‘He took huge risks to get to the truth’: rights activist Patrick Naagbanton dies

| October 1, 2019 | 0 Comments

A leading activist, journalist and writer who fought for the environmental rights of Nigerians in one of the most polluted places on earth has died after being hit by a car.

Friends and colleagues of Patrick Naagbanton described him as highly respected in the Niger Delta, Africa’s most important oil-producing region. They said his death, and the absence of his work holding the government, companies and individuals with interests in the region to account, would leave an enormous hole.

While waiting for a taxi outside his home in Port Harcourt on 13 September, Naagbanton was hit by a car that veered off the road. After a week in a coma in hospital, he died on Saturday 21 September. He is survived by his wife, three children and mother.

A man – Francis Njoku – has appeared in court and pleaded guilty to driving dangerously and killing Naagbanton.

Naagbanton’s own NGO, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, said his death was an “irreplaceable loss” to the human rights community and humankind, and Amnesty International called for an investigation.

“It’s so devastating,” said Olayinka Oyegbile, a friend of Naagbanton’s and an editor at Nigerian newspaper the Nation. “All the time Nigeria was under the military jackboot, he was in the trenches. We’re really going to feel his absence because he’s one of the leading Niger Delta activists, writers and journalists. He has touched a lot of lives.”

Many tributes to Naagbanton focused on his integrity and dedication to fighting for the rights of the Ogoni people and their environment, frequently putting himself in danger to do so.

“My friend was a reporter, author and poet with great integrity, who took extraordinary personal risks to get to the truth of things,” said Tim Concannon, who has reported on the Niger Delta and Ogoni for the past decade. “Patrick didn’t need to go with the flow. He was a huge, handsome, thoughtful, kind man, from a regal background.”

Naagbanton cast away his royal status when he became a Marxist as a young man. A decade ago he made a personal pilgrimage to Karl Marx’s tomb in Highgate, London.

“Patrick was a highly skilled and effective human rights investigator in one of the riskiest parts of the world. He had an incredible contact book, and liked to travel by public transport to know what ordinary people were talking about. He was charming, charismatic, selfless and courageous. Amnesty International has lost a close friend,” said the human rights organisation’s secretary general, Kumi Naidoo.

Naagbanton received multiple death threats over the course of his career, including several in early 2011 when Amnesty, believing his life to be in danger, appealed to its supporters to write to the local police commissioner, demanding he be protected.

Unlike some activists, Naagbanton could not be bought off or silenced, according to those who knew him.

Narrating Nigeria “with a caustic eye for detail and a stinging sense of the ridiculous”, according to Concannon, Naagbanton’s work focused mainly on the oil that underpins the Niger Delta.

A huge source of wealth for the country, the communities living above the country’s oil reserves have benefited little from it, and in many cases have had their lives and livelihoods destroyed by it.

In 2011, the UN’s Environment Programme released a major report on oil spills in Ogoniland, which said a clean-up was possible but would take 30 years and cost $1bn(£0.8bn). Eight years on, the emergency measures it recommended, like cleaning up the drinking water supply, have not been taken and the Nigerian agency tasked with organising the clean-up, Hyprep, is accused of doing “no significant remediation work”. The head of Hyprep, Marvin Dekil, has said the company has been doing “feasibility studies”.

Shell, which started Nigeria’s oil industry in the 1930s, stopped operations in Ogoniland in the 1990s, but its old pipelines still leak and are vandalised.

Naagbanton worked with Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni activist who was executed by the Nigerian government in 1995, causing the country to be suspended from the Commonwealth.

Like Saro-Wiwa, Naagbanton was also a poet. In a poem from his collection Fury of the Fisherwoman, a dirge that he dedicated to another Ogoni activist, he wrote lines that evoked his own constant battle to keep attention on the people and land he cared about:

“This is the end of a noise at this breezy earth/ I am gone forever/ Farewell to a noise.”

Culled from :Here

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