RELEASE: ‘Living Memorial’ to Ken Saro-Wiwa seized by Nigerian Customs
Thursday, November 5th, 2015
Suzanne Dhaliwal – [email protected]
UK contact for images and interviews
- Memorial sculpture to murdered activist seized at Lagos port by Nigerian Customs
- Customs chief was on tribunal that condemned Ken Saro-Wiwa to execution; Shell stands accused of conspiring in the killing
- Ogoni groups call for the release of the sculpture and Shell oil spill cleanup, issue direct action ultimatum
Nigerian customs have seized the ‘The Bus’, a memorial sculpture to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8. London-based arts and environment group Platform sent the sculpture to Nigeria upon request by the people of Ogoniland in the Niger Delta. The sculpture by artist Sokari Douglas Camp, has been held in Lagos for 8 weeks with no formal explanation. Niger Delta-based NGOs have issued an ultimatum to the Nigerian government. They state that unless the Bus is released, mass actions across Ogoniland will see severe economic disruption in the region .
Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ogoni writer and environmental justice activist, was executed by the Nigerian military almost 20 years ago, on 10 November 1995. According to court documents, Shell had bribed key prosecution witnesses in the trumped-up murder case against Ken. Commissioned by Platform-London as a memorial to Ken in 2005, the sculpture was destined to be permanently installed in Bori-Ogoni for the 20th year anniversary of the execution.
On 17 August, just two days after the Bus left London, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a new Comptroller-General to the Nigeria Customs Service: Colonel Hamid Ali (retired). Ali was a member of the tribunal that condemned the Ogoni 9 to execution in 1995. The Bus arrived in Lagos aboard ship the Grande Lagos on September 8th.
AkpoBari Celestine Nkabari, National coordinator for Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria (OSF) commented
“We have a right to mark the anniversary of the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa . We have a right to erect a remembrance for the many dead and for the suffering we have been forced to exist in. The Bus belongs to the Ogoni people and it is illegal for the Nigerian authorities to seize it for no reason. We have waited and asked them to do the right thing and release our property to us, all to no avail. Now we are forced to use the only option available to us. On the expiration of this ultimatum, we will mobilize Ogoni people and our friends to block the East West road and cripple every economic activity in that axis.”
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and NGO Social Action have not been allowed any visit to the sculpture. The groups’ statement quotes a customs official as saying that the sculpture had ‘political value’ due to a quote from Saro-Wiwa inscribed on its side: ‘I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni’.
A report by the UN’s Environment Programme has called on Shell to clean up the devastation caused by oil drilling in the Niger Delta. Shell has thus far failed to start the clean up . Despite years of exploitation of crude in the region local communities are still experiencing devastating impacts of pollution including loss of farms to oil-soaked soil and families drinking water with high levels of carcinogens leading to health problems, and militarised security at oil sites . In 2009 Shell paid out $15.5m to settle a court case in which it was accused of collaborating in Saro-Wiwa’s killing .
Suzanne Dhaliwal, campaigner for Platform and Director of UK Tar Sands Network, said
“Mobilisations for environmental justice forced Shell to back off in the Arctic and the Tar Sands. This is exactly what the international community is calling for in Nigeria. No longer can Shell stall on the essential work to clean up Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. We urge the Nigerian government to release the Bus today so that the people of Ogoniland can receive this gift of solidarity. The Ogoni 9 will not be silenced with the seizure of the bus. We will stand alongside the people of Ogoniland for the environmental justice that they lived and died for.”
The Ogoni people requested that the sculpture be gifted to Nigeria after 9 years of inspiring solidarity across the UK, highlighting the role of Shell in the ongoing devastation in Ogoniland .
Sokari Douglas Camp CBE, the artist who created the sculpture nine years ago , said
“I made the bus in good faith as an educational tool and to raise awareness of the plight of the Ogoni people. It’s a deep shame that the Bus has been seized. I urge for the release of the ‘Living Memorial’ to Ken and the other Ogoni 8 so that this gift from allies in the UK can create a space to reimagine the future of Nigeria. This is a call for freedom of expression to both honour the people who have fought for justice in Ogoniland and the people struggling for justice today.”
- Between its launch in 2006 and now, it has travelled to multiple sites around Britain as a site for events, education, and performances. These include New Art Exchange Nottingham, Liverpool Maritime Museums, Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery, Glastonbury Festival, Bernie Grant Arts Centre London, Stephen Lawrence Centre London, Goldsmiths and SOAS University of London, Shell Centre London, Southbank Centre London, Peckham Square, London. The commissioning of the Bus was funded by Arts Council England and trusts and foundations.
- Interview with artist Sokari Douglas Camp CBE https://audio.theguardian.tv/sys-audio/Arts/Culture/2006/11/10/SaroWiwa.mp3
- Photo credit: Sam Roberts, part of ‘Doing Nothing is Not an Option’ exhibition at Peckham Platform, November 2015