I sat down to write this piece, I visualized how the Nigerian state has treated the Ogoni with so much disdain and how Shell, the oil giant that thrives on lies and dishonesty continues to make efforts to return to Ogoniland and resume oil operations not minding the atrocities against the people. I remember vividly, the dark shadows cast on Port Harcourt on November 10, 1995 when the BBC reported that Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis had been executed by the Abacha government. It was great shock for as I felt helpless, unable to confront the government and realizing that Saro-Wiwa was no more.
Tears flowed not just for Saro-Wiwa but for the other eight including, Dr Kiobel, John Kpuinen and six others I knew committed no crime other than supporting Saro-Wiwa’s campaign to save the Ogoni from a strangulating political, economic and environmental clutch of the Nigerian Government and the Shell Petroleum Development Company.
The stain from Saro-Wiwa’s blood continues to haunt Nigeria where no real efforts are being made to correct the past mistakes of social injustice. The Ogoni, whose contributions within the Nigerian states are persistently downplayed, and their identity not recognised by the government, makes more contributions to the economy than some 20 states put together.
Within Ogoni are two oil refineries, two seaports, two electricity-generating plants, a fertiliser and a petro-chemical complex, an oil and gas free zone accommodating over 500 companies. Yet, the Ogoni do not have a state of their own within the so-called
Nigerian federation. The federal government to support the multiple states created for the dominant three ethnic groupings including the Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba shares the revenues generated from Ogoni territories. Unfortunately, the Ogonis have chosen not to adopt violence.
During the period preceding Saro-Wiwa’s murder and the immediate period after, one Major Paul Okuntimo had been deployed to Ogoni as head of a special military task force, which unleashed terror on the people. The only safe place became the bush. The Ogoni know that the government that will simply kill the entire population under the guise of ending an uprising will appreciate a violent approach.
Nigeria’s choice not to reward non-violence by ensuring justice for small and oppressed groups as the Ogoni is costing her enormously in money and prestige. The Nigerian government under President Goodluck Jonathan initiated payment for militants in the Niger Delta region who took arms against the state urging them to allow the continual flow of oil from the region. The government has on several occasions made offers to Boko Haram to stop violence in the Northeast. Government reward for violence and delays in addressing the Ogoni problem is undoubtedly a time bomb as frustrations rise daily among an already dehumanised and poor population.
Twenty years after Saro-Wiwa, the Ogonis are constantly reminded of a system that has been very brutish and unjust, a system that has killed an entire generation of leaders and still seek to suck the people of every resources they have been naturally endowed.
Rather than address the issues and improve the people’s living conditions, government rather seeks to worsen their frustrations. In 2012, the Rivers State Government embarked on a massive land grab around Sogho and Ueken and Khana and Tai local government areas. Resistance against this move led to the killing of 40 persons by the Nigerian security forces.
Shell still lobbies to return to Ogoniland while the Ogoni battle to overcome Nigeria’s suppression and inhuman treatment. Shell has not only killed more Ogoni people but has sustained its dirty posture as a lying and evil company totally irresponsible and uncommitted to the good of the people from whose land the company has carted away billions of dollars from crude oil sales.
Suffice to say that testifying before the Human Rights Commission headed by late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Brian Anderson, then Managing Director of Shell told the commission that spillages in Ogoni were mere incidences that were not significant to cause any damage to the environment. Some 11 years later, a U.N report has exposed the company’s lies by revealing that the pollution will take 30years to clean up.
After aiding the hanging of Saro-Wiwa and over 4,000 Ogonis killed under the supervision of Major Okuntimo, Shell still contemplates returning to Ogoniland.
November 10 is a call to stand up for justice. Though we have lost so much, the spilled blood not is allowed to go in vain. The Nigerian government must acknowledge the injustice of hanging Ken Saro -Wiwa and address the Ogoni problem as as contained in “The Ogoni Bill of Rights”.