(Being Speech Presented on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the hanging of the Ogoni 9 on the 10 November 2010)
|Activists At The Anniversary|
Dear Comrades and friends,
On behalf of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Ogoni people at home and in the Diaspora, we welcome you to this special but heart breaking event. The Ogoni people highly appreciate and value the time that you have caved out of your busy activities to be with us today. In the Ogoni culture, true friends are measured by the level of emotions and support shown at marriage ceremonies, the birth of children and during mourning period. But of these three instances, the sympathy and support given to mourners is valued the most.
We, the Ogoni ethnic nationality had been in a state of protracted mourning since the 10th of November 1995 over the brutal killing of 9 Ogoni leaders and activists – fifteen years after it is still one of world’s cruelest political murders, Ogoni people are yet to come to terms with the barbaric and callous act. Fifteen years after, the 10th November every year places heavy weight, sense of depression, confusion and sadness in the heart of every Ogoni person in the world.
As we commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, Daniel Gboko, Nordu Eewo, Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuateh, Paul Levura, Baribom Bera and John Kpuinee, we are forced to retrospect, and to make one resounding statement – the Ogoni ethnic nationality continue to be a victim of the machineries of colonial powers, internal domination, exploitation, political subjugation and economic strangulation.
Perhaps, it is important to refresh your minds that the Ogoni 9 were killed because the Ogoni people wanted to, and still desires to establish its identity as a distinct ethnic group within Nigeria. Ogoni people also desire to correct their gross disempowerment within the complex cluster of tribes and mere geographical expression called Nigeria – the only place in the world where political cannibalism is a system of government. It may surprise you to hear that approximately 90% of Nigerians including national office holders were ignorant of Ogoniland despite her enormous contribution to the Nigerian revenue pot.
Until Ken Saro-Wiwa started the agitation for Nigerian constitution to acknowledge the ethnic composition of the country, and the recognition of the vulnerability and special needs of minorities like the Ogonis; many Nigerians did not know that a tribe called Ogoni existed within the country. This could be dismissed with the wave of the hand as one of those “accidents” in history. But when one gauge this against the fact that Ogoni is one of the places were oil was first drilled in commercial quantity in Nigeria, gauged also against the backdrop that Ogoni has produced a total of 900 million barrels of crude oil as at the time of the agitation, and bearing in mind that Shell and the Nigerian economy raked in an estimated $100 billion from their exploitation of the area, yet, Ogoni was hardly known within Nigeria as at 1993.
The Ogoni people are yet to know of any academic loftiness, moral persuasion and political theory that can satisfactorily explain why and how they could not be captured on the Nigerian socio-political radarscope despite the significant contribution of the Ogoni tribe to the country’s economy. The Ogoni people cannot make any other deduction from the foregoing other than the fact that there was a careful manipulation to keep the Ogoni identity obscured within Nigeria and from the face of human history, an ingenuous political scheme that run on the wheels of internal domination exploiting the numerical weakness of the Ogoni tribe.
Having succeeded relegated Ogoni to the base; successive administrations proceeded to exclude the Ogoni territory from benefitting from infrastructural developments and other projects. Ogoni towns and villages is the best example of the paradox of plenty and a perfect illustration of a people living by the bank of the river yet unable to wash their hands – because they are barred.
Friends and Comrades, permit me to paint the picture of the backwardness of the Ogoni people by comparing the states of infrastructural development in Ogoni and Khayelitsha - one of the poorest settlements in South Africa. Khayelitsha has sports centers and stadiums; Ogoni does not. There are well equipped libraries in Khayelitsha, the Ogoni has none until this year (2010) when Mr. Befii Charles Nwileh an Ogoni son in the Rivers state House of Assembly devoted his constituency project allowance to build one, which will hopefully serve some 200 villages – now completed but there are no books in it. The people of Khayelitsha have thousands of houses built by the government for the poor - substandard even by the standard of South Africa’s poor and working class, but there is no such housing project anywhere in Ogoniland. If a fraction of the houses that has been built in Khayelitsha was built in Ogoniland, the Ogoni people would have not been agitated as much as they have been. The worse hospital in Khayelitsha is better than the “best” of Ogoni’s – there is no hospital in Ogoni if compared to Khayelitsha. To the people of Khayelitsha, electricity and pipe born water is a necessity, in Ogoni, those are luxuries. There is no shopping mall in any where in Ogoni.
