Eleme LGA, said the training had given him the opportunity to learn more about advocacy and lobbying. He said he would form a team in the community to embark on advocacy visits to HYPREP and other organisations and agencies.
Osaronwaji said: “First and foremost, as most of our dark sides have been adjudged by the UNEP report, we are going to form a team for advocacy visit to HYPREP. They (HYPREP) should visit our community in Osiesioken and have a discussion with our paramount ruler and the entire Ogale clan.”
Osaronwaji alleged that HYPREP had neglected Ogale in terms of the challenges people from the area faced.
“Our challenges have been so enormous. We have been hearing of HYPREP, but we have not seen them and they have not been to our communities. We have been trying all our best to carry our advocacy visits. But none has yielded any fruit, they have been avoiding us and we have written severally to the Senate Committee on Environment,” he said.
President of Ejamah Youth in Ebubu, Eleme LGA, Mr. Felix Nwakaji, enthused that the training had enlightened him, giving him proper understanding as well as sensitisation of the people of Ebubu community and other communities in Ogoniland at large.
“We have been able to understand the need to accommodate professionals that are coming to clean up the environment. We need to give them the platform to carry out this process and understand what the clean-up is all about. We will employ other agencies to also make provisions for platforms of this nature, so we can educate our people for them to understand the benefit of our land being cleaned up,” Nwakaji said.
He appealed to the state government to provide basic amenities that have been their challenges for years.
He said: “We have not been able to have access to other governments and benefits. We want government to address, most especially, employment. We need development, we need good water and healthcare, our mothers are dying every day because of the polluted water we drink.”