Mar 30, 2018

Ogoni: Timeline of the Ogoni Struggle

The Ogoni people are an indigenous people in South-Eastern Nigeria, in the Niger Delta. They represent around 1 percent of the Nigerian population and are a ethno-linguistic group. The Ogoni have, since the independence of Nigeria, suffered under systematic political marginalisation and environmental degradation of their ancestral lands. A major factor in this is the Nigerian federal governments’ exploitation of natural resources in tandem with Western energy giants in the region of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region.

Indeed, the main struggle after the Ogoni’s turn towards organised activism in 1993 has been the demand for compensation from Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell for pollution and environmental damage caused by the company’s oil drilling and dilapidated pipeline infrastructure leading to devastating oil spills. The Ogoni’s peaceful civil resistance movement is organised by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).  Their protests are regularly met with strong counter-insurgency measures by the Nigerian Federal government, the military government before that, and the security forces of the oil companies in question. The zenith of this violent crackdown came when Ken Saro-Wiwa, then Vice-President of the UNPO, was executed after a sham trial, despite widespread international condemnation.


19 March 2018 – MOSOP calls for international community to intervene after Amnesty International releases a report showing negligence of energy companies when extracting resources, resulting in several deaths.

15 February 2018 – MOSOP releases statement vowing to stop Shell’s continued efforts to exploit their lands According to MOSOP, Shell still has no moral or legal authority to re-commence oil drilling in the region, as they hold Shell directly responsible for the murder of their leaders.

19 January 2018 – MOSOP calls on Nigerian Government to halt use of Nigerian army to secure oil fields in Ogoniland for multi-national companies.

4 January 2018 – Ogoni day is celebrated amidst acts of aggression against local civil society groups and activisits and military offensives by the Nigerian government. Ogoni Day commemorates the first protest in 1993 of the Ogoni against the joint Nigerian government-Shell operation in the region. It attracted up to 400.000 people and remains a reference point for Ogoni national consciousness.

12 December 2017 – Reported rise in increase of mortality rate in the region due to pollution of the Nigerian Delta by multi-national oil companies.

21 June 2017 –  Dutch court opens investigation into Shell’s potential involvement in the execution of the Ogoni Nine, who were campaigning against the exploitation of the Ogoniland.

28 February 2017 – Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) opens up negotiations into potentially entering into Ogoniland to extract oil. MOSOP raises concerns that the NPDC could adopt the same measures Shell did, with disregard for the environment being a top concern.

26 September 2016 – Explosion at Shell petroleum facility, causing widespread panic over potential environmental degradation

22 September 2016 – Raid on Ogoni community by Nigerian military forces in Yeghe, leading to nearly 30 casualties amongst the Ogoni

11 July 2016 – Reports emerge that the Nigerian government has reneged on its promise to clean up Ogoni land.



1 July 2016 – MOSOP stage peaceful protest against plans for further oil exploitation in the Niger Delta, despite the Nigerian government commitments.

12 May 2016 – Reports of killings in an attempt to thwart the UN Environment Programme in the region, by presenting it as an unstable environment ripe for further delays

11 March 2016 – After the military had increased its presence in Ogoniland, the Nigerian Senate opens an investigation into this development. According to Ogoni leaders, some 12 people have been killed and several others have had to flee their homes to avoid reprisals from soldiers.

9 December 2015 – Shell agrees another landmark $15 million compensation in a Dutch court relating to their aid of human rights abuses in the 1990s and recent oil spills.  

6 November 2015 – Nigerian authorities seize memorial to executed former leader of the MOSOP Ken Saro-Wiwa, in an attempt to stop anniversary commemoration of his death. This commemoration would remain a key event in Ogoni society every year.

April 2015 – Arrival of the All Progressives Congress to power under President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, replacing Goodluck Jonathan, with promises to reform electoral processes and tackling the oil extraction problem.  Buhari would later renege on many of his promises for reform in Ogoniland, particularly relating to oil exploitation.

