Oct 30, 2001

Self-determination: A rural Ogoni woman's perspective

By Ada Wikina

Far from the city lights, unaware of the hustle and bustle of urban living, Lebia (real name withheld) is a typical rural Ogoni woman. Life in recent times is still a far cry from her expectations of achieving a semblance of freedom, rescue from poverty, self-actualisation and ultimately self-determination. The rhetoric's mass movements and rallies, hushed conversations, clandestine meetings, loss of life and property do not seem to have changed much, or availed any distinct shift in the old way of life. For her, life is still drudgery.

Morning for her begins long before the crack of dawn. She has to fetch water from far away streams to provide bath water for her husband and drinking water for the rest of her family. Walking up to 10kms for this is not an exercise of choice but of necessity. It is a way of life. The children as usual will have a bath in the stream when they go there to fulfil their own chores. She dares not oversleep or her daily routine will be messed up. After preparing a heavy breakfast for herself and her family she has to leave for her farm just as day breaks. She must put in a lot of work on the farm before the sun comes out. The tropical sun when it descends with its burning heat does not care that one got to the farm late. By midday she takes a break but has to resume work almost immediately. The soil does not seem to be yielding as much anymore. There has been a constant depreciation and degradation of the land. What ever happened to all the talk of fertilizers she wonders? Someone even said that "Shell" (all oil companies are called "Shell") would provide improved seedlings and stalks of cassava. This is supposed to increase the harvest and also reduce the gestation period. That sounds like the fairy tale, which it is. For now, she has to work extra hard to get as much as she got last season. She has her family to feed.

Her children are not doing much at school either. The old school buildings from before the Nigerian civil war are still dilapidated. In fact the roof of the school in the neighbouring village has remained on the playing field since it got blown off last rainy season. What is really going on then? What has changed? The oil company men no longer come around anymore. They made markets days interesting, for with them, farm produce could be sold for better prices. The flares from the flow stations do not light up the sky anymore or make those "whooshing" sounds. But then once in a while there is crude oil all over the place and the usual scramble to scoop up the liquid for sale. That sure brings in extra income. But the destruction to water and land is indescribable. When will all this end? Indeed where is it all leading to? Lebia does not know who is in charge anymore. There is talk of one group being against the other. That is all very confusing for her, but she knows that for anything meaningful to happen, there has to be effective leadership. She has no confidence in government. She does not even know who government is. There are names that are mentioned all the time but she doubts if there are any immediate plans under way to bring about self-determination. Whoever government is does not affect her life.

In the early days of the "struggle" there was effective communication. She could tell you what would happen at any given point in time. She knew the long-term plans and the immediate actions that need to be taken. But all that has changed. There is a need for information flow. Someone said that there are more voices protesting the marginalization of the Ogoni at different levels. More people are talking about the issues involved. That is good because it's good to talk things over. But she wished she could have a focal point instead of relying on "ba kor"(hearsay). It would be a great pity if after all that has happened she does not live to see the changes take place in Ogoniland. But for now life goes on. Her day is still very long. Her life is still one of hardship and hard work. She is still not sure of her future and her place in the general scheme of things. Her greatest worry is her children. The so-called oil wealth has not been available to her or even useful. She hopes it will not mean much worse for her children, even those yet unborn.

(Ada Wikina is originally from the Ken-Khana district of Ogoni. The majority of her family still resides in the predominantly farming region there)

(Ken Wiwa, son of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, a phenomenon in Nigeria and among his people, the Ogoni, is to release his first book "Son of a Saint" during October 2001).