" I have perceived a great injustice being done to this people and as a writer, I have decided that I am going to fight. I want justice for the Ogoni people, I want self- determination for the Ogoni; I want autonomy for the Ogoni people"(-Ken Saro Wiwa, 1941-1995)
en Saro Wiwa laid out the case for the Ogoni struggle this way: "In 1990, the Ogoni people took stock of their condition and found that in spite of the stupendous oil and gas wealth of their land, they were extremely poor, had no social amenities, that unemployment was running at over seventy percent, and that they were powerless, as an ethnic minority in a country of 100 million people, to do anything to alleviate their condition. Worse, their environment was completely devastated by three decades of reckless oil exploitation or ecological warfare by shell. In brief, the Ogoni were faced with environmental degradation, political marginalization, economic strangulation, slavery and possible extinction" (OGONI TRIALS AND TRAVAILS-CLO, 1996).
The Ogoni then presented a set of demands fondly called THE OGONI BILL OF RIGHTS, to the Federal government of Nigeria. In a nutshell the Ogoni Bill of Rights states:
The right to self-determination as a distinct people in the Nigerian Federation;
adequate representation as of right in all Nigerian national institutions;
the right to use a fair proportion of the economic resources of their land for their development(Resource Control);
The right to control their environment.
The Ogoni struggle was officially launched on January 4, 1993 (the World indigenous Peoples Day)with pomp and pageantry; drawing out 300,000 of the Ogoni population. It is the largest of such marches in Africa. The late MOSOP President, Ken Saro Wiwa, was so impressed by the turnout that he declared that if he had died on that day, he would have died a happy man. With that historic march, the Ogoni people crossed the threshold of fear. Armed with the righteousness of their cause, they were determined to confront their tormentors. But the ruling military junta in Nigeria, which surprisingly allowed the march to go on uninterrupted, and their slick ally, Shell were not amused. They went to work, plotting to silence key players and possibly truncate the Ogoni struggle. Of course, their prime target was Ken Saro Wiwa, the Ogoni leader and arrowhead of the struggle.
Ken Saro Wiwa in an interview with Africa Today magazine (Africa Today, September/October 1995 remarked :" On January 4, the alarm bells rang in the ears of Shell. I was to know no peace from then on. I became a regular guest of the security agencies. I was stopped and arrested at airports, seized from my office and questioned repeatedly". These incessant harassments of Ken Saro Wiwa foreshadowed his fate in the hands of Shell and the Nigerian ruling cabal. In two separate meetings in London and Amsterdam in March 1993, Shell reportedly resolved to monitor the movement of Ken Saro Wiwa and other key players of the Ogoni struggle, including Bodyshop International which has been very involved in our international campaign.
A leaked Rivers State government House secret memo in April 1994 detailed the Ogoni pacification project. Among others, the memo called for targeting of vocal voices and carrying out "wasting operations" to pave way for resumption of oil operations in Ogoni. The Giokoo massacre that claimed the lives of four prominent Ogoni leaders-Chief E.N. Kobani, Mr. A.T Badey, Chief S.N. Orage and Chief T.B .Orage, fits the description in the secret memo. On the day of the Giokoo incident, the entire Ogoni territory was saturated with government security forces. In fact, there was attempted invasion of Bodo City (the home town of two of the four prominent Ogoni sons who were murdered) from the sea.
In spite of the fact that the Rivers State government was aware of the ill-fated Giokoo meeting of Gokana leaders, no security protection was provided. Even when the riot was going on government security forces who were just a couple of miles from the scene, refused to intervene. This much was collaborated by the testimony of an Ogoni elderstatesman, Hon. Kemte Giadom who testified at the Ibrahim Auta's military tribunal to the effect that while action was still going on at Giokoo, he drove to the headquarters of the Rivers State Internal security Task Force at Kpor, to seek security help for the Giokoo victims but that he was turned down. And Ken Saro Wiwa in a new book is quoted as saying:"And evidence is now getting out to the effect that I might have been the one to be assassinated on 21st May but that what had been planned for me went askew, thanks to God."
Yet, Ken Saro Wiwa alongside eight of his fellow Ogoni campaigners- John Kpuinen, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, Saturday Dorbee, Daniel Gbokoo, Paul Levura, Baribor Bera, Felix Nuate,and Nordu Eawo got murdered by the Nigerian state on account of the Giokoo murders. The issue of the sham trial by a kangaroo court, the framed-up charges and wrongful convictions of the Ogoni Nine have been sufficiently relegated. And the conclusion has been that the Nigerian state committed judicial murder, or what eminent law scholar Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) argued, is "executive murder".
