YOUR VOICE MUST BE HEARD!
Let me tell you a story.
In the year 2006, while I was working with the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF)/World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Gashaka-Gumti National Park, the Ngel-nyaki and Buru Forest Reserves all in Taraba State, the Federal Government awarded the contract (for the umpteenth time) for the construction of the Mambilla Hydroelectric Power project to the China Gezhouba Group Company Limited (CGGC) and another Chinese Consortium, Sinohydro at the sum of $3.2 billion (N508 billion). The then president Olusegun Obasanjo had visited Mambilla and laid the foundation stone for the construction of the dam to commence.
The plan then was to commence this project immediately without any proper pre-projects activities in place. But as an environment activist with years of experience in the field of environmental impacts, this plan, or lack of a plan, was entirely flawed to me.
Not only was it deceptive and insensitive, it violated the proper procedures for project implementation and was unjust to the people of the Mambilla and Taraba as a whole. This is because a project of such magnitude requires that certain structures, arrangements and orientation are put in place before it is embarked upon. A failure to do this puts the people and their environment at risk of uncertainties, destabilization and complete displacement from the lives they have always known.
This development infuriated me enough to grant an interview to a group of Journalists that included Emmanuel Bello, the current SSA to the Governor Darius Ishaku on Public Affairs. In that interview, I expressed my sincere concerns with the entire process of the implementation of the project.
My grievances included the fact that the locales had not been properly carried along in the process; that serious measures had not been taken to educate the people on the cultural, linguistic and even medical expectations from the presence of thousands of expatriates in their neighborhood; that there were no plans for the long-term compensation and relocation of the people of the Mambilla who could be adversely affected by this project, and most importantly; that no environmental impact assessment had been carried out or made public about the extent of the merits and demerits of this project on the community.
My concern was also the livelihood change from farming to fishing for those living and depending on the alluvial soil along the river Donga, adding to loss of wildlife, habitat, villages, without the provision of scholarship opportunity to young scholars to study Dam related courses and amongst others.
The lack of these arrangements angered me deeply.
My interview was published on the 12th of September, 2006 and the reaction was both swift and unexpected. I was immediately branded anti-development both by those who either naively misunderstood me and the powerful and selfish who wanted to push this through without taking these necessary safety measures.
When the then Governor Jolly Nyame ordered my arrest through the DSS Director of the State, I knew I had struck a chord and was forced to flee the country through the assistance of Amnesty International to Austria via Cameroon.
If I had gotten arrested, I could not predict what my fate would be in the hands of the authorities. This ordeal cost me 4 years of my life. In addition, members of my family were constantly harassed to produce me. My brother and father were arrested and repeatedly had to appear at the police station for many months.
Youths were incited to go on rampage against me and my family in the community with the misguided belief that I was against the development of the community.
Eventually, a committee was set up in the local government headed by the LGA Chairman Hamanjoda Baba Bundi to investigate the issue. This committee comprised traditional rulers, local government officials, DSS security operatives and Elders of the community. After the investigation, the agreement was that silence would have been my best move. Perhaps they agreed that I had valid concerns, but they believed silence would have proven wise.
But to be silent in the face of injustice is to be complicit in the perpetration of injustice. To be silent in the presence of such wrongdoing, to stay mute on an issue that could prove disastrous to thousands of people if implemented is to commit a suicide of one’s conscience.
This is my conviction and it is why I have chosen not to stay silent on issues affecting my people.
I have told you this story today to inspire every one of you Tarabians and Nigerians to continue to speak up in the face of similar unjust processes and actions. As long we are a democratic society, we must understand that our views on issues concerning our communities, local governments, states and country are valid and should not be silenced by the powers that be.
I will not stop talking, and neither should you.
Gilbert Gills Nyanganji is a Politician, Wildlife expert and an Environmentalist who has a passion for community development. He tweets via @GillsGNyanganji