Ogoni Struggle and the Nonchalant Nigeria

It all began exactly in 1444. Some hungry-looking Portuguese just landed in the Niger Delta in search of an Eldorado in West Africa. With Africans ushering them in, over the years, with their shrewd trading approach they moved from weak aliens to power trading lords. From then on, they began the unbelievable unleashing of their cruelty and ruthlessness on the same people who once welcomed them graciously.

From traders in goods they turned into traders in Africans as mere commodities to be shipped to Europe. It was this hunting of Africans like animals for centuries devastated Africa; and communities that were for centuries in harmony with one another were from then on set on each other’s throats. This they accomplished for centuries thanks to having as accomplices some Africans who they earlier raised as local chiefs and warlords, helping them to carry out this decadent slave trading.

For more than four centuries, European countries hugely profited from this trafficking in Africans until early 19th century, when it machines became more efficient and effective than African slaves. With this the case, Britain, overnight turned from number one trading nation in slaves to championing anti-slavery, especially because the machines that were fast replacing human labor were mostly British invention. Britain’s real intention being, ‘let us leave these Africans now on in Africa so that they produce the raw materials needed to power British industrial factories.

As soon it became clear that Africans had become wiser and were no longer ready to be manipulations, physically occupying the entire continent and its people became inevitable. And in dispossessing Africans their rich lands and territories-in their usual European manner-all forms of cruelty were adopted in this colonial project. By turning Africans strangers in their own land, colonization did worse damage than slave trade did earlier.

That shipping away Africa’s physically and mentally best depopulated Africa became a kind of child’s play compared to the use of colonization to pack into artificially created states, where powerful ethnic enemies were brought together to simply reinforce their mutual rivalries, enough to continues plundering them without much resistance.

When it became clear physically occupying Africa was not needed to exploit it-especially since invisible occupation could be more powerful and rewarding-no time was wasted in abandoning colonization. In other words, it became clear that what was needed was an invisible empire that would be used to permanently control postcolonial African states and their vast wealth. But that could only be achieved planting African leaders as protégé in these postcolonial African states.

Afraid that being trained and educated in western image would not enough assurance that these emergent protégés would live and die in defense and promotion the economic interests of the west at the expense of their ‘liberated’ people, avoiding any form of possible collusion among them, required putting in place some enduring checks and balance mechanisms. What would have done it better than initiations into western secret societies, where oaths of allegiance were administered, where dangerous skeletons were used to fill protégés’ cupboard, and where infiltration and spying protégés were perfected?

By initiating them into such western clandestine societies as Freemason, Bilderberg, Council on Foreign Relations, Illuminati, Thule Society, Skull and Bones, German Order (old Teutonic Knights), and Round Table also made full believers in the Machiavellian- l end justices the means, protégés should adopt the philosophy lie-telling, stealing the people’s wealth, cheating, and even killing as long as done promoting western interests.

In furtherance of their cleverness, they did not just impose western secrets societies on them. Expectedly, western intelligence agencies went as far as filling these leaders’ cupboards with all manner of embarrassing and incriminating skeletons, making it completely difficult for any of these leaders to ever think of exiting. And that was what happened to great leaders like Presidents Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Patrice Lumumba of Congo when they tried to exit this bondage. It is, therefore, obvious that besides domesticating these western secret societies, goal, birth was also given to numerous local secret societies.

In order to ensure that these leaders of politically sovereign states of Africa never ever in their any imagination muster the courage of economic independence, most leaders of each state were drafted in different secret cults, where all cults had to spy on one other’s activities in the interest of London and Washington. Ultimately, those who were seen to be not faithful enough to their economic and social gate-keeping were dealt with either to facing capital punishment-with more human punishment being to be kept far away from the corridors of power.

But what made post-colonial Africa without hope began with the 1884 Berlin Convention that apportioned Africa into states that housed together most ethnic nationalities that had been in virtual rivalry after emerging from the horrors of slave trade. The cleverness to exploit the ongoing rivalry demonstrated the immerse ingenuousness of European. And there’s no better place this was fully exploited than in Nigeria where three lager and powerful elephants were brought under one roof called Nigeria so as to ensure they remain at war among themselves as long as they live together. With this, the exploitation of the country and its vast natural and human resources was made easy.

Making matters worse was how the post-colonial Nigeria was casted into a nation-state without allowing any serious negotiations and dialogues among the ethnic nationalities being brought together. With this supposed never-ending battle among the three giant elephants, it was obvious that the enemy could go ahead plunder this superrich nation without any form of opposition. And that was what the elephants did (and still doing) while Ogoniland was being wrecked by Shell.

So, there was no way the Ogoni people would have won the battle against Shell in a country where the three major ethnic groups – otherwise the three giant elephants – have been virtually at war since independence. And making the Ogoni struggle more difficult was the fact that it was happening at a time when Nigeria was under maximum military dictatorship.

Also, there was no way the Ogoni struggle against Shell would have been won, given that the dictators themselves were propped up by the West, with Shell, a leading western oil major. The struggle was made more difficult with Shell, making the three powerful elephants to falsely believe that looking the other way while Ogoniland was set on fire would eventually profit them. So, rather than fight on the side of the Ogoni people, they gave Shell a free hand.

Little wonder why when Ken Saro-Wiwa cried out for help, not only did the three giant elephants look the other way, Sani Abacha did not hesitate to send the hangman to prematurely send him as well as nine other Ogoni leaders to their graves.

