PEOPLES ADVANCEMENT CENTRE came into existence in 2007 as a space for building solidarity and rediscovery of civic voices through mobilization and social action to challenge the systemic exploitation and squandering of the peoples common resources by a privileged few. The Centre works to complement the efforts of mass organisations such as the Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Chikoko Movement and Ijaw Youth Council (IYC).
The Centre works to improve citizen’s participation in dialogue and discussions that promotes environmental justice, democracy and social change. Presently the Centre works with Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Social Action (SA), The Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC), and Ogoni Civil Society Platform (OCSP) who are deeply concerned about the grave human rights and due process breaches attending the Rivers State Government’s acquisition of 200-hectares of farmland to enable a Mexican investor, Union De Iniciativa S.A De C.V undertake a commercial banana plantation project.
Over 3000 land-owning families in the Nyokhana, Tai, and Babbe Kingdoms of Ogoniland, presently stand to be affected by the Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture’s land acquisition. All these families, whose farm land fall within the area marked in the Ministry’s recently completed survey exercise, have not given their consent to the proposed project and are opposed to the acquisition of their land. The above-named organizations are outraged that the deliberately exclusive consultations undertaken by state authorities have significantly failed to take into account the widespread opposition in the affected communities, including Zor Sogho, Luusue Sogho, Barakaani Sogho, Teka Sogho, Okwole, Ueken, Korokoro, and Kaani.
The Federal Government had originally wanted to take large portions of Ogoni land to establish a military base. However the communities had refused, stating that too many of their lands had already been taken for various reasons. The Ministry of Agriculture has now acquired their lands claiming that it wants to create a large commercial banana plantation. Members of the community question the purposes put forward by the state government and suspect that the land grab is in fact, a punishment on the Ogoni communities for refusing to allow further oil exploration.
Most of the affected families interviewed recently disclosed that they only learned of the land acquisition when large numbers of military men allegedly with the Joint Task Force came to survey and mark their lands. Those who were present when the military came were subjected to abuses and threats. For instance, many farmers were forced to sit on the ground with their hands raised in the air and to stare at the sun for many hours while the military completed the survey, which resulted in severe sickness for days after. Others were threatened with guns while some were detained for hours. Some women who received rape and death threats have fled from the community. The traditional chiefs in some communities have also forbidden farmers from speaking with the military.
Since May 16, 2011, heavily-armed military men have been coming every week in numerous vehicles to patrol the area and survey new lands. They force anyone in their way to lie on the ground and people report being afraid to challenge the military for fear of the consequences. Young boys from the communities have been forced to assist the military in cutting crops. Although farmers have been explicitly forbidden by the military to return to the land, some now sneak back onto the land to harvest the few crops that remain in order to eat/feed their families. During the course of the surveying, many crops have been destroyed in order to clear a path for the survey teams and concrete posts/beacons were laid to mark the boundaries of lands taken.
Ogoni is a small place with a high population density (about 1,250 persons per sq mile – one of the highest in Africa) and faces severe challenges arising from increasing demand by our growing population for land especially for agricultural and residential purposes.
To undertake further land grabbing of this magnitude in Ogoni in whatever guise condemns Ogoni, a predominantly farming community yet to recover from earlier land seizures by government and despoliation of the environment by oil extraction, would aggravate poverty and death by installment. Any new acquisition would adversely affect food production, increase poverty and crime, and generate unmanageable migration.
Presently, Ogoni communities provide space and accommodation to more than its fair share of military and paramilitary facilities and large scale government owned farm estates. There are three big military and paramilitary facilities at Onne (Naval College and Barracks), Nonwa (Police Training College) and Saakpenwaa (MOPOL 56) and other farm lands already acquired in Ogoniland by the government of Nigeria includes:-
1) School to land farm, Bori/Wiyaakara in Khana Local Government Area
2) School to land farm, Kpaa/Daen in Khana Local Government Area
3) Agricultural Demonstration farm, Taabaa in Khana Local Government Area
4) Risonpalm oilpalm plantation, Okwale in Khana Local Government Area
5) Niger Delta Basin Authority farm, Kpong in Khana Local Government Area
6) 258.954 Hectares for new town at Beeri/Nyokuru in Khana Local Govt. Area
7) Fish Pond Nonwa in Tail Local Government Area
8) Songhai farm project, Bunu in Tai Local Government Area
9) IITA ONNE in Eleme Local Government Area
THE CENTRE CURRENTLY CORROBORATES WITH:-
1) OGONI SOLIDARITY FORUM, NIGERIA (OSF)
2) SOCIAL INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT CENTRE (SOCIAL ACTION)
3) ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ACTION (ERA)
4) BONADUM FOUNDATION
5) UNITED ACTION DEMOCRACY (UAD)
6) MOVEMENT AGAINST CORRUPTION (MAC)