Fegalo Nsuke, Bori
The Ogoni struggle for freedom in Nigeria is a struggle against discrimination, political deprivation as well as a deliberate economic squashing which has ultimately passed a death sentence on the Ogoni people.
It is a struggle against Shell’s irresponsible business practices which has left Ogoni, the most economically viable part of Nigeria, in ruins. The seas have been left without fishes, the water is no longer drinkable, the lands can no longer support families and the air is poisoned.
Over 25 years after Shell’s exit, Ogoniland still suffers the devastating consequences of oil pollution without any practical and genuine concern to address the fundamental issues affecting the Ogoni people and their environment, especially the demand for self determination which is a fundamental demand in the Ogoni Bill of Rights.
Shell and the government’s major concern in Ogoni is how to resume oil production in the area. They lie publicly about the cleanup programme and get so misguided with self deceits, ridiculously and ignominiously plotting to resume oil production before the cleanup of previous spills which has lasted for over 50 years.
Shell appears quite crazy about the Ogoni’s oil and the huge revenue derivable from the massive gas reserves but definitely not concerned about the current high death rate arising from its past reckless business practices in Ogoniland.
The chagrin is the inhumanity of our country, Nigeria, against the Ogoni people. All of the resources of the Ogoni people have been exploited for the benefit of the rest of Nigeria and nothing has been put back into Ogoni. Ogonis have been turned into slaves in their own country. This is the justification for our struggle and we desire to end the inhumanity of Shell and our government against our people. We truly desire to be free.
In protest against this injustice, the Ogoni people came together to launch the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1990. Led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, MOSOP challenged the injustice against the Ogoni and sought a redress.
In response, the Nigerian state with support from Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, unleashed the Nigerian security forces against the Ogoni people. Consequently, the Nigerian military forces, led by Major Paul Okuntimo, killed over 4,000 Ogonis between 1994 and 1998.
The terror on Ogoni had only been because we asked for basic political rights to self determination within the Nigerian state. After we took stock of our contributions to the Nigerian economy and saw that everything including our land and resources have been taken away with nothing put back.
We saw that despite our enormous economic contributions, in Nigeria, estimated at over $30billion, the Ogoni people have no future in Nigeria. Our land, natural endowments and proceeds from their sale have all been taken away and used up by the rest of Nigeria and we have become enslaved in our own country.
Today, nothing has changed for our people. Nigeria’s approach to dealing with the Ogoni problem still remains vicious with attempts to embellish and always possibly cover up the truth about the painful experiences of the Ogoni people. Nigeria would have the world see the Ogoni uprising to be confined to protests against Shell’s pollution and having little or no connection with the denial of the rights to self determination, the right to use a fair proportion of the resources of the Ogoni people for Ogoni development and compensation for the massive destruction of livelihood of families.
To foist this misconception and mislead the world to think the Ogoni problem is near resolved, the Nigerian government and Shell constantly schemes to manipulate cronies and bribe their way to twist the Ogoni people into accepting oil resumption despite unresolved issues.
On the Ogoni problem, Nigeria has jettisoned dialogue, presuming that given the small size of Ogoniland, the people can be coerced and militarily compelled into submission. Rather than taking such an economically viable community seriously, addressing our demands for self determination, reviewing the wrongful hanging of our leaders in 1995 and decriminalizing Ken Saro-Wiwa and others, addressing the people’s poor state of health, deplorable environment as well as the payment of compensation for the destruction of livelihood sources in over 50 years of pollution, Nigeria will rather persecute us and each time we raise protests against abuses including the corruption including the very recent financial mismanagement of the cleanup funds, the government attempts to suppress our peaceful agitation with soldiers.
Rather than seek peaceful approaches and dialogue to resolve the issues, Nigeria and Shell have consistently adopted brutish methods to force the Ogoni into submission, their only goal is to break our resistance and possibly force oil resumption in the area. On October 26, 2017, the Ogoni people protested in Nonwa, Tai local government area against pipeline laying without an environmental impact assessment and due consultations with the Ogoni people.
In response, Shell drafted in soldiers against the protesters, seizing phone, cameras, beating up and wounding some of the protesters. Again in 2018, there were cases of abuse against Ogoni women by soldiers attached to Shell’s facilities in Ogoniland. MOSOP called for investigations into these abuses but nothing was done about them. Clearly, one thing you can be sure to do as a security man in Nigeria and get away with is to abuse an Ogoni.
It is indeed a shameful thing to imagine that despite the monumental crimes of Shell and security men against the Ogoni people, Nigeria has never commissioned an investigation into the activities of Shell in Ogoniland nor has anyone been punished for Ogoni violations. Shell is still free to kill more Ogonis and they can be sure to get away with it. Criminal impunity is most exemplified in Nigeria when it comes to crimes against the Ogoni people.
The reality is that the implicit self deceit within the Nigerian government circles about the Ogoni situation makes it impossible to resolve the conflict in the first place. This is worsening the conditions of over one million Ogoni people and also dwindling the economic fortunes of our country to whom Shell turns in most of the oil revenue.
But the fact is that Ogoni, the people and the land that is naturally endowed with huge oil and gas reserves which supports Nigeria wants freedom. The freedom Ogoni seek is the right to function within Nigeria as Ogoni people, our political rights to self determination. This will be the gateway to economic prosperity of Ogoniland. This I would think is not so much to give to a community whose contributions far exceeds those of twenty Nigerian states put together, yet have nothing to show for it.
Nigeria must equally understand that the decriminalization of the “Ogoni Nine” has become a critical part of Ogoni demands. We cannot pretend to have forgotten Saro–Wiwa and the other eight nor can we act as though we forget their innocence. We must clear their names for they were well established to be innocent and were killed for the Ogoni oil. Oil and money cannot be more valuable to us than human lives.
If we must move ahead beyond the mistakes of the 1995 hangings and usher in peace and prosperity to our country, allow fair competition and even development of our society, we must uphold fairness in Nigeria and be seen to be treated equally as Nigerians.
For the Ogoni people, we want freedom. The freedom to enjoy our God-given rights to self determination as a distinct ethnic group and an indigenous community. The respect for our basic rights must come now!
Our struggle for freedom remains our only hope. Our struggle gives hope not just to the Ogoni people but to the oppressed minorities of the Niger Delta and to millions of people across the globe who suffer injustice and look forward to our success as being capable of providing the pathway to their own freedom. We therefore cannot afford to fail and must sustain this struggle to victory no matter our travails.
Freedom is all we demand. It is a God-given right, it is a justifiable demand given our enormous contributions to the economy and it is in agreement with the ideals of the founding fathers of our country!
The author, Fegalo Nsuke, is the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Bori, Ogoniland, Rivers state.