Nov 11, 2014

UNPO Commemorates the Inspirational Ken Saro-Wiwa


This Monday, 10th November, marked 19 years to the day since nine activists in Nigeria were hanged by the government for their environmental activism and work for the rights of the Ogoni people. One of them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, and this week we commemorate his non-violent struggle for human rights that in the end cost him his life.

This Monday, 10th November, marked 19 years to the day since nine activists in Nigeria were hanged by the government for their environmental activism and work for the rights of the Ogoni people. One of them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, and this week we commemorate his non-violent struggle for human rights that in the end cost him his life.

Ogoniland, a region in southern Nigeria, has seen the global hunt for oil cause extreme damage to the ecosystem. Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the founders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a human rights group (and now a UNPO member) established with the stated goal of an unpolluted and safe region, exclusively through the use of non-violent means. He managed to bring Ogoniland’s environmental degradation to international attention through extensive campaigning and writing on the topic, and was also the driving force in creating the Ogoni Bill of Rights, a document that lists the Ogoni people’s demands for socio-economic, political, and environmental justice.

The Nigerian regime responded with force to the creation and growth of MOSOP, and carried out brutal raids against Ogoni people, regardless of their involvement in activism. In 1995, Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists were sentenced to death and executed by the military dictatorship, an act that triggered international outrage, as well as Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth.

Although Nigeria now has an internationally recognized democratic government, the contamination of Ogoniland’s environment continues to impact heavily upon the people living there, causing numerous health problems and severely affecting their ability to sustain themselves through small-scale farming, foraging, and fishing. The Ogoni people have been offered little by way of restitution from the oil companies active in the region, and the Nigerian Government has been quick to side with the petroleum industry whenever protests have arisen, using excessive force to curb mostly peaceful demonstrations. UNPO notes with concern that the recommendations from the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2011 report on Ogoniland have still not been satisfactorily implemented.

UNPO takes this opportunity, then, to commemorate the courageous actions of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who remains an inspiration for peoples across the world whose very existence is threatened by the untrammelled exploitation of natural resources. Among other measures, we encourage the reinforcement of international instruments, such as the C-169 Convention from 1989, which grants land rights to indigenous communities, and recognizes that indigenous peoples should hold the right to choose their own political and cultural destinies.

A concrete and substantive improvement in the lives of indigenous peoples, and an unambiguous commitment to respect their environmental as well as social and political rights, would be a fitting legacy for an unforgotten campaigner whose peaceful resistance to state oppression continues to inspire activists everywhere.

 

Photo courtesy of: Friends of the Earth [email protected]