Ogoni: Time to Real Reconciliation
Whichever way history may treat the Ogoni non-violence struggle, spear headed by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) against environmental pollution by the multi-national oil companies and the Nigerian state, it will be viewed from two broad perspectives of successes and failures.
It was a monumental tragedy that the Ogoni peaceful revolution had to consume a great number of its shinning lights and motivators. Four Ogoni leaders of thought were murdered in a mob action on May 21, 1994 in the cause of the non-violent struggle. In retaliation, the Abacha bloody thirsty dictatorship regime in a brutish display of power rounded up 10 Ogoni environmental rights activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa and hanged nine of them after a show trial on trumped charges of murder on November 10, 1995.
By that ignoble-action Nigeria became a laughing stock before the rest of the civilised world. The success story however, is the fact that the Ogoni nation was the first community to sensitise and draw the international community's attention to the level of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, caused by the multi-national oil companies and an unfeeling government.
Early in June this year , the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation at a federal court in New York agreed to pay 15.5 million US dollars as an act of settlement out of court in a case in which Shell was accused of involvement in the hanging of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People leader and spokesman, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists.
For whatever it is worth, the Shell admittance of human rights abuses in Ogoni is a welcome development. It is a warning signal to the Nigerian state that the last word is yet to be heard about the violence visited on the Ogoni indigenous people peaceful movement for self determination.
Many views in articles and comments have been expressed about the New York out of court settlement. The article by Comfort Obi, publisher and Editor-in Chief of the Source Magazine in The Guardian newspaper of June 17, 2009 is particularly intriguing. Comfort Obi's view that the Ogoni four should not be left out in the distribution of the Shell pay, no doubt, made some sense, but the insinuations that Ken Saro-Wiwa utterances and actions led to the murder of the Ogoni four is just carrying emotionalism too far, to the extreme.
Said, Comfort Obi, "For the record, even though Saro-Wiwa popularised the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, he was not the founder of the organisation. It was founded by Ogoni elders, mainly academics and technocrats including the Ogoni four to protest the environmental degradation of Ogoni land. [..]
Comfort Obi is a great journalist by any standard in the Commonwealth. Perhaps, if she had taken a little pain to do some investigations she would have discovered that the idea to form MOSOP was conceived by Ken Saro-Wiwa; instead of relying on fibs told by aggrieved persons for self esteem, in time of vengeful mourning.
By 1990, with the drastic end of the Cold War, many Nigerians were getting convinced that the street wise mentality with which the military regime was managing state affairs would lead the country nowhere except contempt and self destruction under a free world economy, dominated by market forces.
Most fatal programmes were being conceived that perpetually distorted the political history of Nigeria. The military regime gradually and unduly increased the power of the central government by incapacitating the regions; states were created based on kins interest without any recognition for cultural or ethnic harmony; structural adjustment programmes were introduced, making it possible for a few urban elite to buy off state properties and take control of the nation's wealth, effortlessly.
Saro-Wiwa in consultation with other serious minded persons including experts drawn from a cross-section of the society met to consider what could be done. The formation of MOSOP was not something designed out of brain waves merely to attract the attention of those in authority. It was a concept carefully planned to reposition the nationality question and good governance in Africa after the Cold War. Ken was determined to make Ogoni a model of what a non-violence struggle when intellectually driven could be and he sold the idea to his Ogoni People; consultants were appointed and over 20 position papers commissioned and produced on the techniques of non-violence activities.
MOSOP struggle was purely a peaceful movement dedicated to the protection of Ogoni and the rest of Niger Delta environment. State agents scared of the possible repercussions of a genuine dialogue on the status quo, turned it into violence. It was not by accident that the Green Peace, a leading world environmental protection body was among the first international NGOs to identify with MOSOP by attending the Ogoni national day celebration on January 4, 1993, when 300,000 Ogoni people demonstrated against Shell's environmental poor records in Nigeria . The chronology of the Ogoni struggle and formation of MOSOP is a documented history, free of frivolities. Many of those involved are alive.
In the Ogoni Bill of Rights, what the Ogoni people demanded is the payment of rent and royalties of 20 per cent from over 30 billion dollars the oil companies had taken from Ogoni since 1958, when the first barrel of crude oil was exported out of Ogoni land.
The 15.5 million dollars hands out from Shell should not be allowed to create another round of conflicts in Ogoni nor should it be allowed to blunt the original aim of the struggle. The payout should serve as an opportunity to reconcile the families of both the Ogoni four and the Ogoni nine.