Barrister Ledum Mitee, one of the earliest activists who fought for the survival of the Ogoni people of Rivers state, on Thursday gave details of the struggle and how him and Ken Saro Wiwa were incarcerated by the federal military government headed then by late General Sani Abacha.
Mitee, who was invited by Rex Anighoro, an activist and a special assistant to Delta state Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, to Asaba, gave step by step details on how the struggle started, how it grew and how the federal government under the military junta harassed and intimidated them and finally hounded them to prison from where Saro Wiwa and nine others were hanged in 1995.
Mitee told the crowd that gathered at the Delta government press centre that he spent 27 years in the struggle for the survival of the Ogoni people. He said in the 27 years of the struggle, he discovered that there are invisible minorities spread across the Niger Delta who needed people to fight for them to get justice.
He said for peace to reign in the Niger Delta, there must be justice, adding that there cannot be peace without justice.
He said when the federal government says there is peace in the Niger Delta, it is deceptive, noting that the peace being referred to is the opportunity to tap oil without hindrance from the Niger Delta youths but not that the needs of the people have been met.
He said the oil companies do not actually care for the people but they are interested in the profit they could maximise from the oil wealth in the volatile region.
And to get the attention of government, they decided to build a movement that will not have political influence, hence they came up with Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People(MOSOP).
He said the objective was to be non-violent, noting that the formation was to expose the violence in the system. He said at the beginning, no one believed the movement would survive.
Mitee said in 1993, through their collective effort, people began to see the seriousness in the movement and it began to get the attention of the military government.
As the movement began gathering momentum, government began to feel the impact, hence government saw the need to bring them to order.
He said on September 3, 1993, him and Ken Saro Wiwa were picked up with a special plane ordered by Sani Abacha with the information that they were wanted by Abacha.
Unlike the people of the present days, they were offered appointments as strategy to silence them but rather than accept the offer and drop the movement, Mitee said Saro Wiwa told the meesengers from Abacha that what they wanted was not for themselves but for their people.
However, he said they were told that ‘in this country, nobody looks for what their people want but what individuals want. If everybody looks for what their people, it will be impossible to meet all the demands.’
Their rejection, according to him, became the beginning of their trouble. He said in the enusing crisis, over 2000 people of Ogoni extraction were killed, beyond the Ogoni nine that were hanged by Abacha’s military men in November 1995.
He said over 100,000 were rendered homeless while so many villages were destoyed by the government.
“We were later arrested and hounded to detention. We only had places to squat in the prison. I was a practicing lawyer. In the detention, you want to urinate, they will give you plastic plate to drop your urine. When they want people to throw away the urine, many of us struggle for it because it was the only opportunity to see outside and get fresh air.
“They wanted to break us but we refused to be broken. We were later taken to the tribunal but I was not found guilty. The whole idea was to intimidate other Niger Delta people so that they will not do as the Ogonis because they will give them the treatment given to the Ogonis,” Mitee explained.