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Sunny Ofehe, N’Delta Activist set to bury his Mother, assassinated in 2007

The final burial rite of the mother of Netherlands-based Nigerian environmental right activist, Comrade Sunny Ofehe has been scheduled to hold February 25, in Benin, the Edo state capital.

Ofehe’s mother, Madam Theresa Noghanyin was assassinated in 2007 by suspected gunmen who reportedly trailed her to her residence in Benin where she was killed.

The background:

Report had it that the incident happened at a time Comrade Ofehe had rose to become a foremost international campaigner against the ‘big oil firms’ like Dutch- owned oil giants, Shell International and American oil major, Chevron’s  ‘economic war’ on the delta environment.

Ofehe who loathe kidnapping, militancy, piracy and illegal oil theft popularly known as crude oil bunkering in local parlance was renowned for his crusade against environmental injustice in the delta.

He was famous for raising awareness on nefarious activities of oil companies, documenting acts of sabotage to pipelines by oil thieves, to the peace-preaching visit he made to the camp of outlawed Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

Although Ofehe mother’s who was killed at the peak of the Niger Delta crisis had since been interred, the ceremonial funeral rites have been postpone thrice following unforeseen circumstances.

The circumstances that led to the postponement of the burial:

While preparing to return to Nigeria for the burial in 2011, precisely four days for him to make the trip back home, the Dutch police swooped on him owing to trumped up charges of ‘terrorism’ leveled against him.

They misunderstood him and because of that for 18 months, he was placed under police investigation and surveillance, during which his telephone conversations were regularly tapped.

On several occasions, undercover police officers broke into his car and wired it with listening and tracking device. They placed a vehicle with surveillance camera in front of his office for five weeks.

Over 25 police officers were mobilised for the investigation, resulting in a 7,500-page dossier on him. While they built 7, 500 case files on him, the investigative process alone took 2,500 pages, during which they labelled him a ‘terrorist’.

He was accused of ‘conspiring’ with ‘militants’ to blow up an oil pipeline belonging to Shell in Ekpoma, Edo State.

But Ofehe appears unperturbed as he sees the ‘charge’ as trumped up and a calculated attempt by the security forces to “crush” him for his constant criticism of multinational oil companies and the misappropriation of oil revenues generated from the Niger Delta by the Nigerian Government.

The trial drew international outrage from various human right and environmental groups after which the charge was dropped because the persecutors couldn’t prove the allegations of “terrorism” leveled against him.

Ofehe may not have fully recovered from the trauma which he faced alongside his family members throughout that trial.

His exploits:

Prior to that trial, he had testified against Royal-Dutch Shell Oil Company which operates in the Niger Delta at the Dutch parliamentary hearing on the activities of Shell at The Hague on January 26, 2013.

Shell was, for the first time, summoned by the Dutch parliament to give account of its activities in the Niger Delta, more so, after the visit of the Member of Parliament, Sharon Gesthuizen, to the creek communities of the Niger Delta. The visit by Sharon was reportedly facilitated by Ofehe.

Before his mother was killed in Nigeria in October, 2007 for reason yet to be established, Ofehe who left the shores of Nigeria in 1995 to seek political asylum in The Netherlands, founded the Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) to push for non-violence campaign in the Niger Delta region at the peak of the Niger Delta arms struggle.

His campaign for justice, peace and development in the Delta took him to several international conferences around Europe. More, in particular, was his campaign to the European Union (EU) where he had given testimonies of the situation in the Delta.

He raised awareness by filming oil spills, as well as documenting acts of sabotage to pipelines by oil thieves in the Niger Delta.

Giving a graphic details why his mother final burial had been stalled till now, he said the May 4, 2014, abduction incident where himself and four other Dutch nationals was kidnapped by militants in the Dodo River in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa state seriously traumatized him and had prevented him from going ahead with the burial plans.

This writer was in the ill-fated trip which only reechoed the nightmare in the delta and tales of militancy in the region.The trip was designed to chant the way forward for international support for several communities in Dodo River federated communities.

According to the foremost activist, he was actually making preparation for his mother’s burial that year when the ugly incident shattered the whole plans.