Also permit me to reflect a little bit on the broad situation in Nigeria. The country celebrated her 50th mortgaged and flag independence from British colonialism this year. Unfortunately, the Nigerian independence – the most populated black nation on earth holds true only on paper. Nigeria bask in an illusion of being the giant of the continent whereas its roads are death traps, it hospitals are but cemeteries, none of the over 200 universities, colleges and polytechnics can match the facilities of secondary schools in developed societies. An average of three quarters of the last two decades of Nigerian academic life was spent by lecturers, teachers and students at home because of strikes over appalling working conditions. It is no longer news that Nigeria cannot provide electricity for itself – but what may be news to you is that even the country’s presidency depends on generator for power. Fifty years of Nigerian nationhood had taken a third of African peoples on a journey of disaster and rendered them completely hopeless. It does not make mathematical sense that Nigeria is indebted up to the tune of $30 billion despite making over $400 billion from the sales of crude oil as a nation.
Any person that does not understand the meaning of crime against humanity should look no further than what Nigerian leadership has done to its own peoples. The internal slavery in Nigeria is so cruel that the citizens continue to offer themselves voluntarily as third class citizens any where in the world. Nigerians are willing to accept imprisonment, they do not mind to be maligned and suffer all forms of prejudices as foreigners instead of them to return back to the Nigerian dungeon.
Saro-Wiwa feared for the future of the country and rightly stated that Nigeria will not exist for a day longer when oil of the Ogoni and other minorities run out. He deployed his intellectual arsenal to mobilize the Ogoni people in order to challenge their oppressors. The political epiphany of the Ogoni group gave birth to a mass movement that alarmed over how much the Nigerian body politics and its structures, irrespective of who or what type of government in power has failed the Ogoni people. The Ogoni people believe that the least that the country can do is to acknowledge that the Nigerian nation-state is not original because it stemmed from British imperial hegemony, and that the forced nationhood has proven to be ineffective and inefficacious in addressing the fundamental human rights and the needs of the majority of the country’s population, the minority groups in general but the Ogoni most severely.
The Ogoni people also stated in their Bill of Rights that the peoples and tribes that negotiated the country’s independence had betrayed the tenets of true federalism, which is the only system of governance that befits Nigeria. The Ogoni people believes in the ethnicity and nationalities of each individual peoples irrespective of size and there should be no special regard or undue advantages for some other tribes to have the prerogatives of state instruments and apparatus for the enslavement of others.
The Ogoni people have enough reasons to justify that the nation of Nigeria is an imperialist and conquistador agenda set out for the exploitation of the abundant natural resources. Nigerian nation system is tantamount to the formation a cult of aristocrats, which explains why kleptocracy is the main factor that defines governance in Nigeria. In fighting for minority recognition, ecological protection, economic and political empowerment, the Ogoni positioned itself against systemic and endemic corruption that flourishes within the ambit of ethnic chauvinism and super imposition of the hegemony of the bigger tribes upon the weak and small groups.
It is the norm rather than the exception that the bigger tribes and their allies monopolizes military and political positions in order to usurp and control natural resources deposited at the backyards of the minorities. Nigerian majority groups has evolved the dubious apt of creating unviable states that depend entirely on the extortion of proceeds from the sales of oil mined from the soil of the weak and small groups. By so doing, the Ogoni people consigned to a few and an insignificant number of local government areas are milked to death so that the seventeen northern states will survive. The bigger ethnic groups continue to commit bare face theft and robbery as they arrogate to themselves an automatic power to decide how the oil wealth would be shared. When it comes to the oil in Ogoni, the age long aphorism of “he who has the piper dictates the tune” does not apply, if any thing, the opposite is the case.