There was effective military invasion and occupation of the Ogoni territory between 1993 and 1998, with the Nigerian military executing a scotch earth "wasting operation" which turned the Ogoni landscape into what various news headlines at the time dubbed "THE KILLING FIELD", "GOLGUTA", "THE RWANDA HERE". Today, the shooting "war" may have abated, albeit, temporarily in Ogoni, but the ecological war rages on. The UNEP study has concluded that the environmental devastation of Ogoni is so pervasive that it would take 30 years to clean up the mess. So in effect, the Nigerian government and Shell committed genocide in Ogoni, a crime against humanity. They are going to be held accountable someday; it does not matter how long it takes.
So rather than acceding to the humble demands of the Ogoni people, the slick allies, Shell and the Nigerian government decided to bloody their nose and to send a message to other ethnic groups in the Niger delta who might want to follow the Ogoni footstep.
Ken Saro Wiwa predicted that other ethnic groups like the Ogoni who are suffering injustice in Nigeria would one day follow the Ogoni example. He said inter alia:" I have started a trend which will peacefully liberate many peoples in Africa and lead eventually to political and economic reform and social progress". The Ijaws and other similarly oppressed groups in the Niger delta followed the Ogoni foot print and launched their own campaign for justice. And In Nigeria today the cry for justice is growing noisier by the day. Everyone, almost everyone, is now talking of restructuring; only that they sometimes refuse to acknowledge the pioneering role of the Ogoni people in this struggle. Just like the former MOSOP President, Ledum Mitee, said the other day, this is what people (the Ogoni people) were killed for and everyone is now saying this is the right thing to do.
However, I do not understand what they mean by restructuring. Is it self-determination that we, the Ogoni people, have been agitating for over two decades now? Or is it something else?
In instances of wrongful death as in the case of the Ogoni Nine, there is the issue of restitution. But regrettably, twenty-two years after the barbaric hanging of the Ogoni Nine the Nigerian government has yet to acknowledge wrong-doing let alone apologizing to the families and the Ogoni people and take remediation measures.
However, at this time the Ogoni people must not allow the supreme sacrifice of the Ogoni Nine, the Ogoni Four and all those who lost their lives in cause of our struggle, to go in vain. They sacrificed their lives so the captives could be set free. It is significant to note that when Ken Saro Wiwa was given a chance by the kangaroo military court to plead for his life, after death verdict was handed down to him, he refused to do so. Instead, he pleaded for the people he was going to leave behind, the Ogoni and the Niger delta peoples, whom he noted have suffered a lot. This was such a selfless hero and patriot per excellence, who cared more for his people, not just his people but for the soul of Nigeria, I might add, than he cared for his own life.
TELL magazine as far back as 1995 called on the Nigerian government to apologize to the Ogoni people, as a step towards national reconciliation. TELL magazine editorial in its November 27,1995, edition stated: " All those who today arrogate so much greatness to Abacha should do well by advising the general that the first step to full national reconciliation and for our acceptance by the international community is for this junta to tender an unreserved apology to the Ogoni people. This should be followed by a UN inquiry into the Ogoni affair".
The Nigerian government has continued to ignore the earnest advice of Tell magazine. However, there has been numerous UN inquests into the Ogoni crisis but their recommendations have been largely ignored by successive Nigerian administrations. General Abacha may be gone but those who connived and collaborated with him to commit those murders and their enablers are still alive today. The Ogoni people cannot afford to wait forever, for justice that would never come from the Nigerian state. We must at some point be prepared to take matters into our own hands, to seek restitution and retribution for the Ogoni Nine , the Ogoni Four and all those who perished in the genocidal onslaught against the Ogoni people.
It would amount to betrayal of all those who laid down their lives for Ogoni to survive if those of us who are still living fail to exert justice from the ruling cabal in Nigeria and their slick ally, Shell. Posterity will not forgive us; even as we pass the banner of the struggle to the next generation of the Ogoni. For it has now become a generational struggle.
Be that as it may, the ghost of November 10, 1995, will continue to haunt Nigeria as those innocent blood that were senselessly split continue to cry for justice and until justice is done to both the living and the dead in Ogoni land.