10th November 2017 marks the 22nd anniversary since the executions of nine Ogoni men from the Niger Delta who had been protesting against the exploitation of oil in their homelands. These Nigerian activists – outspoken author and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine – were executed by hanging in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha and buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery. The executions provoked international condemnation, yet the continuation of the Ogoni struggle is an object lesson in how a numerically small people can reach way beyond their borders.
Their struggle has intervened in the profit-driven logic of a filthy extractive industry, an industry which thrives on a cocktail of environmental racism and an economy (Nigeria) where oil is 90% of GDP. Yet justice on the ground is still a battle being fought.
The Ogoni Bill of Rights was co-drafted by Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1990, and published by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). It remains a landmark document in what we might now call indigenous struggle. Twenty-one years later, in 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) produced its report ‘Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland‘, which contained specific recommendations for the restoration of over 50 years of oil pollution in the land and rivers of Ogoni. Since then, civil society pressure forced Shell to honour its promise post-UNEP, and commit $1 billion to the clean-up. Six years on from UNEP, there are now signs that some steps are being taken in Bodo, but the pace is criminally slow. Meanwhile, earlier this summer, Shell caused outrage and alarm by entering Ogoni without prior and informed consent of the people, backed by Nigerian military, to lay and relay pipelines. This brings back echoes of the extreme state violence against Ogoni people of the 1990s.
Last night, together with Culture Unstained, we held a public meeting in London on ‘The Future of the Oil Industry‘. Lazarus Tamana, President of MOSOP Europe, ended the evening with a call for international allies to keep the pressure up, to prevent the Nigerian government and Shell from hiding in plain sight. In such a long-term struggle, new waves of energy from international groups, NGOs, cultural organisations, individuals are essential in bolstering morale, but also saying to the oil companies that
We refuse environmental racism. We still see you, Shell, and we condemn your actions and inaction. We demand change.
The Ogoni Bill of Rights remains the foundation stone. An exceptional document, it ends by calling upon those beyond Nigeria to act. And action continues: on 21st November 2017, lawyers Leigh Day will be in London’s Court of Appeal representing an appeal on behalf of over 40,000 villagers from the Niger Delta in the latest stage of their legal battle against the oil giant Shell. This appeal is challenging the decision that Royal Dutch Shell plc has no responsibility for systemic pollution of the Niger Delta by its subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd.
Yet Shell still puts itself forward in England as a good corporate citizen with its sponsorship of the Science Museum in London, and its annual lavish ‘Make the Future‘ event. It believes it can make statements like this with impunity: “We believe the answers to tomorrow’s energy challenges lie in the power of people’s ingenuity, and that together we can #makethefuture today.” Shell’s disingenuousness is staggering, and watch this space for more actions around the Science Museum and Make the Future. But their statement is also a challenge to people in the global north working on low carbon and just transition: as Lazarus said last night, we can sit here in London and talk about electric vehicles, say, as part of a solution to climate change, while in much of oil-rich Nigeria, there is no mains electricity, and worse absolutely no prospect of it. We must square the circle of environmental justice in our organising.
In honour of the Ogoni 9 and the ongoing Ogoni struggle, here is the last page:
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD:
- Prevail on the American Government to stop buying Nigerian oil. It is stolen property.
- Prevail on Shell and Chevron to stop flaring gas in Ogoni.
- Prevail on the Federal Government of Nigeria to honour the rights of the Ogoni people to self-determination and AUTONOMY.
- Prevail on the Federal Government of Nigeria to pay all royalties and mining rents collected on oil mined from Ogoni since 1958.
- Prevail on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to stop giving loans to the Federal Government of Nigeria; all loans which depend for their repayment on the exploitation of Ogoni oil resources.
- Send urgent medical and other aid to the Ogoni people.
- Prevail on the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the Commonwealth of Nations to either get the Federal Government of Nigeria to obey the rules and mores of these organisations, face sanctions or be expelled from them.
- Prevail on European and American Governments to stop giving aid and credit to the Federal Government of Nigeria as aid and credit only go to encourage the further dehumanization of the Ogoni people.
- Prevail on European and American Governments to grant political refugee status to all Ogoni people seeking protection from the political persecution and genocide at the hands of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
- Prevail on Shell and Chevron to pay compensation to the Ogoni People for ruining the Ogoni environment and the health of Ogoni men, women and children.
If you need to connect or reconnect with this struggle, I recommend this: last month, the good people at University of Maynooth published a new expanded edition of the powerful book ‘Silence Would Be Treason‘ – letters and poems by Ken Saro-Wiwa written to his friend Sister Majella McCarron while he was imprisoned in the last eighteen months of his life. It is a searing, yet intimate, clarion call.
Below are copies of the stunning Road to Justice poster (folds to A5), designed by Jon Daniel.
Contact [email protected] if you would like one. We can also send out bundles for events or educational uses, for the cost of postage.