Clashes between the Ogoni tribals and the police over the laying of an oil pipeline have made ecological degradation a key issue in Nigeria's presidential polls.
THE OGONI tribals of Nigeria have pushed environmental degradation to the top of the agenda for the country's presidential elections, which were held in June, by protesting against US firm Willbros laying a pipeline, which would carry oil from the heart of the Ogoni territory to the port of Bonny.
Confrontation was first sparked off in 1958, between the 500,000-strong Ogoni community -- which inhabits the delta of the river Niger -- and oil companies, when the multinational firm, Shell, opened its first oilfield. Since then there have been many clashes between the tribe and the police, who have been protecting oil workers.
The latest confrontation took place at the end of April and 12 people were injured in police firing. Later, Willbros abandoned their plans, though after a lengthy stand off. According to press reports, an internal Willbros memorandum indicated that several American workers had elected to return home because of "emotional and mental stress".
Charge of secessionism
The government has charged the tribe with secessionism and has issued a decree that anyone who professes "ideas that minimise the sovereignty of Nigeria" is guilty of treason and will face the death penalty. Observers, however, believe the move was aimed at preventing discussion of the Ogoni's demands during the elections.
Tribe spokesperson Ken Saro-Wiwa denies being a secessionist and, in an interview to The Guardian, said, "Our people have no piped water and no electricity. There are five gas flares that burn 24 hours a day. The noise at night is incredible. The air, the land and the water are all polluted."
Saro-Wiwa points out that a mere 384 square kms of land in one of the most densely populated parts of Africa contains eight oilfields, two oil refineries, a petrochemical plant and the flow station for Bonny, and says all the pipes are above ground level.
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