For the Ogoni people, the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others on November 10, 1995 turned a very dark side of our country’s history. It reinforced our fears of an obvious genocide being prosecuted against our people, the Ogoni, and we trembled in the face of a possible extinction having suffered much repression coupled with the environmental terror unleashed by Royal Dutch Shell leading to the death of thousands of the Ogoni people.
We are aware that Ken Saro-Wiwa was innocent and suffered persecution from those who benefited from the unjust Nigerian system. As an Ogoni, it is truly despicable to come from the most naturally endowed section of our country, Nigeria, and to sit and watch those to whom we have committed the responsibility to manage our collective destiny take away all that belong to the Ogoni, use discriminatory laws to oppress the Ogoni and send us to death while our resources make huge budgets for people who bear no pain from the consequences of our natural resource exploitation.
The Ogoni people have lost everything due to Shell’s reckless and irresponsible business practices. Our streams, our natural environment, farms, businesses, rain water and our very lives have been wrecked by Shell. Over 90 percent of Ogoni youths have no jobs and do not have any hope of finding one in the near future. Yet, Ogoni has more oil and gas resources than every other Niger Delta state in Nigeria and can generate more revenue than 20 Nigerian states put together.
Pained by these deprivations, Ken Saro-Wiwa rose to challenge the inequalities and sought some dose of equity. In response, Shell funded a military clampdown on the Ogoni and provided the logistics which led to the death of over 4,000 Ogonis. A simple demand for justice was being treated like a violent rebellion in a country that will turn to give amnesty and honor to murderers who brutally killed Nigerians and went to the extent of taking up arms against the state.
While our country has encouraged violence, armed struggle and discouraged peaceful agitations, the Ogoni people today are yet to get a proper response for the request to exonerate their innocent loved ones killed by the state on November 10, 1995.
This year marks 25years after Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder and there are numerous lessons it offers. One pitiable narrative is the obvious path to self destruction our country is toeing by not encouraging peaceful and non-violent methods. It is possible that had the Nigerian state encouraged peaceful methods which Ken Saro-Wiwa championed, the Nigerian people would have seen the gains of peaceful agitation and we may never have had to lose our soldiers and expended much on military hardware to fight Boko Haram and the Bandits in the Niger Delta.
The lessons are painful but we have to learn from them and make amends to save our country. Ken Saro-Wiwa is still the bridge and the keys to unraveling Nigeria’s greatness for only in a peaceful atmosphere can we make real practical progress and achieve development for our communities.
It is time to celebrate Ken Saro-Wiwa’s novelty in championing such a massive struggle of the Ogoni people without violence. We need to encourage our young people to learn from Ken Saro-Wiwa for it will save us much human and financial resources, save our country from lawlessness and make government business easy.
As we approach November 10, 2020, the 25th memorial of the hangings, we must prepare a perfect gift to clear the names of these peaceful, innocent, unique gentlemen and exceptional personalities, to announce their innocence and exonerate them from the crimes for which our country got them killed for they were truly innocent and that had been acknowledged by world leaders including the United Nations and the Commonwealth. I still recall that irked by the 1995 Ogoni executions and deception that emanated out of Aso Rock on that black day, the CommonWealth of Nations had suspended Nigeria from its membership with a bang reflecting its rejection of Nigeria’s indecency under Abacha. Former British Prime Minister John Major had described Saro-Wiwa’s condemnation as a bad verdict and hiis hanging a judicial murder..
Exonerating Ken Saro-Wiwa and those killed with him is definitely the gateway to resolving the Ogoni conflicts and as president of MOSOP and successor of Ken Saro-Wiwa, I will state unequivocally with every amount of responsibility that resolving the Ogoni conflicts at this time depends on how we handle the request for the exoneration of these nine Ogonis. We have to act now if we are truly committed to reconciliation and development in Ogoni and Nigeria.
