30 years ago today, on this same field, I stood on a podium with less sophistication as this present one, to speak to our people on behalf of the young people on the first Ogoni Day. The excitement on that occasion was palpable. Today 30 years later, on this same day of the year, on this field I am also speaking on the occasion of the 30th Ogoni Day, this time as an elder.
The fitting question, many would ask, on this occasion is, what has changed these 30 years? A lot, I would say; 30 years ago, so few people in the world and even our country knew of Ogoni and our plight. 30 years later. as a people , we recovered our identity through the struggle that gained international attention due to the the activities following that first Ogoni Day 30 years ago.
We were able to accomplish the phenomenal successes of the struggle through our unity and understanding. Years ago, the Ogoni voice was loud and clear to such extent that not only did the world pay attention, but every good son and daughter of Ogoni attuned to it without discord. That was how our struggle resonated and became the metaphor and hope for the struggles for Justice within Nigeria and beyond. We were very united people and that made the world and several other ethnic nationalities envy us.
30 years after today, can we look at ourselves in the mirror and see that unity that we exuded then, and exhibited by our forebears that started the observance of this Day which became the pride of all indigenous peoples and ethnic nationalities then world over?
The question is what has happened? To this question many have responded that 30 years ago we were united by the repression under military rule whereas we are now in the era of partisan politics. But the weakness of that response is that our forebears were also partisan politicians of different political persuasions, yet were united by the overriding Ogoni interest. Their politics did threaten the Ogoni interest and that’s why they formed MOSOP, their politics did not attempt to capture, and thereby weakening MOSOP-the vehicle for the Ogoni struggle. MOSOP and indeed other struggles of the kind, have a viable space and thus can and should coexist with partisan politics. Whilst MOSOP can and must stoutly agitate for the rights of our people, partisan politics should use their politics to get the benefits of that agitation for our people.
In choosing this year’s theme of the Ogoni day we have carefully looked at our current situation, and realising that even the first Ogoni Day was actually pegged on the celebration of the worlds day of the indigenous peoples, we decided on the theme: “Leaving No One Behind”.
As Ogoni people, Leaving No One Behind, demands that we must make conscious efforts to bring all our people, of all levels and abilities together in all our doings including politics and activism. For MOSOP, this has started with a peace process that is committed to leaving no one behind. As a first step, re-registration and revalidation of MOSOP membership is ongoing in every village. Some may be offended by this process in the short run, but I plead that we must all be prepared to make sacrifices. Looking at what we have gone through, no sacrifice should be too much in order to actualise the goals for which our leaders paid supreme sacrifices. As I stated in my remarks when I voluntarily left the leadership of MOSOP in 2012, our successes would be judged by what we achieve as a people, and not by whom they were achieved. We must make sacrifices for our collective success.
We also demand from this country that Ogonis must not be left behind in policy formulations, projects executions, appointments etc just as we re-echo the words of our liberation song :”We shall never be oppressed anymore”. We shall continue to be an unwavering prick in the conscience of this country, so long as the sacrifices of our heroes past are not positively rewarded.
Let me end by thanking our special Guest of Honour, the Governor of our state for all you have done to our people in projects and the overall love you have shown us. That you are here today is testimony of that love. We sincerely appreciate that. Let me add , however, that consistent with the message of today’s theme, as we approach the last lap of your administration and and thinking of succession, please do not leave the Ogoni people behind!
Barr. Ledum Mitee was former MOSOP President