Nov 13, 2006

Statement by Ledum Mitee, On Ogoni Heroes’ Day, 10th November 2006

Ledum Mitee, UNPO President of the General Assembly, released a public statement on 10 November, to commemorate Ken Saro-Wiwa who was hanged November 1995 after an internationally condemned trial.


On this day for several years we have been commemorating the fall of the Ogoni 13 whose lives were lost in a struggle for justice against a harsh military government and the oil company, Shell, which we have accused of gross exploitation of our region.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chief Edward Kobani, Albert Badey, John Kpuinen, Barinem Kiobel, Chief S.N. Orage, Nordu Eawo, Chief T.B.Orage, Saturday Dobee, Daniel Gbokoo, Paul Levura, Baribor Bera , Felix Nuate and others were killed  in the struggle expounded in the Ogoni Bill of Rights which was almost ahead of its time in the issues which it raised.

It has been 16 years since the Ogoni Bill of Rights was signed and over 10 years since the execution of our heroes. A generation has grown up through this struggle and a child of 5 in 1990 would now be approaching his or her 21st birthday. It is this new generation which is expressing much of the anger felt in the Niger delta by years of peaceful advocacy being frustrated.

It is perhaps appropriate that in some ways the struggle for which we have stood has now matured and there are vital lessons to be remembered. While some see crisis all around, it is also important to realize that we may now, as a nation, be facing up to the brutal reality of the many years of exploitation in the Niger delta.

In the past 3 years the delta has fulfilled graphic predictions made by Ken Saro Wiwa before his execution when he predicted that the denouement of the Niger delta will soon come and whether the peaceful ways favoured by him and the Ogoni people will prevail depends on what signals the Nigerian government and Shell sent to the waiting public. Our assessment of recent efforts to stall conflict is that they will fail until fundamental issues are addressed. Worse still the current anger over ignored calls for change is running so deep that the prospect of greater conflict is real and immediate.

Whether called resource control, royalties, or derivation, we do not believe that the current situation in the Niger delta can be addressed until communities feel that they are getting a fair and direct share of oil revenues that are being taken from their land. This was one of the main planks of the Ogoni Bill of Rights (when it demanded “the right to the control and use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development”) and it is an issue which has been revisited several times without resolution since it was first raised.

A stake for communities in oil production should not be a cause for undue opposition at the national level. Communities and grassroots organizations in the Niger delta are not so intransigent as to demand crippling instant changes. We should also be open in acknowledging that there must be a dual responsibility for protecting funds from the sort of abuse we have seen at all levels of government.

For the nation what must now be weighed is the size of losses which are now accruing from ignoring the argument for giving local people a major stake in the best performance of the oil industry.

Government has regularly complained about the Billions of Dollars’ loss of revenue from the 500,000 barrels of oil per day which cannot be drawn from the western Niger delta. This calculation should be extended to the losses which have been suffered from increased military spending, security votes, bunkering and extra spending by companies charged to government during this crisis.

The gains which can be made for Nigeria as a whole for bringing a just end to the crisis in the Niger delta are massive. Just the issue of resuming 500,000 barrels of oil production comes to nothing less than $10 billion per year. However the investment in a fair share for communities in the Niger delta must be made to secure these gains.

It is no secret that there is no sense of loyalty to an oil industry which only takes from a local area and that those practicing bunkering, hostage taking, and other criminal abuses have in some cases ensured that there is some returns to local communities who see no other agency taking care of their interests.

Our message for politicians sizing themselves up for election is that if they truly believe in the development of Nigeria they need to take a clear stand before they reach office on the issue of communities stake in this oil industry. By doing so they could forestall the continuing slide into much deeper conflict.

Recent events in Ogoni compels me  to say a word about the renewed challenges from circumstances which must be familiar to those of us who were active in the period 1990 to 1995. MOSOP has in the publication, “Whither Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation?", distributed here and subsequently to every household in Ogoni, explained its position on the recently announced UNEP backed clean up initiative sponsored by Shell. It is however necessary for me to emphasize that MOSOP is not against any genuine clean up of the devastated Ogoni environment but do insist that such exercise must be genuine, transparent and done with full consultations to get the people’s confidence. You need to clear our hearts and minds to clean our lands.

As we remember the sacrifices of our heroes today, I must warn that our choice is stark. We face circumstances where some actors and Shell in particular would be happy to see our struggle divided and hopefully broken. There will be inducements and temptations and reminders of how long this struggle has been on.

Our choice is to find it in ourselves to learn from our past and find a united platform which will protect our interests collectively. Our past sadly reminds us that when it is sought to divide us, it is almost always easy to exploit our strong resentment against Shell and its practices to pitch us along the lines of those perceived to oppose or support Shell, support or oppose government or even so-called development. What should be clear is that any development or government or responsible oil exploitation that is people- centred will attract the overwhelming support of the Ogoni people.

We must never forget that there is a simple reason for companies and government preferring divided communities—it is cheaper for them. They know that united we stand to extract a far higher price for the rich resources which lie under our soil. The years of abuse we have seen have been nothing more than an effort to cheaply restore access to these riches. The urgency with which Shell and some government interests are treating re-entry into our area should also be taken as a sign of how much is at stake.

At this delicate time we must remember how we have been at our best moments – no person should be in haste to condemn his neighbour but instead we must take time to ensure that we can still stand together on the most critical issues. Where rumours spread wildly we should all take time to establish what is the truth and what is merely story sent around to divide our people.

And most importantly we must remember that our non-violent stance still has value and that is why our struggle continues to attract international recognition. Although the use of kidnapping and violence may have drawn attention to the Niger delta, but we must realise that it has opened space for legitimate grievances to be marginalised as criminal interests.

Our youths must remember that our heroes laid down their lives in a peaceful struggle for a better Ogoni. We must eschew violence, cultism and all sorts acts that would betray our heroes and assault their memory.  No provocation or temptation should lead us to violence against our fellow Ogonis or strangers amongst us.

Ogoni can, and should still stand at the forefront of this struggle and show that we have a simple issue of justice that can be resolved only by just and fair treatment of our people.

I would also commend to you that our heroes came together for a reason. They had a vision of an Ogoni which could gain enormously from a fundamentally changed relationship between our people, oil companies and government. This vision recognised the value of our land and the best hope for the future of our people.

I wish you well in the struggle and urge those of you who are elders to invest time with our younger ones, those who have strayed to consider what we might face if further divided, and equally any who harbour anger to consider the risks of venting anger without taking time to discuss.

Ledum Mitee

10 November 2006