30 March 2015 – Political activists arrested ahead of elections in Ogoniland. MOSOP calls for their release and fair representation of their people in the upcoming elections.

12 November 2014 – Calls to boycott next regional election unless greater representation is secured for the Ogoni minority in the River State parliament.

5 July 2013 – MOSOP calls for greater representation in regional parliament and that the next governor of the state in 2015 must come from Ogoniland.

19 October 2011 – US Supreme Court accepts to rule over Shell oil spill case in Ogoniland.  

4 August 2011 – Preparing itself for further condemnation following the imminent release of a UNEP report on oil pollution in Ogoniland, Royal Dutch Shell admits liability for damage caused through oil spills in 2008 and 2009., Shell agrees to an initial commitment to clean up of pollution in the region. The UNEP report would vindicate Ogoni resistance to oil exploitation, showing that their water had been contaminated, the levels of air pollution were too high and in some land there was up to five feet of soil dead. It would provide the political pressure for the Nigerian government to start a clean-up of Ogoniland region’s water and soil resources.



09 June 2009 – The court case Saro-Wiwa versus Shell reaches a $15.5 million dollars out-of-court settlement. The case alleged that Shell was complicit in murder, torture and other abuses by Nigeria's former military government against campaigners in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

03 December 2008 – Soldiers sack Ogoni community of 10.000, killing two and injuring many others.

14 February 2008 – Reports of Shell continuing to harass Ogoni tribes in a revival of previous tensions. Infrastructure is reportedly so out-of-date that oil spills are still a regular occurrence.

20 April 2007 – UNPO President Ledum Mitee speaks out against wasted oil resources, calling for oil revenues to be redirected to local communities so as to provide basics, like water and electricity, which they desperately need.

April 2007 – After the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) begins its recommendation, the Nigerian government starts its first attempt at massive clean-up operation in the Niger Delta. Reports suggest that the Ogoni are satisfied with the plans for the first phase of the clean-up , but would later grow frustrated with delays, with the cleanup only starting in 2009.

November 2005 – In a breakthrough for environmental and human rights activists, the Nigerian federal high court judge rules that gas flaring in the Niger Delta violates the rights to life, health and dignity of the region's residents

1 June 2005 – MOSOP calls for “honest, sincere, transparent” talks as negotiations begin with Nigerian Federal Government over ending state violence in Ogoniland, a series of clean-up measures and fair representation at Nigerian federal level.

26 February 2001 – Beginning of the Oputa Human Rights Investigation Panel hearings in Port Harcourt, where MOSOP has called for the Nigerian military to accept responsibility for the grave human rights violations. Senior officers of the Nigerian army denied any wrongdoing in this court set up specifically to tackle the human rights abuses and seek reconciliation between communities in the Ogoniland.

24 May 1999 – The family of Ken Saro-Wiwa seeks millions of pounds in damages from Shell in a US lawsuit alleging that human rights violations perpetrated by the Abacha government were partly the responsibility of the oil company. They would later reach a multimillion dollar settlement.

27 May 1999 – Incoming Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is called to repeal repressive military decrees, the release of the bodies of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists hanged in 1995, and the initiation of a transparent process to draft a new constitution. These requests would largely be ignored as Obasanjo would create a new state-owned oil company to operate in the Niger Delta, seeing the Ogoni as a hindrance to development.

10 September 1998 – Release of twenty Ogoni environmental activists who had been imprisoned for over four years. "The release of the Ogoni 20 after years of torture and brutal mistreatment is long overdue and we welcome it," said Executive Director of the African Fund Jennifer Davis. "The releases are a significant victory for MOSOP, which led the campaign for the release of the 20, and for the Nigerian democracy movement as a whole. It shows that pressure works."

4 January 1998 – Government soldiers raid several Ogoni villages and detain about 50 people. Ogoni had been demonstrating against the ruling military dictatorship and the presence of Shell Oil.

 11 August 1997 – Twenty Ogoni political prisoners on hunger strike, protesting the conditions of their imprisonment and internment without trial. The prisoners allege torture, denial of medical care, starvation, and poor sanitary conditions are part of their punishment. All are reportedly in poor health.

