Rift with Shell Oil Can’t be Healed Without Justice
If there is one thing for which the Ogoni people will forever remember the last millennium, it was the fact that her environment and natural ecosystem were not only in a permanent state of endangerment, but were driven to the brink of extinction, through Shell Oil’s-instigated killings. And while we were ready to put the past behind us by burying our dead, Shell Oil has again chosen to herald this new century by perfecting a plan to frustrate the burial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others through its agents.
Reports in the Nigerian press, such as the Punch, assert that some of the families of the Ogoni 9 are not ready for the burial to take place on April 24. In fact, the families of the Ogoni 9 have been waiting for many years now to see their sons buried. Ken Saro-Wiwa’s father has expressed that his last wish is to see his son buried. This echoes the sentiments of the majority of Ogoni people. Pathologists are currently in Nigeria in order to identify the corpses and prepare for the burial.
We believe that the reports asserting that the burial should not take place in April are part of a plan instigated by Shell Oil through its proxies. It is a well oiled plan to disgrace and bring Ken Saro-Wiwa to disrepute. The truth behind this is that Shell Oil feels threatened that activists and dignitaries from all over the world will come to Ogoni land and discover for themselves that Shell’s claims of building hospitals, establishing computer and agricultural development centers and providing school supplies are a sham. This, we understand, is intended to break up the renewed solidarity and continued comradeship of activists from all over the world which this occasion will engender in April.
The forerunner to this plan is Shell Oil’s revelation in the Financial Times of 17th January that “Shell Oil close to healing Nigerian rift.” This advertisement and subsequent negative pronouncements about the burials, by its agents on the ground barely ten days after did not come as a surprise. Shell Oil is predicating her intention to return to Ogoni land on a famed meeting with some person(s) in Ogoni. This, we believe is cheap blackmail, as no Ogoni person(s) in his or her right mind will negotiate Shell Oil’s coming while ignoring fundamental issues at stake.
For any group or persons in Ogoni to deal with Shell Oil and disguise such dealings as representing the opinion of all Ogoni people is dubious. MOSOP has always resolved issues which impact the lives of her people through deft democratic routines. This was the hallmark of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s leadership. He endeared himself to the citizenry, not because of his imposing personality. (Of course, to that he made no claims, as he was very short.) Nor was it through rented crowds to confer on his regime a garb of legitimacy. But through dialogue, transparent leadership and a spirit of collective bargaining as abiding principles.
A few examples will suffice to demonstrate how the Ogonis have made collective decisions in the past. After a vote to boycott the 1993 Presidential elections by the Steering Committee of MOSOP, it was finally resolved by an assembly of the people in Bori to boycott the election. Mr. Ledum Mitee and Mr. Noble Obani-Nwibari chaired this meeting. Even, the signing and ratification of the Ogoni Bill of Rights, by Chiefs and people of Ogoni at Finimale Wika Hall in Bori, was done in a democratic setting. Additional to these, the MOSOP constitution was ratified by a similar assembly. That occasion was chaired by Mr. Noble Obani-Nwibari and Dr. Olua Kamalu. The declaration of Shell Oil as persona non grata was the decision of over 300,000 Ogonis, also in Bori. This long-standing tradition in MOSOP did not give room for clandestine arrangements. Doesn’t simple logic, then, dictate that if it took the opinion of this many people to declare Shell Oil unwelcome in Ogoni land that it should also take same to welcome them back?
Now, if Shell Oil is saying that she is “close to healing Nigerian rift,” in what forum was this process of ‘healing’ done, and what were the outstanding issues that were resolved? Who were those from Ogoni in attendance and when was this resolution with Shell Oil communicated to the people?
It is to be made clarion clear that the Ogonis are not against the exploitation of her natural wealth. But what we find detestable is a situation where we are consigned to live in a degraded environment. And this is as a result of lack of ethical and moral high ground, relative to business decorum on the part of Shell Oil in Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta. Shell Oil sees it fit to, through her social investment programs, emphasize education, the arts, environment, health and welfare in her areas of operation in Australia and other parts of Europe and America by the establishment of the Shell Foundation. But she does not consider the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta human enough to enjoy such benefits. Any talk about returning to Ogoni land and indeed any part of the Niger Delta, should necessarily, presuppose parity in treatment as is obtainable in other parts of the world where she also operates. Shell Oil has gotten over $32 billion dollars in revenue receipts from operating in Ogoni land since 1958.
The people of Ogoni will continue to non-violently defend and demand for their rights within the limits of the law, and are determined to bury Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other heroes as planned. We are, therefore, calling on the federal government of Nigeria, the international community and people of goodwill around the world to quickly intervene in order to stave-off a repeat of the Ogoni crisis in this millennium.
Yereba Yemmy Kina is Secretary General of MOSOP USA
posted Feb 2000
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