It’s the kind of text message you never want to receive. Sent from an activist in the Niger Delta on November 9th at 22.00, it reads:
Teams of heavily armed policemen stormed Saro-Wiwa’s No. 24 Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt, venue of the Saro-Wiwa candle light procession, shooting sporadically causing fear and panic.
[UPDATE 11/11/10: we have received further reports that police had beaten demonstrators with gun butts, kicks and horsewhips, leaving 12 people injured in the attack]. The crackdown shows utter contempt for the lives of Ogoni demonstrators, and infringes on their rights to freedom of assembly. Despite decades of non-violent protest, the Nigerian police continue to respond to demonstrators with brutal and excessive force. Similar repression occurred on 12th October last year when 13 people were shot and at least one person killed by police and army soldiers at Bundu Ama waterfront community in Port Harcourt, where residents were trying to protect their homes from government demolitions. On 5th April 2009, a number of well-known Delta activists were beaten and illegally detained by police. They were released following international pressure and interventions by civil society groups. On 26th May 2009, a rally in Ogoniland, timed to coincide with the landmark human rights lawsuit Wiwa v Shell in New York, was disrupted by police who arrested and detained five bus-loads of demonstrators. Women protestors were also beaten with rifle-butts and iron bars in January 2009, outside the gates of a Shell contractor.
Every year, Ogoni people assemble at 24 Aggrey Road in remembrance of Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues. In the 1990s, the building used to be known as the “Ogoni Embassy”. There is every indication that the protests will continue, because they have done so in defiance of police repression, military occupation and environmental devastation for well over 20 years. Perhaps one day, the government will stop using violence long enough to listen to the Ogoni’s message of human dignity and justice for all.
An afterthought contained in the text message reads:
“You can kill the Messenger, but you can’t kill the message” That was Ken Saro-Wiwa’s memorable words before he and other of his 8 comrades were hanged’