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder significantly dented the integrity and decency of our country and we must at this time chat a new cause for our country and for the Ogoni people. Like a launderer, we have to apply in the most subtle ways, the reagents that can gradually clear off the stains.
We must also not let the polluter and killer of the Ogoni people get away with the crime of instigating violence to kill the Ogoni. Shell should be punished for its crimes in Ogoni by sending them out of Nigeria. Shell should not be encouraged to do to any other section of the Niger Delta, what they have done to the Ogoni people.
Indeed, Shell as a company is a monster. Shortly after Saro-Wiwa’s murder, the first response of Shell was to resume oil mining in Ogoni. They created an Ogoni re-entry department and sponsored media and physical assaults on the human rights activists in Ogoni. Several others died through the bullets of security men attached to Shell as local Ogoni dwellers resisted the plans to resume oil production in Ogoni. Indeed, Shell did not only encourage Nigeria’s brutality against the Ogoni people, it funded the repression and turned our natural blessings into a curse.
But the struggle for true freedom and happiness continues. The Ogoni people today continue to stand for the cause for which Ken Saro-Wiwa and all others died. We demand justice for them and for our people whose lives have been turned miserable by Shell’s irresponsibility.
We know too well that Albert Badey, Edward Kobani, Theophilus Orange and Samuel Orange would not have died at the time they did but for Shell’s unfortunate irresponsibility in Ogoni.
The fact of Saro-Wiwa’s innocence cannot be contradicted. The government has well acknowledged this but have failed to legalize the obvious. They name streets after him, they celebrate his bravery, creativity and courage. They have tacitly admitted his irreproachability, but are not courageous to publicly admit that they killed him in his Innocence. This applies also to the eight others on the one hand and the other four on the other hand.
But for the Ogoni people, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Innocence and the need for his exoneration along with all others murdered with him have become a key component of Ogoni demands. The Ogoni people cannot celebrate any freedom and victory over Shell no matter the benefits offered while our dear Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Nordu Eawo, Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera and all others remain chained in death.
The exoneration of Ken Saro-Wiwa is the key to true reconciliation between all parties to the Ogoni conflict and remains the only consolation we can offer for the Wiwa family who gave us Ken. Ken had been so dear to the Ogoni people that even in death, he is still the bridge leading to the other side of our story and we call on the government to be human in dealing with this issue and give us a reason to still feel there is a good side of our country.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Paul Lebura, Daniel Gbokoo, Nordu Eawo, Felix Nuate, Saturday Doobee and Nubari Kiobel should be cleared from the crimes for which they were framed and killed for they were truly innocent. That, I repeat, is the easy route to resolve the Ogoni problem and turn our focus to Ogoni development.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder on November 10, 2020, we hope the Nigerian government will take this opportunity to exonerate the nine men, repair the image battery that came with their execution, move us all towards reconciliation and enjoy the goodwill that will come with it which no other government before now could do. That will be our perfect gift for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other eight. I do feel very convinced about how it will heal a lot of injuries and make the Ogoni people feel like they are Nigerians and will never again be so repressed by their own government.
Ken Saro-Wiwa is still a metaphor for the systemic injustice Nigeria has prosecuted against the small and weak through laws and decrees. He lived to address these inequalities and gave hope to the numerous groups whose voices are not heard, peoples who have daily grappled with Nigeria”s oppressive oligarchy. Ken was killed for standing for justice and demanding respect for the rights of peoples whose dignity have been taken away by a mindless capitalist called Shell and an unjust system called Nigeria. It is twenty five years since Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered by the Nigerian State and it still seems like yesterday.
If Shell, a foreign company, casts a gloomy picture over the Ogoni, our government should take off that cast and let the light of hope shine with the rights of the people being respected. We should commence that process with one of the actions the Ogoni people have been very passionate about – the exoneration of innocent Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others. That is MOSOP’s craving at this time and we are confident it will take us to a new beginning.
Fegalo Nsuke is human rights activist and President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People MOSOP. He wrote from Abuja, Nigeria.