May 1996 – Shell negotiations with MOSOP over land and pollution clean-up fail after the multinational maintains that in exchange it would re-demand access to the oil reserves in the area.

10 April 1996  – A United Nations mission to Nigeria investigates the execution of the Ogoni Nine and asks authorities to respond to allegations of intimidation and arrests targeting the Ogoni. The United Nations Refugee Agency states that about 1,000 Ogoni had fled to Benin since the November 1995 executions.

15 November 1995 – Shell announces it will continue operations in Ogoniland, despite previous denial of any operations being present.

10 November 1995 Execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa amidst mass repression from Nigerian government in the region. International community responds by suspending aid measures and Nigeria is suspended from Commonwealth of Nations.

31 July 1995 – Saro-Wiwa trial commences amidst indiscriminate killings reported in Ogoniland.  In July a tribunal in Port Harcourt would sentence to death Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni, a group that would later be called the “Ogoni Nine”. The fact that it was an exceptional military tribunal with little Ogoni representation and procedural guidelines meant it was widely perceived as a sham trial. Human rights groups would condemn the action.

March 1995 – Shell dismisses claims of environmental destruction. According to independent records, between 1982 to 1992 alone, 1,626,000 gallons of oil were spilt from during Shell’s operations in Nigeria. Reports emerge of the company’s involvement in communal conflicts, actively fuelling ethnic tensions through bribery.

22 May 1994 – Having been previously subject to house arrest and constant political pressure, Saro-Wiwa re-arrested by armed forces with at least 8 other Ogoni. Their detention would attract particular condemnation as there was little evidence of guilt, no access to a lawyer or a fair trial, and the prisoners were not allowed family visits. Later evidence would suggest that the Ogoni Nine were framed for the murder of 4 Ogoni.

4 January 1994 – After mass protests by the Ogoni, the leaders of the MOSOP are released.

28 December 1993 – Two Ogoni leaders arrested and Ogoni Assembly arrested as military government commences crackdown on Ogoni civil society.

17 November 1993 – After a short-lived democratic interlude under Babangida, Nigeria falls once again under military control. General Sani Abacha announces dissolution of many state institutions. This would result in a consistent repression campaign against the Ogoni, with internment without trial and military force commonplace. Ogoni land would be declared a “military zone”.  

31 August 1993 – Negotiations between MOSOP and Babangida’s Interim Government, the first time the Nigerian government recognises MOSOP as the official representation of the Ogoni people.



21 June 1993 – Saro-Wiwa and other members of MOSOP are arrested. Beatings and arrests of other Ogoni are also reported amidst widespread protest.

4 January 1993 – A further 300.000 Ogoni protest the activities of Shell Oil in light of environmental degradation of Ogoniland. Shell would suspend their operations in Ogoniland for a short period of time as a result. The leader of the protest is author, playwright and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa would go on to be Vice-President of the UNPO from 1993 until his death.  

1992  – Ogoni issue ultimatum to Shell with five key demands. What followed almost immediately after was a series of peaceful mass protests reaching the hundreds of thousands, the first of which would leave such a lasting impression on Ogoni civil society that its day would be the official Ogoni Day. 

1990 – Foundation of MOSOP and declaration of the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which outlines the political demands of the Ogoni people: an autonomous region where Ogoni may have their own laws and the right to control a fair proportion of the resources available and allocate them as they so wish. MOSOP would be the key actor, under the leadership of Ken Saro-Wiwa, to propose these political demands to the government and the multinationals in the region.

1967-1970 – Getting caught up in a war they had little stake in, as many as 30.000 Ogoni people get killed in the Biafra Civil War that resulted in the death of about 2 million Nigerians in total.

1966 – After just three years of a highly complex internal crisis and military coups and counter-coups, the formation of the Federal Military Government is proclaimed.

1 October 1960 – Nigeria gains independence, marking the end of Ibo-dominated colonial institutions

1958 – First Operations of Shell Oil in Ogoniland.