27yrs After Ken Saro-Wiwa, The Struggle Continues
November 10 this year will make it twenty seven years since the brutal murder of nine Ogoni civil rights activists including Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Saturday Doobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levura, Felix Nuate and Barinem Kiobel. They were murdered 27 years ago on the orders of General Sanni Abacha, former Nigeria’s military leader, for challenging and exposing the crimes of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), Nigeria’s subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and the Nigerian oil industry whose business operations were genocidal to the Ogoni people and the entire Niger Delta region.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer and human rights campaigner of Ogoni extraction along with eight others were sentenced to death by a military tribunal and executed ten days later on November 10, 1995 in Port Harcourt. They had been denied the right to appeal despite the fact that the tribunal judgement expressly stated that they had 30 days to appeal the sentences. In Nigerian regular courts, the death sentence can be appealed within a period of 90 days.
Nigeria argued that Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others were executed for the murder of four Ogonis chiefs on May 21, 1994. But a U.N. fact finding mission which visited Nigeria in 1996 reported that their military trial was flawed and did not even conform with the minimum standards of Nigerian law. The U.N. mission reported that the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were simply a state murder.
In reality, Saro-Wiwa’s struggles with the oil industry to halt the ultimate death of the Ogoni people was intolerable to the Nigerian authorities whose live wire was crude oil. Nigeria became desperate to do away with Ken Saro-Wiwa because he challenged the ill-treatment of the Ogoni and minorities in Nigeria, the discrimination and denial of the rights to self determination and the enormous exploitation of our natural endowments by Shell Petroleum, a multinational who took advantage of Nigeria’s corruption to perpetuate monstrous crimes without accountability. Our struggle for justice was met with state-backed aggression, repression, with thousands of Ogonis arrested by Nigerians security forces, tortured, maimed, and killed. Notwithstanding the strength of the oppressors, the Ogoni resistance was sustained and efforts by Shell and the Nigerian authorities to return back to active oil and gas production in Ogoni suffered serious setbacks till date.
I recall the case of Lebe Nkpora, native of Sogho in the Khana local government area whose body was split into two by the bullets of then Major Paul Okuntimo. Paul Okuntimo rose to the rank of a general in the Nigerian army and was never questioned about his Ogoni killings. He had been on the trail of Lebe Nkpora who was one of the many civil rights advocates in his community and member of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s MOSOP. On that very unfortunate occasion, Lebe Nkpora was caught, killed in a sleazy manner as Okuntimo shot him until his body was split into two parts.
The death of General Sanni Abacha brought some relief. Though the injustices remained unaddressed, Nigeria progressed towards civilian rule and General Abacha’s successor, didn’t want to be stained by the deeds of his predecessor. But by May 1999 when Nigeria restored civil rule, some 4,000 Ogonis had been killed in military and state sponsored repression.
All these happened for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Nigeria’s subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell whose mining activities had been disrupted by protests organised by Ken Saro-Wiwa”s Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Shell had been shocked by the unexpected Ogoni uprising to halt the reckless destruction of the Ogoni environment in over three decades of crude oil extraction. The company denied the accusations of massive environmental pollution and human rights abuses not until the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a scientific report on the Ogoni environment which corroborated Saro-Wiwa’s accusations against Shell. The report noted that water contamination in Ogoni was 900 times above the levels acceptable and recommended by the United Nations. That is the water we, the Ogoni people, drank and still drink today.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, our most celebrated in recent times will be remembered throughout history for the sacrifice and commitment to the freedom of oppressed peoples especially the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. His ordeals were for us to live a more decent life and for our dignity to be upheld in a Nigerian society which had become intimidated and had submitted to a slave culture, too afraid to speak out against oppression, seemingly confined perpetually to conform with whatever the oppressors had to offer. Saro-Wiwa rose to break that fear and gave us the courage to stand up against injustice.
Nigeria did not care and still tries to manipulate and diminish the gravity of Shell’s crimes in Ogoni turning blind eyes to the company’s complicity in sponsoring military attacks against innocent Ogoni people, Shell is highly protected by our government and still free to kill and no government in Nigeria has ever tried to hold the company to account.
Twenty seven years gone and it still seems like yesterday, we remember Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levura, Felix Nuate and Barinem Kiobe and we will always do.
We have made some progress in trying to address the Ogoni issue through the implementation of an Ogoni Development Authority and do hope the idea will become operational sooner than later. But no matter the gains we make, we will be unable to celebrate any wins as long as the innocence of these nine men are not upheld under Nigerian law. Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others should be cleared of any wrongdoing because we know, and the evidence is clear that they were innocent and unjustly killed.
Nigeria’s hypocritical approach to the issue of Saro-Wiwa’s innocence and that of the other eight does not serve as a resolution. They have named streets after Ken Saro-Wiwa, they named a degree awarding institution after him (the Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic), they celebrate his literary works, they acknowledge his heroism and contributions to better our society but they simply won’t admit that they killed him and the eight others in their innocence.
Ken Saro-Wiwa”’s murder is permanent stain on the image of our country, Nigeria. Cleaning this stain will require Nigeria to admit her crimes and mistakes in Ogoni, exonerate the nine of the false murder charges which they never committed, punish Shell for her Ogoni crimes and the crimes committed in the Niger Delta, initiate a proper and more transparent clean up of the environment, respect the rights of the indigenous Ogoni people to self determination and cooperate with MOSOP’s current moves to permanently address the problem through the operation of an Ogoni Development Authority (ODA).
I strongly doubt that any coercive means not emanating from a genuine discussion with MOSOP, the vehicle that mobilized and forced Shell’s exit from our land will return any oil company including homicidal Shell, the NPDC, Sahara Energy or any other interests. As Ogonis and members of MOSOP, we stand by the last words Ken Saro-Wiwa’s left with us:
“I do not expect the Ogoni people to allow any oil mining activities in the land until it is properly negotiated”
These words could have spurred the resistance of these 27 years but they also come with hope of a mutually beneficial resolution, both for us and the big beneficiaries – the Nigerian government and its oil industry. These words come hopes that our differences can be resolved through a proper negotiation. But the negotiation cannot be manipulated to return us back to the slave era.
Our demands are simple and clear – amongst others, we demand the exoneration of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others now, we demand the operation of an Ogoni Development Authority. That is the way forward I think these are not too much to ask nor too big to do for the Ogoni people whose revenue generation capacity far exceed those of twenty Nigerian states put together.
As we mar the Ogoni martyrs day, 2022, we pray that the souls of Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levura, Felix Nuate, Barinem Kiobel and all Ogoni martyrs not rest until Ogoni is truly free.
Fegalo Nsuke is president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), He wrote from Abuja, Nigeria.