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25 years after: Ogoni still in pains over Saro-Wiwa, 8 others

It is 25 years that nine Ogoni indigenes in Rivers State were killed by hanging. The act, which was under the administration of the late Gen. Sani Abacha, brought Nigeria into international disrepute. EMMANUEL MASHA, in Port Harcourt, reports that the situation that led to the death of the Ogoni Nine are still there, even as Ogoni sons and daughters insist that government must exonerate Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others killed with him

It’s exactly 25 years since environmental right activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were gruesomely executed by the Nigerian state over their quest for a better deal for Ogoni in the exploration and management of their God-given resource- oil.

In a country where people forget easily; where the state gets away with blue murder; where the call for justice dies down after the state gets into denial and threat mode often activated, the execution of the “Ogoni Nine” has somewhat defied the norm.

The Nigerian government hanged Saro-Wiwa and the others on November 10, 1995, despite the intervention by the international community. It was the speed with which the Nigerian government hanged them despite appeals that forced the Commonwealth to suspend Nigeria from its fold.

There was also a global condemnation of Shell for aiding the execution. Their execution, rather than uphold the overwhelming influence of “Big Oil” which is strongly protected by the state, forced the cessation of oil exploration in Ogoniland.

Sources claim the Federal Government is eager to see the return of oil exploration to boost oil revenue. They also link this claim to the presence of security forces in the area to check anticipated resistance to the move.

In recent years, a handful of Ogoni activists have raised the alarm over “the militarization of Ogoni.” Still, the majority of Ogoni are opposed to the return of oil exploration without a kind of agreement with the authorities. What is obvious in the last few years is that some Indigenous oil companies, which activists claim are fronting for some influential individuals, who made their fortunes while in government, have been lobbying to start oil exploration.

In 1990, five years before the execution of the “Ogoni Nine” Saro-Wiwa, who is credited to have written the Ogoni Bill of Rights, outlined the grievances of the Ogoni in that document regarding the adverse environmental and social consequences of oil production in Ogoniland. Aside the demands of the Ogoni Bill of Right, the current crop of Ogoni activists want the Federal Government to exonerate Saro-Wiwa and eight others, environmental justice and a development blueprint and its implementation in Ogoniland. A trip to some Ogoni communities would force one to cry due to the extent of their devastation.

With the high level of poverty caused by the deliberate death and destruction of traditional means of livelihood via oil exploration, and the resultant health challenges (mostly breathing problems), one can fairly conclude that Ogoni are endangered species.

In some communities, where the residents have fished and farmed for ages, the waters have been polluted alongside the land. That very situation, according to Ogoni, has dragged the area and its people decades behind.

It was the very conditions that forced Saro-Wiwa and others to stand up to the devastation and poverty that oil exploration causes in a developing country like Nigeria. Some Ogoni don’t mince word in concluding that the state deliberately failed them, arguing that the state has done very little or nothing for them despite the ongoing Clean-Up exercise in the area.

In fact, the reality on ground in Ogoni- in terms of diminishing means of livelihood as both farmers and fishermen struggle to remain in business; according to one observer, “shows that Ogoni have been used and abandoned.”

That is why the succeeding set of Ogoni activists have called for the exoneration of Saro-Wiwa and eight others from the criminal charges that the military regime of late Gen. Sanni Abacha used in hanging them. About a decade ago, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP recommending the clean-up of Ogoni communities.

That was why the Federal Government set up the Hydrocarbon Remediation Project (HYPREP) to oversee the clean-up exercise. But years after it commenced operation, the pace of work remains discouraging amid allegations of fraudulent practices in the award of contracts. Also, Ogoni continue to lament the inability of the cleaning agency to provide potable drinking water in polluted communities that lack drinking water.

For Gbenemene Kpae, who heads a committee that is planning the 25th memorial in honour of the “Ogoni Nine” Ogoni have been waiting for the Federal Government to make its impact felt in the area. Kpae, who spoke at a radio station based in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital said: “Since after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni leaders, there hasn’t been anything that has changed for the Ogoni people. “The Ogoni people have continued to suffer; they have not received any kind of justice from the Nigerian government.

All we have received in Ogoni is the building of a prison yard, as well as a cemetery.” “The place that was commissioned by the former Minister for Environment, Amina Mohammed. It was supposed to be a research centre on environment; it was formerly a land established for schoolto- land, which is supposed to be a place whereby food was supposed to be planted for people to eat in Ogoni as well as Rivers State. That place has been the place where the Federal Government now is building a prison yard as well as a cemetery.

“So, all that the Ogoni people have received for the 25 years since the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni eight is nothing but a prison yard, as well as a cemetery,” Mr Kpae said. Another activist, Gani Topba, the convener of the Conscience of the Ogoni People, who was in the studio with Kpae, called on the Nigerian State to exonerate Saro-Wiwa and others. “As of today, we have written several letters to the attorney general; we have gotten several assurances.

As of today, the Appeal Court also agreed that he was killed wrongly. We are in the Supreme Court, as of today. “I think today, what we should focus on is how to mobilise Ogoni people and the world to be on the Federal Government of Nigeria to do the right thing for Ken Saro- Wiwa.”

At an event held in Bori, the traditional headquarters of the Ogoni, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) called on the Nigerian government to put mechanism in place to address the injustice confronting Ogoni. MOSOP president, Fegalo Nsuke,noted that Ogoni was in dire need of developmental initiative that should be spearheaded by the Federal Government to address the poverty and under development confronting the Ogoni. Nsuke said it was also important to clear the names of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others to build good will and facilitate the resolution of the problem between the Ogoni people and the Federal Government.

Nsuke said that the cleanup of Ogoni communities alone cannot drive development in Ogoniland, noting that the rising number of unemployed youths should be addressed through planned economic initiatives that cannot thrive without the support of the Federal Government. Nsuke said it was important to move the Ogoni struggle in the direction that is good for the Ogoni people and continuously push for the development of the ancient kingdom.

“We are using this opportunity of the 25th anniversary of the executive murder of Ken Saro Wiwa and other Ogoni eight to call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to exonerate these Ogoni frontliners from the alleged murderous crime falsely leveled against them by the government of the time. “That was a military regime. We know very well that that rash decision wouldn’t have been taken if Nigeria was in a democracy at the time.

That is why we are now calling on President Mohammadu Buhari to use his good office as a democratic President to exonerate these illustrious sons of Ogoni from whatever crime that were wrongly leveled against them”. Fegalo used the occasion to inform the Ogoni people that his administration had resolved to work hard for the setting up of an Ogoni Development Authority, ODA, that would be directed towards the development of the Kingdom.

“We are presently mounting pressure on the Exco to conclude the necessary arrangement for the establishment of the Ogoni Development Authority. When it comes on board, even the oil operating companies would be demanded to contribute a stipulated percentage of their over all profit to the Authority”, he said. MOSOP also urged the Ogoni people to support the initiatives of the current MOSOP to drive development to the area.

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