By Substance Nature
“In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger Delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41, ‘All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor’. Come the day.” – KEN SARO-WIWA, before execution, November 10, 1995
It is amazing how time flies and in that flight and suffocating dust seem to lie some hard nuts of history that garnish our daily struggles. In that struggle, the struggle to be and live meaningfully amidst man’s inhumanity to man, not a few have forgotten the past or chose to pretend it never existed. But that cannot be said of true patriots and custodians of the history that has shaped the destiny of this country called Nigeria.
When on July 9, 2015, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, renamed the Rivers State Polytechnic to Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic, to immortalize the renowned Niger Delta martyr, whose name is fondly abbreviated as Ken Saro-Wiwa, he was paying a long-delayed tribute and making an uncontroversial statement on the burning sands of time. The school, established by the Rivers State Government on 13 May, 1988 in the progressive military administrations of Anthony Ukpo and Captain Ernest Adeleye, who eventually performed the formal opening ceremony, is located in a village called Bori. Therefore thoughtful act of perpetuity by Gov. Wike was most honourable and referential to Ken who was born in this rustic village in Khana Local Government of Rivers State, Nigeria, where he expectedly grew up and become what he became. Wike certainly did not want to owe history!
Tuesday November 10, 2016 marked the 21st Anniversary of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, his execution having taken place on Tuesday November 10, 1995. Late Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed alongside eight other Ogoni sons at the wicked orders of the then Nigeria’s military Head of State and merciless dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, who himself sooner would die approximately two years later in circumstances that patriotism and modesty might spite whoever is wont to repeat the shameful open truth.
But who was Kenule Saro-Wiwa? Ken was a scholar, a writer, a journalist, an environmental and political activist who was ready to sacrifice his life for his people, for what he believed to be true and right, but which were consistently and deliberately denied by Nigeria’s chauvinistic rulers. He was a son of an Ogoni chieftain, Jim Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent campaign against the marginalization of the people and environmental degradation of the land, waters and air-space of the Niger Delta by the oil exploration activities of multinational petroleum industries, particularly the Royal Dutch Shell Company.
To be sure, Ken began his activism in the 1990s, devoting most of his time to human rights and environmental causes, especially as it affected the Ogoniland. This struggle must have necessitated the formation of MOSOP, to advocate for the rights of the Ogoni People. Their thoughts and manifesto were officially contained in what was called The Ogoni Bill of Rights. Some of their demands included – increase autonomy for the Ogoni People; a fair share of proceeds from oil; remediation of the oil-induced environmental damage. These demands and unconscionable neglect of the area pitched Ken against oil companies, especially Shell. Shell has been in the Niger Delta since 1956, with the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in Present-day Bayelsa State, and its commercialization in 1958.
On 21 May, 1994, four conservative Ogoni Chiefs who were against Saro-Wiwa’s ideolodies and activism were gruesomely murdered by a mob at Giokoo during a meeting and for that reason he was arrested and accused for incitement to the crime. Although he denied all the charges, he once again was imprisoned for a year, and subsequently, he and eight others were subsequently sentenced by the Ibrahim Auta-led Ogoni Civil Disturbances Tribunal set up be Abacha. Against all pleas by national and international leaders and human rights groups, Abacha was determined to do his will. John Mayor, Britain’s Prime Minister had described the trial as “fraudulent” and the conviction as “bad verdict”; Nelson Mandela encapsulated it as “heinous act”; and as such Nigeria was suspended for three years from the Commonwealth; with the USA, EU, and others meting out various sanctions.
Kenule Bornale Saro-Wiwa Jnr., Ken Saro-Wiwa’a first son, 47, a journalist and writer, who died on Tuesday 16 October, 2016, remembering his father’s 20th anniversary in 2015, prophetically lamented: “Between the disabling nature of his death and the enabling tests of time, one thought still sustains me: It is the old idea that the arc of the moral universe may be long, but it still bends towards justice”. But left to haunt Nigerians was the question Ken Snr. asked his executors just before he gave up the ghost: “Why are you people treating me like this? Which type of country is this?”
I can conclude that, two major reasons the Niger Delta region remains where it is today, upon the noise being made, are politics and insincerity of the elites. That is why, against his good intentions, the Ogoni Cleanup scheme by President Buhari may not go deeper than the callous skin of stereotypic politics.\
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Last Words
My Lord, we all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and a decent living, and determined to usher into this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.
I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.
On trial also is the Nigerian Nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do the weak and the disadvantaged what Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine.
We all stand on trial, my Lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our Country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.
I predict that the document of the riddle of the Niger Delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trail. Whether the peaceful ways I have favoured will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.
In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger Delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41, “All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.” Come the day.”