Ogoni: Celebration of Ken Saro-Wiwa
Two decades after his death, the people of Ogoni celebrated the legacy of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist who disagreed with the presence of Shell in Nigeria and its policies. Ken organized his struggles through the creation of the Movement for the Survival the Ogoni People. Celestine Akpobari finds that “if Ken were alive, everything would have been fast-tracked. By now the clean-up would have gone very far. By now some of the amenities we are asking for would have been provided.”
Below is an article published by Daily Post:
History has it that the Ogonis in Rivers state are strong advocates against oil exploration in the Niger Delta. The events that led to the agitation of the Ogonis cannot be sequestered from the huge availability of crude oil in the area. The culprit is oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell who were accused of exploring the crude oil in Ogoni which led to the pollution of major parts of the area. The Ogonis have accused Shell of deliberate neglect that led to the shutting-down of oil activities in the area for 20 years now.
The people of Ogoni, blessed with a die-hard activist, Kenule (Ken) Saro-Wiwa saw the overwhelming damage being done to Ogoniland by Shell’s unrestrained petroleum dumping during the crude oil extraction process.
In a society then controlled by the military regimes which ran Nigeria in the 1990s, Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the few who dared to openly criticize the terrible harm done to his homeland by the unregulated energy industry.
In October 1990, the Ogonis presented The Ogoni Bill of Rights to the Nigerian government. They were seeking political and economic autonomy.
Until his death in 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa sponsored and led series of non-violent protests against the multinational oil company with the group, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He was murdered during the ruthless military administration of General Sani Abacha.
In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment found that groundwater in the area contained 900 times the recommended amount of the carcinogen benzene. These estimates suggest that it will take twenty to thirty years of sustained effort to restore the land to its former state from this major ecological disaster. The UNEP report marked the indictment of Shell in the pollution of Ogoni land. The report justified the struggle of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
20 years down the lane, the people of Ogoni in Rivers state are yet to recover from the ecological degradation of the land and the destroyed waters caused by Shell.
In an interview with DAILY POST’S VICTOR EZEAMA in Port Harcourt, a foremost crusader of the Ogoni people, a renowned voice in the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, (MOSOP) and the Coordinator of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, (OSF) CELESTINE AKPOBARI gave an insight on how life has been for the Ogonis after more than two decades of persistent struggle.
Tell us how it has been with the Ogonis in the past 20 years.
20 years in the life of a man is a very long time. But I have to say that things have really gone worse for the Ogonis because before now, we never had a scientific auditing of our environment. What we have always had were guess work from people who didn’t know what they were saying. But now, we have scientific proof that our environment is dead already. And that is a death sentence. I am not happy that the government of Nigeria will receive that kind of report and will not up till now, put pipe-borne water considering the fact that there is a cancer causing content in everything we are taking. That should make any right thinking government provide portable water for the people. So the last twenty years has been years of pain and misery, I can tell you. If Ken were to come back to Ogoni today, he would have returned back to his grave. But I believe that at the end of the day, we will be able to achieve what is in the Ogoni Bill of Rights.
If Ken were alive, what would he have done differently?
If Ken were alive, everything would have been fast-tracked . By now the clean-up would have gone very far. By now some of the amenities we are asking for would have been provided. There would have been negotiation over the marginalization of the Ogoni people in the political terrain of Rivers state. It is very sad that since the creation of this state, no Ogoni has been Governor, no Ogoni has been Deputy Governor, no Ogoni has been Speaker of the House of Assembly and no Ogoni has been Chief Judge. It is an insult. If Ken was alive, we would have settled that issue long ago. If Ken was alive, the issue of culture and language would be paramount. We would have had people studying Ogoni just like they study other languages.
What has Shell been doing with regard to the UNEP report?
The agreement they reached in the London Court was that they will pay compensation and they will also clean up Ogoni using international expertise. But I am told that one INKAS, a local company is being used to start the cleaning process. When I checked INKAS on the internet, it is an automobile company that has nothing to do with the environment and we are also aware that Lamour is an international company that knows what to do and we cannot see any reason why Shell will see a company with international expertise and be contracting a local company that will mix fertilizer with sand and pour it there and tell us they have cleaned-up the place. Most of the contractors that Shell has given cleaning job have never even travelled from here (Port Harcourt) to Lagos. The earlier Shell genuinely begins the cleaning process, the better for our people. Shell should leave politics aside and begin what is right because they cannot escape from cleaning up Ogoni. We will follow them anywhere.
Do you believe in the commitment of the Federal Government to aid the people of Ogoni?
What do I say; I was fortunate or unfortunate to be part of the stakeholders that the Jonathan government set-up. We could not do anything. I am also part of the stakeholders set up by this government on the implementation of the UNEP. The difference I have seen is that this President Buhari government is willing to do something. By now, we should be talking about training the people that will plant the mangrove. By now we should be talking about setting up the Ogoni Centre of excellence that will take charge of a lot of things. By now we should be talking of how to provide pipe-borne water in every Ogoni community as we agreed but there are a lot of interests.
Do you think the appointment of Amina Mohammed, the new Minister of Environment who is a product of the United Nations is an advantage to the Ogoni struggle?
We know that Amina is a decent woman. She is not ignorant of that magnitude of report credited to the UN. Besides that, even the Senate President, Bukola Saraki was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment under the last administration. And he came to Ogoni to see for himself. And now he is the Senate President. If we don’t get anything from Saraki as the President of the Senate and from Amina as the Minister of Environment, then Ogoni will never be cleaned up again.
Sincerely, are Ogonis ready for this clean-up?
Yes, we are ready. If Shell and the Federal government are waiting for a perfect time, then the clean-up will not be done. There are problems everywhere. Even in heaven. Definitely, there will be disagreements but we must move on. But the mere fact that the disagreements has not allowed us to give out our oil to any other oil company 23 years after Shell was sacked shows that the Ogonis can move on with this clean up.