This statement is issued to call public attention to the seizure by the Nigerian Customs Service of a “Living Memorial” to Ken Saro-Wiwa donated by Platform – friends and colleagues in the United Kingdom – to the Ogoni people.
The memorial is a sculpture of a bus made in remembrance of the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni environmental rights activists who were sentenced and killed by a military tribunal in November 1995. The Bus calls attention to the environmental degradation and economic deprivation, in which the Ogoni people live, despite being naturally blessed with enormous deposits of crude oil. The people of Ogoniland continue to fight for remediation of their lands and compensation after the devastation caused by oil multinationals such as Shell.
After being on display at various places in the United Kingdom for 9 years, at the request of Nigerian partners, the Bus was shipped from London to Nigeria via Lagos Port. On arrival in Lagos, it was impounded by Custom officials on the 8th of September 2015, who claimed that it had ‘political value’, due to Saro-Wiwa’s words which are inscribed on the side: ‘I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni’. The Bus also displays the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner, and the names of the other 8 Ogoni men on sculptural barrels, currently stowed inside the Bus for transportation purposes. Every attempt to get the Bus released to the Ogoni people has proved abortive. No further reason has been given for the continued seizure of the gift to the Ogoni people.
Similarly, a box of flyers and reports commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, sent by friends Platform in the United Kingdom through DHL, was also seized for no justifiable reason by the State Security Service. To date the box has not been returned.
We have submitted letters of appeal to the Customs Boss Col Hameed Ali (Rtd). It is of note that he was the only military member of the tribunal that sentenced Ken Saro-Wiwa and the 8 others to death on November 10, 1995. Upon receipt of the letter by his Personal Assistant, we were assured that the Bus would be released. That has not yet happened
We are concerned about this hostile attitude of the Nigerian government towards the Ogoni people and the suppression of the memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa. We are concerned that 20 years after the killing of Ogoni leaders and the widespread attacks, which killed thousands of other Ogonis and sent many into exile, the Nigerian government seems to be maintaining this attitude of belligerence towards the genuine activities of the Ogoni people. We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.
We make this statement as a last resort calling on the Nigerian government and Nigeria Custom officials to restore the situation by releasing the property of the Ogoni people to them. We are by this statement informing the authorities who have taken it as their duty to antagonize every legitimate endeavor of the Ogoni people that failure to release the Bus in 5 days from today Wednesday 3 November 2015, we shall mobilize the Ogoni people and other interest groups and friends to begin a series of mass actions and protests until the Bus is released. We regret that these mass actions will seriously disrupt economic activities in the Ogoni areas of the Niger Delta.
We once again call on the authorities to do the right thing and discontinue these provocations. They must end the illegitimate seizure of this memorial which is the property of the Ogoni people. They must end the suppression, 20 years on, of Ogoni demands for justice.
Contact Suzanne Dhaliwal for press and media enquiries in the UK +447772694327