As I sat on my reading table to put down 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, dishonesty and irresponsibility continues to make efforts to return to Ogoniland drilling sites and resume oil operations not minding the atrocities committed against the people and their vocal commitment not to have the evil company return to Ogoni for drilling operations.
I quite remember vividly, the dark shadows cast on Port Harcourt on November 10, 1995 when at about 12 noon, the BBC reported that Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis have been killed by the Abacha led federal government. It was a great shock for me as I felt helpless, unable to confront the government and realizing that Saro-Wiwa was no more.
Tears flowed uncontrollably not just for Saro-Wiwa but for the other eight including Dr Kiobel, John Kpuinen and the other 6 whom 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 two powerful institutions - the Nigerian Government and the Shell Petroleum Development Company, an affiliate of Shell.
The stain from Saro-Wiwa’s blood still continues to haunt Nigeria where no real efforts are made to correct the past mistakes of social injustice. The Ogoni, whose contributions as a unique people within the Nigerian state is persistently downplayed, and her identity is not recognized by the government, makes more contributions to the economy than some 20 states put together.
Within Ogoni are two oil refineries, two sea ports, two electricity generating plants, a fertilizer 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 revenues generated from the Ogoni territories are shared by the federal government to support the multiple states created for the dominant three ethnic groupings including the Ibos, Huasa-Fulanis and Yorubas.
Unfortunately, the Ogonis have chosen not to adopt the tactics that forces the Nigerian government to submission - violence. The fear of a possible extermination should a violent approach be followed have possibly kept the Ogoni on the path of a non-violent approach.
During the period preceding Saro-Wiwa’s hanging 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 knows that a violent approach will be appreciated by the government who will simply kill the entire population under the guise of ending an uprising.
Nigeria’s choice not to reward non-violence by ensuring justice for small and oppressed groups like the Ogoni is costing her enormously in money and prestige. The Nigerian government 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 also on several occasions made offers to the Boko Haram group to stop violence in the North-East. Government reward for violence in Nigeria and delays in addressing the Ogoni problem is undoubtedly a time-bomb as frustrations rise daily among an already dehumanized and poor population.
Twenty years after Saro-Wiwa, the Ogonis are constantly reminded by November 10 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 to which they have been naturally endowed.
Rather than address the issues and improve the people’s living conditions, government rather seeks to worsen the people’s frustrations. In 2012, the Rivers State Government embarked on a massive land grab to takeover about 2000 hectares of land around Sogho and Ueken and Khana and Tai local government areas. Resistance against this move led to the killing of about 40 persons by the Nigerian security forces.
Shell still lobbies to return to Ogoniland while the Ogoni battles to overcome Nigeria’s suppression and inhuman treatment. Shell has not only killed more Ogoni people but have sustained her 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 profits.
I call Shell a liar, a racist and a terrible evil. The company has got a terrible record which time and space will not allow me to dwell much on. But suffice it to say that testifying before the Human Rights Commission headed by late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Brian Anderson, then managing director of Shell had 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 Shell’s pollution in Ogoniland will take 30years to clean up. Shell still lies till date about the Ogoni situation.
Shell’s racism and wickedness is clearly exemplified in her irresponsible business practices. As at 1990, over 30billion dollars worth of oil have been taken away from Ogoniland and Shell cared not to put back anything. After aiding the hanging of Saro-Wiwa and over 4,000 Ogonis killed in wasting operations under the supervision of Major Okuntimo’s special military task force, Shell still has guts to contemplate a return to Ogoniland to drill oil. The company has lost every sense of responsibility and probably no longer guided by any human conscience. It will be shocking to learn that that despite Ogoni contributions in oil revenue, some communities, like Teenama, still do not have a primary school till date. All you can find in Teenama, as in all other Ogoni villages, are polluted waters and poverty.
November 10 is a call to stand up for justice. That though we have lost so much, the blood spilt must not be allowed to go in vain. November 10 is a call to set our differences aside and tell the Nigerian government that it is time she washes herself of the stain of Saro-Wiwa’s blood by acknowledging the injustice of the hangings and taking additional steps to address the Ogoni problem and demands as contained in “The Ogoni Bill of Rights”
Fegalo Nsuke, member of The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) wrote from Port Harcourt