The Ogoni people seek to know why a federation should be operated in a unitary manner when the pre-colonial era was not. The pseudo federalism of Nigeria gives the central authority excessive power; it goes without saying that the absolute nature of the power bestowed upon Nigerian central government is the precursor of its horsewhip and sledge hammers to either flog Ogoni into line or be crutched to dust. The Nigerian nation-state creates an imbalance that favors the majority tribes, entrenches it and place in their hands weapons to steal what belongs to the minorities. The Ogoni people are saying that each individual ethnic components of Nigeria should be allowed to acquire some form of autonomy that allows each to be productive, and to use its products to address the needs of its own while contributing proportionately to a central purse.
But on the contrary, the Nigerian aristocracy and those that benefits from the spoils it provides wish that the quagmire and paradox of autarky should continue. They are afraid because they know the implication of the demise of Nigerian aristocracy. They cannot stand the fact that their presumed slaves will be free and empowered. They are afraid of an end to the culture of oligarchy, opulence and an obstruction to their unchecked accessibility to petro-dollars.
To sum up the situation, the Ogoni struggle sprang up when the predatory system was most relaxed and assured of its conquest. The Ogoni people deserve the highest award imaginable because it brought under focus the following:
1) The perfidious operation of constitutional provisions to oppress the minorities,
2) Interrogated the ontology and dynamics of why British colonial authority grafted and consigned the Ogoni people into the hands of the bigger groups;
3) Exposed Nigerian aristocratic web and its slick alliance with the global imperial network;
4) Exposed the colossal disregard for local and indigenous communities by multinational companies; and
5) named and shamed Shell for stealing into Ogoni through the back door; yet, laying claim to stolen land, and the fact the company remain obsessed about its false claim and strong hold on the oil wells in Ogoni area tell the sick nature of capitalism.
As we remember Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others who were killed on November 10, 1995, it is vital to bring to the attention of our friends and comrades that the current Nigerian political dispensation is no different from the military. Civilian governments in Nigeria remain the progenies of the military, the country constitution a bequeathal from military, just as former military dictators and apologists have transformed to party politicians. We are reminding friends gathered here and elsewhere that the Ogoni and their neighbors in the Niger Delta are still at pain because of the Land Use Decree (now Land Use Act) and other related laws like the Petroleum Act facilitated by previous military regimes, and as long as these obnoxious laws are not repealed the Ogoni people shall remain as slaves within Nigeria.
In concluding, the Ogoni people draw the attention of our friends to two issues, firstly, the conspicuous exclusion of hundreds of Ogonis from the on-going resettlement and rehabilitation of former militants by the federal government. It is true that in the twenty-one years that the Ogoni people have prosecuted their struggle, Ogoni people have not resorted to the use of arms, the Ogoni people are shocked that while Ogoni activists that were persecuted and exiled on account of their non-violent resistance remain trapped in various refuge camps and living in dehumanizing conditions, the Nigerian government is spending millions of dollars to provide education to former militants in South Africa and other countries of the world.
We use this platform to call on the Nigerian government to immediately develop a scheme that will provide scholarships for the over 800 Ogonis trapped in refugee camps in West Africa to study in universities and colleges in South Africa and other countries. This much we have raised in a discussion document delivered through Professor Wole Soyinka to the Nigerian president but we are yet to receive a response.
Secondly, a section of Ogoni activists, politicians, business people, academics, chiefs and religious leaders is demanding for a state from the Nigerian Senate. They have demanded the government to create a state for the Ogoni ethnic nationality and some of their neighbors. The Ogoni Solidarity Forum has expressed elsewhere to the Ogoni people that it does not believe that just a state within Nigeria will correct the imbalances and the economic and environmental injustices perpetrated against the Ogoni people.
We have however followed the agitation for a state for the Ogoni people and their neighbors with keen interest. We therefore use the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the hanging of the Ogoni 9 to place on record for our friends and the international community to observe and witness how the Ogoni people will be denied even the barest minimal demand – the Ogoni have to labour for this minimal demand that had repeatedly fallen on the laps of other tribes with an unfathomable ease.
Finally, the least you can do here today is to sign a petition addressed to the Nigerian president through the office of the Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa.
Yours in the struggle,