By Fegalo Nsuke
In close to 28 years, the people of Ogoni have consistently asked Nigeria of one thing – basic rights and freedom. In response, the Nigerian authorities, with the funding of Shell Petroleum Company, have sponsored military operations that have led to the death of over 4,000 Ogonis. The most agonizing episode was how gleefully they executed nine of our leaders in November 1995. Shell and Nigeria would definitely wish no one talk about these murders but the fact remains that the 1995 hangings are a permanent stain on our country’s human rights records and our claim to civilization.
One would expect that in the current dispensation, with a civilian regime in place, efforts would have been made to forestall a re-ccurrence by expelling Shell from Nigeria and addressing the demands of the Ogoni people particularly the demand for political rights to self determination.
Shell had operated in Ogoniland since 1958, taking away oil worth over $81billion (United States Dollars) and leaving the host communities in utter neglect, extremely polluting the environment and desolating the entire Ogoniland. The consequences had been the massive deaths currently experienced in all parts of Ogoniland.
The experience of the Ogoni people and the failure of the Nigerian government to address our peaceful demands for human rights has signaled our country’s degeneracy.
It behoves on us to speak strongly against the ill-treatment of the Ogoni people in Nigeria. As Ken Saro-Wiwa would put it: SILENCE WOULD BE TREASON. A situation where the resources of the Ogoni have been shared among Nigeria largely unproductive states, used to build large cities in Nigeria as well as state structures including our mighty army while the future of the Ogoni from where the resources come remain very bleak with the denial of basic rights including the rights to a safe environment and self determination.
It would be treason not to tell Nigerian leaders that our country must stop encouraging third parties like Shell in Ogoniland and put an end to the dehumanization of our people.
The over 4,000 persons killed in Ogoni between 1993 and 1999 due to state sponsored repression funded by Shell is sufficient reasons not to ever allow Shell in Ogoniland again. These deaths represent 4,000 reasons not to renew Shell’s license in Ogoniland. It also re-affirms the position of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) that oil mining cannot resume in Ogoni at this time.
Our country’s managers need to be told that the demands of the Ogoni people on Nigeria is in line with the ideals of our founding fathers, they are legitimate and justifiable demands. The Ogoni people have through the OGONI BILL OF RIGHTS demanded for freedom in our country that as a distinct ethnic group, with enormous economic powers greater than those of 20 Nigerian states put together, the Ogoni people should be allowed to function within our country as Ogoni people with political rights to SELF DETERMINATION.
The OGONI BILL OF RIGHTS is very clear on this when it states:
We make the above demand in the knowledge that it does not deny any other ethnic group in the Nigerian Federation of their rights and that it can only conduce to peace, justice and fairplay and hence stability and progress in the Nigerian nation.
We make the demand in the belief that, as Obafemi Awolowo has written: In a true federation, each ethnic group no matter how small, is entitled to the same treatment as any other ethnic group, no matter how large.
We demand these rights as equal members of the Nigerian Federation who contribute and have contributed to the growth of the Federation and have a right to expect full returns from that Federation.
Unfortunately, all that Ogoni has gotten from Shell and Nigeria is death. Death from pollution of over 60 years. Death from the mindless exploitation of our oil resources without any concern for our rights, freedom and environment.
Freedom is all we desire and ask of Nigeria. Freedom from oppressive Nigeria. Freedom in our own country. And until Nigeria recognizes our rights to self determination in a democratic Nigeria, we shall not stop and we will never give up.
In 1995 the Nigerian authorities hanged our leaders because they led our struggle for basic rights to be free. They demanded that the Ogoni people must function within Nigeria as a distinct ethnic group which they are and as a major contributor to the Nigerian economy, having contributed over $81billion worth of oil revenue between 1958 and 1993 our leaders demanded the right to self determination to allow the Ogoni people control their own future within Nigeria.
Rather than address these legitimate and justifiable demands, over 4,000 Ogonis we’re killed by Nigerian soldiers with the endorsement and sponsorship of Shell Petroleum Nigeria, a subsidiary of Shell International.
Some of them were tortured to death while many were killed with guns that were bought with money from Ogoni oil. The weapons that were meant to defend our people were used against us because we demanded basic rights using non-violent means.
Our own country, whom we have stood for, defended in every way, contributed our God-given resources to build and sacrificed everything to unite including an estimated 30,000 Ogoni lives that were lost during the civil war of 1967 have turned an albatross of some sort, a source of our misery whose army is set against us each time we rise to assert our fundamental rights.
Our desire for a just and fair system that assure every child, youth and adult of a bright future and comes with an assurance of a better tomorrow had become a curse.
Nigeria wouldn’t want us to speak of our freedom, they would rather have us accept the current discriminatory arrangement where our resources are taken away and shared among her various states created by military fiat to appease and compensate friends. They want us to be comfortable with the present oppressive and discriminatory Nigeria that has destroyed our land, taking away billions of dollars worth of oil and leaving us in a polluted environment.
Nigeria does not want us to sing the song of freedom but we are the people to whom God has given the ultimate power and we shall not rest until we sing a new song. We shall not rest until we are truly free in our own country.
There shall be no rest until the wishes of Hon. T.N Paul Birabi come to be and until we celebrate the hopes and dreams of Ken Saro-Wiwa when he wrote:
Dance your anger and your joys
Dance the military guns to silence
Dance their dumb laws to the dump
Dance oppression and injustice to death
Dance the end of Shell’s ecological war of 30 years
Dance my people for we have seen tomorrow
And there is an Ogoni Star in the sky
Indeed, I have reason to dance today because I am strong and confident that freedom for the Ogoni people within a democratic Nigeria is near. And I am sure that the oppressors cannot stop us and we will certainly sing a new song.
Fegalo Nsuke is the Publicity Secretary of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. He wrote from Port Harcourt,, Nigeria.