NOVEMBER 10: What We Owe Ken Saro-Wiwa – By Leburah Ganago
The Nigerian government recognizes that what I am saying is the truth. They would wish that this truth is not told. They would like to hoodwink the public. The people who are ruling Nigeria now are just a cabal who are not interested in the progress of the country. They are only interested in the resources of the Ogoni people and other ethnic minorities of the Niger delta” .- Ken Saro Wiwa (The Hanged Man, 1993).
The real reason Ken Saro Wiwa was killed is because he had the guts to expose the atrocities committed against the Ogoni people and the rest of the oil-bearing Niger delta region-political marginalization, economic strangulation, environmental devastation and, ultimately genocide by the slick allies, Shell and the Nigerian government.And Ken Saro Wiwa made no secret concerning his mission of exposing the dirty deals of the slick allies .
In his last interview conducted in London before his arrest and eventual murder, Ken stated: “ My mission has been to inform the West of what is going on in Nigeria”. In that interview Ken noted that if people in the West knew of the atrocities being committed by their oil prospecting companies notably Shell and Chevron, in the Niger delta they would speak up and turn opinion against their unfair practices in Nigeria. In fact, in that same interview Ken accused Shell of practicing racism in Nigeria as he noted that the transnational oil giant was applying double standards in its dealings when it comes to operating in the Third World as opposed to when operating in its home country and other parts of the West.
The late Ken Saro Wiwa deployed his intellectual and literary talents into the fight of seeking justice for the Ogoni and the rest of the oppressed Niger delta region of Nigeria as well as exposing the reckless operational practices of Shell in the region. Ken wrote books, newspaper articles, produced television documentaries, in which he detailed the environmental degradation of the Niger delta and the criminal exploitation of its peoples. He made presentations at international fora, including the United Nations.
However, those of us who had been involved in exposing the atrocities committed by totalitarian Third world regimes against their own peoples came to understand that it is a risky business. The tyrants who rule there have been more interested in covering up their heinous crimes against humanity and going after whoever has the guts to expose them than making amends. So it is easy to understand how the late Ken Saro Wiwa whose efforts in exposing the dirty deals of the slick allies and campaign for environmental protection won him the Live Livelihood Award, an alternative Nobel prize , from the Swedish parliament, in December 1994 among others, came to be an enemy of the state. And once so identified the next task was to get him eliminated.
It is instructive to note that the reason Ken was killed was to prevent the MOSOP initiative from being replicated in other parts of the Niger Delta. In an interview with Newsweek’s Joshua Hammer, smuggled from his detention cell at the Bori Camp military barracks, Port Harcourt Ken remarked “ the government wants to disgrace and humiliate me, terrorize the Ogoni and any of the intellectuals who might want to copy me, and divert attention from the struggles and the Ogoni people and stop other oil –rich areas from protesting the Ogoni way”. ( NewsWeek, May 29,1995).
However, the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa to the chagrin of the slick allies instead of ending the struggle ignited the flame of bottom-up anger in the Niger delta. So the Ijaws and other parts of the Niger delta picked up the gauntlet. And the Niger delta literarily went up in flames. Then, the international community and even the Nigerian ruling cabal paid attention. And even though justice has not been done to the memory of the famous Ogoni Nine, who were brutally hanged in Port Harcourt on November 10, 1995 for opposing Shell’s eco-terrorism in Ogoni land, today an Ijaw of the Niger delta region is the President of the federal Republic of Nigeria.
Yet, the Ogoni people are feeling disappointed that they are being ignored in the present scheme of things,even with an Ijaw in Aso Rock. Recently, they point to President Goodluck Jonathan’s cold feet towards the implementation of the UNEP report on the Ogoni environmental devastation. I overheard Ogoni leaders complaining behind the scene that the role of the Ogoni struggle in ushering in the quasi democratic process in the country today has not been appreciated. True, one of the conditions given to the Nigerian ruling junta in 1995 for readmission when Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations was a quick return to democracy. So like former Senator Pepple and others have acknowledged, the hanging of the Ogoni Nine and the global outrage that greeted that barbaric act sped up the democratic process in Nigeria.
However, if the Ogoni are today being disappointed or feel left out in the cold they should look inwards for the source of their disappointment. I am amazed at how soon the Ogoni people, even MOSOP activists, seem to have forgotten what we went through. The struggle which Ken Saro Wiwa gave his all and eventually paid the supreme price cannot be said to be alive today. The struggle is in comatose . It has been deliberately sabotaged by a privileged and unconscionable few for whom the struggle has become a gold mine, as they mortgage the hope and aspirations of our people for personal enrichment. While the generality of the Ogoni people are still unshakably committed to the struggle, a near total absence of committed and credible leadership has left the struggle in a state of flux. And the Ogoni leadership has been dancing naked in the presence of the current Nigerian leadership. They have shown that they are contented with picking up the crumbs from the slave masters’ table.
If the Ogoni leadership wants attention from the Nigerian government they must resurrect the MOSOP struggle. They could not have been so naïve not to know that in a struggle of this nature it is not just how well you start but how well you end it. And the struggle could not have ended when our demands have not been met.
The UNEP report on environmental devastation in Ogoni has vindicated the late Ken Saro Wiwa and MOSOP. Shell has always faulted the description, ENVIRONMENTAL DEVASTATION, of the environmental damage in Ogoni. The oil giant which Ken Saro Wiwa described as : “a satanic octopus which demands men’s soul in exchange for cash and profit” had always accused Ken and MOSOP of exaggerating the Ogoni situation. However, the UNEP report went deeper than we have ever stated. The UNEP report categorically stated that the extent of environmental devastation in Ogoni is so serious that it would take 30 years to clean-up. So this is our position. The Ogoni people are now fully armed by the UNEP report. Since it would take 30 years to clean up the Shell mess in Ogoni, it therefore follows that it would take 30 years or more , depending on when the clean up is started, for any form of oil related activity to resume in Ogoni. The Nigerian government can continue to fool around. But what is important to us in Ogoni is that the message has to be sent unequivocally, to Aso Rock, that the Ogoni has proven enough that we cannot be fooled around with.
November 10 anniversaries should not only be marked as a yearly ritual as it now appears to be the case. It should be a day for sober reflection- on one of the worst cases of injustice –of the barbarism exhibited by the Nigerian government against its own citizens-of how far the bloodlust of the transnational oil corporations , in this case Shell, can go , in crushing perceived opposition to their inhuman operations in Third World countries.
November 10, should be a day of rededication and resolve-a resolve never to let the sacrifice of our fallen heroes be in vain. There should be a resolve to fight relentlessly until justice is done to the memory of those who have gone and those Ogonis who are still around, feeling the pangs of marginalization, exploitation and enslavement.
The memories of November 10, 1995-memories of innocent men being hanged in the gallows, just for demanding for the rights of their oppressed people, should stir the Ogoni to seek revenge. Yes, revenge- no apologies. The Nigerian state and Shell must be made to pay for the cold-blooded murder of the Ogoni Nine, the Ogoni 4 and unnamed thousands who were killed in the course of the struggle.
It is delusional for anyone to begin to talk of reconciliation in the midst of injustice. There would be no closure in these issues until justice is seen to have been done. And our commitment to seek justice for the Ogoni will not waiver .Those who are abandoning the struggle at this time when injustice still stalks the Nigerian landscape are not doing justice to the memory of Ken Saro Wiwa who died fighting injustice, so Ogoni shall be free. So what we, the Ogoni owe Ken is to fight relentlessly until what he laid down his life for is achieved. No retreat. No surrender.