More ordeals:

In 2015, when Ofehe was traveling to Benin after he arrived Nigeria to make arrangement for the burial rite that year, some over zealot officials of the State Security Service, SSS arrested and detained him over claims that he have been on a ‘watch list’ of the security agency ostensibly because of his strong advocacy about the underdevelopment and degradation of the Niger Delta at the international community.

Giving a background of how his mother was assassinated in a tribute message released to journalists on Tuesday, Ofehe said his mother who was born on 1947 was assassinated on 4th October 2007 in Benin City, Edo State by unknown assailants in their family home in Benin City, Edo State.

In the tribute, he said the lifeless body of his mother was discovered in one of the rooms in their Benin home few hours later after the assailants had fled.

“The funeral is now schedule to take place at the family compound in Benin City, Edo State on Saturday 25th February 2017 after almost ten years, he said.

Giving a chronological details of his mother, he said; “She was married to Chief Bernard Ofehe and had two children, myself and my younger sister Mrs. Kate Ofehe-Kragh”.

“My mother was a Bini native from Edo State who was married to my father from Isoko, Delta State and we grew up in Ughelli, Delta State”.

He paid glowing tributes to his mother with a popular Nigerian song dedicated to motherhood.

“I am inspired to write this tribute with the classical old song of Prince Nico Mbarga “sweet mother I no go forget you”.

“I thank God for all that my mother has taught me through the years and have always been very proud to be her son”.

Continuing, he said, “considering the circumstances that lead to her death, I am obliged to share a few things I learned from my mother that have influenced me greatly”.

“I believe that as you read my tribute, you will be able to reflect and remember things that your own mother impacted in you”.

“I also pray that all parents can learn from my mother’s example and make an impact on their children’s lives

Speaking on how he was able to surmount all the trials which prolonged the burial ceremony, he said; “My Mother taught me how to endure through the adversity of life and told me and my sister to never quit no matter the circumstances”.

He said he learned steadfastness from his early days in life. “Growing up, we had to endured hard times, but through my mother’s example of endurance, we learned to keep going even in those hard times”.

Life was never a bed of roses for Ofehe as according to him; “There were times we didn’t have food to eat, my mother will gather all she could get to make us to feed.My mother was a not just a mother to us her children but also to everyone around us”.

“She accepted our friends as her children and was quick to entertain visitors with food and drinks. She opened our doors to accommodate all visitors and when we moved to Benin City, our home became transit point for friends and families traveling from Delta to other part of Nigeria”.

Recalling how he left the shores of Nigeria, Ofehe said; “My mother sold her house in Benin City to raise the money I used in traveling out of Nigeria in 1995. This was a big sacrifice that inspired me upon arrival in The Netherlands”.

“I remember my mother telling me during our first telephone conversation upon my arrival that I should not be desperate to support her and my sister because she believes God will survive them in my absence”.

Not done about the story of his mother’s death, he said; “On the fateful day of her death, I was having an assessment meeting with the teacher of my son at his school in Rotterdam when I got a phone call that my mother’s dead body has been found in our home”.

“I immediately asked for pictures to be taken and sent to me. Few days later I received the gruesome photos of my mother via courier service. It became the day I will never forget in my life”.

“I flew to Nigeria and immediately went to identify her body at the Benin City mortuary and after the autopsy, we were advised to intern her body as decomposition had started taking place due to neglect at the morgue”.

Reason why the burial was put off till now: “The urgency of the directive didn’t provide much time for me to arrange a proper funeral. I returned back to Europe with a promise to come back after consultation with the family and give her a befitting funeral”.

“This never happened as so many personal situations in my life led to postponement until this date was finally agreed upon”.

Can anyone fill the vacuum left by his mother? He said; “The absence of my mother who will always call me to say my son be careful and don’t forget I am always praying has created a vacuum that can never be filled. There is no passing day that events around me doesn’t make me remember her”.

His regrets: “My only regret was that I never had the chance to tell her I loved her and never had the chance to give her a lasting hug. She departed this sinful world without any prior notice but I take solace in the word which says “we will one day meet to part no more”.

Written by Joe Ogbodu

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