Worsening the Ogoni struggle was Shell’s money which controlled and manipulated a section of the mass media. Ferociously unleashing the propaganda power and its ability to fully blackmail the bravery of these statesmen, it was obvious that many Nigerians were fully unaware of the atrocities and economic and environmental wreckage going on in Ogoniland. For acting like a deaf cobra that never heard the voice of the snake-charmer, or the chant of the clever magician, by and large, we were all culpable for not giving our fellow citizens the solidarity they badly needed.

And to the extent that the Ogoni story is still today kept on the backburner by the three warring giant elephants is enough proof that interests of ethnic minorities in Nigeria are s

till peripheral. It shows that without seriously addressing the lingering ethnic and religious differences through national dialogue, it is certain that peaceful and harmonious coexistence in Nigeria will remain a mirage.

Now we all reading on the pages of the newspapers with disbelief that such wanton activities took place in Ogoniland, especially given the life-threatening effects on Ogoni people. In other words, Nigerians could not believe it that people of Ogoni had been living with such volatile organic compounds oil contains, known for shortening the effective functioning of the lungs, kidneys and liver.
Coming to most of us as a shock is how the long exposure to benzene has been causing some irreparable oracular, neurological and dermal damage as well as respiratory and reproductive defects among the people. What this tells us is that infertility in women and low sperm count in men, genetic abnormalities (DNA corrosion), retardation in brain development in children, and of course, cancer are now rampant among the Ogoni.

Coming together this time around in full support of the Ogoni people to ensure they get what they truly deserve from Shell is a responsibility we shouldn’t allow to miss. But in taking this responsibility, we also need a full understanding that the four decades of oil spills have ecologically rendered Ogoniland economically desolate; also placing generations unborn in incalculable danger. Not only have the grave levels of water contamination immeasurably reduced aquatic life and fishery, they have also enormously reduced soil fertility and crop yields, with the worst yet to come.

It only requires understanding what happened (and is still happening) to those workers who cleaned up the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989 to comprehend what the Ogoni people have got to live with for centuries to come. But to fully come to terms with the kind of ruins Shell has left behind not just in Ogoniland but the entire Niger Delta, you better read this book, ‘Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil in the Niger Delta’ by Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas. I have also written a thesis titled, ‘The Niger Delta Conflict and the Irony of Invisible Empire’.

I’m sure that by the time you finish reading them, it would become clear to you why the UNEP study is flawed. Flawed not only in failing to fully quantify the true cost of the environmental and economic damage, but also in failing to make Shell take full responsibility for the havoc it caused. Of course, for an untrained eye, the very fact that the study now vindicates Saro-Wiwa would be enough to call for the full implementation of the study’s suggestions. But for a well-trained eye, it is a doctored study which with the goal of trying to bring Shell back to Ogoniland using the backdoor.

Keep in mind that the UNEP study recommended a meagre $1bn (even if as initial cleanup money) for four decades-long oil spills in Ogoniland. This appears to gloss over the reality that for the single oil spill that recently took place in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum (a company fraction of Shell), besides setting aside $21.3bn for the cleanup, paid $20bn in compensation to the 195,000 people affected. Therefore, isn’t it insulting to the cause of Ogoni people that after all these years of lamentation, all that the study could recommend was a mere $1bn to start the cleanup that should gulp over $100bn? In other words, isn’t the study indirectly telling us that the lives of Ogoni people are worth less than those of the 195,000 Americans?

Besides, if leaders of companies causing small oil spills have gone as far as publicly apologising to the people affected – and that was what BP leaders did to those affected by the Gulf of Mexico – how come Shell is yet to publicly apologise to Ogoni people for having caused some of the worst oil spills in Ogoniland?

It is this imperialist mindset Shell has that is making the resolution of the conflict difficult. If Shell were sincere, it should have publicly apologised to Ogoni people for not only destroying their land, but also for being behind the hanging of Ogoni leaders. But can a European oil giant like Shell apologise to Africans like Ogoni people? Here is how those who run Shell see it: If our ancestor companies that conducted centuries-long slave trade never apologised, why should Shell apologise for ‘mere’ oil spills in Ogoniland?

Had the UNEP study been drafted with good intentions, firstly, it wouldn’t have understated the damage. Secondly, rather than calling for a mere $1bn, it would have demanded more than $50bn as compensation to the people, and $100bn as cleanup cost. Thirdly, it would have gone further to be sincere in painting the true picture of the devastating health and economic consequences expected to be centuries-long.

Since the study hardly did justice to the true cost of the Ogoni problem, I propose that a holistic remediation should begin with the Federal Government apologising to the Ogoni people on behalf of the Nigerian people, for letting them down. Secondly, the Federal Government should give the Ogoni 9 a befitting state burial, done in full recognition of their outstanding statesmanship.

Thirdly, Eagle Square, Abuja should be renamed Saro-Wiwa Square; and finally every November 10 should be declared a national holiday in honour of the slain Ogoni 9 and as a day set aside for national reconciliation and solidarity.

The National Assembly should conduct a full investigation into who played what role and why in the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni compatriots. If, as a nation we wouldn’t want a repeat of such brutality in Nigeria, finding the real culprits and punishing them should be done without any waste of time.

On the part of the Rivers State Government, it should rename Port Harcourt Airport as Saro-Wiwa International Airport; and should also rename Shell Estate in Port Harcourt as the Ogoni 9 Estate.

Shell on its part should earmark $10bn for the establishment of a Ken Saro-Wiwa University in Ogoniland. It should also not hesitate in picking up the whole bill for the temporary relocation of the people before the cleanup of the ecologically damaged creeks, sediments and mangroves begins. Also given the profundity of the damage, Shell should, in extending truly friendly hands, set aside an $8bn scholarship for the education of Ogoni children.

Written by
Odilim Enwegbara
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