Since he escaped into the US in 1996 during the gestapo regime of the maximum ruler Sani Abacha who hanged his mentor Ken Saro-Wiwa, Anslem Dornu Bari John-Miller has used his Chicago based Council of Ogoni Professionals (COP) as the Diaspora wing of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). The COP President who read International Relations from DePaul University spoke with Nduka Nwosu on his crusading activities including his testimonies before the US Congress on environmental degradation in Ogoniland, Boko Haram and why he supports President Jonathan’s second term bid
Can you educate us about the Council of Ogoni Professionals (COP) and your crusading activities in the US?
The COP International, USA is not only a unit of MOSOP but a professional body of all Ogonis based in the United States. It is dedicated to promoting the skills, technology, and scientific innovation as well as increase the professional capacity of Ogonis in the United States and Nigeria while serving as a Think Tank on issues of sustainable development, peace, democracy and human rights in Ogoni and Nigeria.
How about a brief about yourself, academic exposure in Nigeria and the USA, and track record generally till date?
I was one of the fortunate Ogonis who was resettled in the United States after the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others on November 10, 1995 by the Abacha military junta. To be precise I arrived in Chicago on September 17 1996 after spending six months in the UNHCR Camp in Benin Republic. Since then I have not ceased to advocate for the resolution of the Ogoni crisis using dialogue and diplomacy. My first challenge was the resettlement of Ogoni refugees who were suffering in the UNHCR Camp. It was a fulfillment of the promise I made to the students there that when resettled, the other students and I would not leave anyone behind; this was executed under the auspices of the National Union of Ogoni Students (NUOS International, USA). We succeeded in advocating for the resettlement of over 500 Ogoni families in the United States from 1997 to 2000. Many thanks to MOSOP-USA then led by Prof. Vincent Idemyor, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, Galen Carey, Ami Henson, et al and other refugee resettlement organisations.
Has the American Dream smiled at you and why?
Definitely the American Dream has smiled at me and that is possible because I play by the rules. I must say that I ever remain grateful to God who gave the vision to Ken Saro-Wiwa to raise awareness about the environmental mess in Ogoniland and whose death made it possible for me and my immediate and extended family to be in America today. I am also indebted to the Americans who welcomed me. We thank other Ogonis who offered when we needed it most and who prayed for my safety and gave me all sorts of encouragement during the darks days of the Abacha regime. I have a great family, a good job that accords me the opportunity to directly impact the lives of people in need and a decent place I can call home in Chicago, one of the best cities not just in America but in the world.
What points were you making when you addressed the US Congress using the COP as your anchor regarding very basic issues in the Nigerian polity?
It is always a great pleasure to meet with U.S. law and policy makers to discuss about the developments in Nigeria. The July 11, 2014 address before the U.S. Congress was the second time. The first was in June 2012 when I was privileged to testify alongside with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. The issues I focused on in the 2014 testimony where similar and almost a follow-up to the previous testimony and they include Boko Haram and Niger-Delta. In seeking solutions to the menace of Boko Haram and addressing the developmental challenges in the Niger-Delta, I analysed how corruption, poverty, bad governance and under-development can incentivise terrorism, calling for a holistic approach in addressing the challenges. The same issues were contained in my address to many UN Committees in New York as far back as 1998, although there was no mention of Boko Haram then.
Did they produce the desired results?
In my assessment, the hearings of 2012 and 2014 have produced some desired results. The classification of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department was made possible as a result of the 2012 hearing. The creation of the Victims Fund to help the victims of the Boko Haram came from discussions at the hearing in 2014. The aborted military collaboration between the U.S. Government and Nigeria on eliminating Boko Haram, stemming corruption especially at the state and local government levels in Nigeria and implementation of the UNEP Report were all highlighted at the hearings. The push for the establishment of an International Court on Terrorism like the International Criminals Court (ICC) is being seriously worked on and I won’t relent till Boko Haram sponsors and fighters are caught and tried as criminals who threaten global peace.
Why are you also critical of President Jonathan while supporting his administration?
I am not one who engages in mere criticisms but I am a strong advocate and apostle of constructive criticism and that’s what I have always done as far as the president and his administration is concerned. I have always praised the administration where they do well and where I feel they are not doing well, I don’t fail to point them out and also make useful recommendations. It is that track record that has attracted many U.S. policy makers and scholars on Nigeria to me. Yet, I remain committed to the success of the Jonathan administration
You have been a great advocate of the Ogoni cause; how far are the positive results coming especially in the environmental clean-up and compensation of degraded resources by Shell and the Federal Government?
I am pleased that the Federal Government has recently indicated that it is in a hurry to implement the report after four years of delay. As you know, COP-USA has made significant efforts to reach out to the Nigerian Government, Shell, the U.S. Government and the International Community to intensify efforts to implement this historic report and our organisation remains committed to collaborating with all the parties so that Ogonis can rejoice that their demand for a clean environment as enshrined in the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) has been realised. The President is from the Niger-Delta and he knows how important implementing the report is and that’s why I disagree with those who claim that the recent decision of the government to implement the report is aimed at convincing Ogonis to vote the President. In fact, if I will take up that issue, the opposition does not have anything for Ogoni because it has not said that implementing the UNEP report and addressing other Ogoni problems will be a priority if the opposition is elected into power come 2015.
You recently observed the 19th anniversary of the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa; what does that remind you and larger followers of the martyr?
Last November 10 marked 19 years that my mentor Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were hanged for bringing attention to the environmental disaster and the extreme poverty and under-development in Ogoniland. While the remembrance brings to mind a memory of the brief but good times I spent with him in his office at 24 Aggrey Road Port-Harcourt and in his detention cell in the Military Base in Port-Harcourt popularly called Bori Camp, the anniversary also made me shed tears that the problems that Saro-Wiwa and others like Albert Badey, Edward Kobani, Samuel Orage and countless other Ogoni heroes fought and died for are yet to be resolved.
Can you update us on the attempted assassination of Pastor Jerry Needam and family and what this implies in the war to ensure every Nigerian lives with minimum fear for an untimely death?
We call on the perpetrators to have a re-think of their action while appealing to the Police authorities to give adequate protection to Jerry Needam and family as well as Ogoni politicians involved in the ongoing political process. The COP also condemns in the strongest terms the recent shooting of unarmed Ogoni protesters in Port-Harcourt by the security personnel attached to Government House in the wake of the choice of Hon. Dakuku Peterside as the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State over Senator Magnus Abe of Ogoni. We maintain that if Governor Amaechi and other stalwarts of the APC can demonstrate in Abuja without any molestation from security personnel, so also Ogoni and all citizens of Rivers State have the right to express their grievances in public without any fear of molestation.
What is your political strategy moving forward?
I am concerned about the extreme poverty and under-development in Bori and Ogoni. It is heart-wrenching to see that Bori the traditional headquarters of Ogoni which has produced legends like Ken Saro-Wiwa, Paul Birabi and others remains under-developed without much infrastructure to show for over 15 years of democracy in Nigeria. The poverty I see on the faces of the masses in Khana and Ogoni today remains the same if not worse than what I saw during the era of Ken Saro-Wiwa. It is time to begin to ask important questions – why and what is going on in Khana Local Government Council and other local governments councils in Ogoni. The people of Khana are hurting and yearning for genuine change and their pathetic situation has captured my undivided attention
Countless diplomats and policy makers in America have raised the issue of corruption in Ogoni local governments citing facts and figures provided by the federal government of Nigeria. At this time, I am still brainstorming with like-minded individuals at home and abroad on how best we can help in ushering in the much-desired change.