The Allegory of the Cave Should Not Play Out in the Ogoni Struggle

by Fegalo Nsuke
ken saro wiwa

By Fegalo Nsuke

In the past 30 years, we have fought for our lives. Like a people pushed to the wall, our fight was for life or death. We recorded victories but we have most  certainly been unable to celebrate our successes because they haven’t come with the ultimate joy and freedom we seek.

Despite its high costs in human lives and material resources, we defeated the vicious war of The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), significantly halting the rate at which our environment was being polluted, established our identity as a distinct ethnic nationality in Nigeria and brought the plight of our people to the front burner.

These and other milestones are commendable but more than that, we need to break free and bring into reality the gains of the past three decades. No matter our achievements, we, as a people, have been unable to celebrate our gallantry because we are like brave and gallant soldiers trapped in the scene described in the allegory of the cave.

The allegory of the cave describes a people trapped in a dark cave and unable to find their way. Suddenly a light entered the cave and cast their shadows on the wall.

In excitement they begin to chase the shadows thinking of them as the way to their freedom. Oblivious of the real source of the light which should get them out of the cave, they struggle in vain chasing shadows while the light and way to their freedom is right behind them.

This is the truth about the Ogoni situation today where after a 30 year battle with Shell, we are failing to translate our gains into practical benefits that can lead us to our development goals. Instead, we continue to chase shadows that lead us nowhere but to perpetual enslavement in the dark cave.

After Shell, What Next?

The Ogoni struggle came with a set of demands outlined in the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR). Published in 1990, during the military era, the OBR recognized the ease of getting things done through military decrees. Amongst others, the OBR demanded a fair and proportionate control of Ogoni resources by the Ogoni people and summed up the demands in a traditional Ogoni economic principle called “Mii Deekor”. Mathematically, “Mii Deekor” simply represents 20% of profits or derivation which is paid to the owner of an estate by estate managers on a weekly basis. This demand is summarized in the OBR as the desire of the Ogoni people to control their own affairs.

The Present Realities

Today’s Nigeria is a constitutional democracy. Whether we are getting it right or not, decisions about self determination for the Ogoni people, resource control and several others are reserved for the Nigerian parliament.

The question is whether Ogoni has the capacity to sway parliament on their side. The answer may sound pessimistic, but the reality is that out of Nigeria’s 109 senators, Ogoni have just one (1) and out of 360 parliamentarians in the Federal House of Representatives, Ogoni have just two (2). Conclusively, we can say that Ogoni simply does not have the numbers to make any impact in parliament.

Therefore, in the simplest terms, pushing for the implementation of the OBR in today’s Nigeria is unattainable as our parliamentary representation currently makes up less than 0.5 percent of parliamentary votes.

The Ogoni Development Authority – A Realistic Approach

The limitations of enforcing the OBR had compelled a rethink. 30 years gone and there had been clearly no end to the sufferings and our struggle has been stalemated or diminished into a business only beneficial to some few individuals. A former president of MOSOP captured this frustration when he declared: “We should be grateful that we got the cleanup out of our struggle”. His frustrations and helplessness reflects the stalemate we have experienced with our struggle which seems to have been reduced to a mere one billion dollars cleanup program.

On assuming office as president of MOSOP on January 1, 2019 and understanding that leadership is about solving problems and not to escalate them, I commenced consultations on the way forward with focus on crafting an actionable framework that is enforceable within the context of present Nigerian laws.

On September 27, 2020, after a process of reviews at the chapter, kingdom, and national executive levels, the Central Committee of MOSOP agreed on a proposal for the operationalization of the Ogoni Development Authority as an acceptable path to permanently resolve the Ogoni problem.

Rather than call for the creation of another agency, we sought to operationalize the idea, achieve our development goals by getting a reasonable proportion of Ogoni resources to be committed to Ogoni development and to ensure that the flow of funds into the development process is guaranteed, sustainable, and protected from every possibility of failures.

MOSOP has consistently committed to this process and I can guarantee that there will be no going back in the pursuit of our objectives. This is our deal and we will stand to defend it in the best ways possible.

We solicit the support of the Nigerian state to get this done and to pave the way for us all to celebrate an end to these three decades of stagnation, build the future of Ogoni and boost the Nigerian economy with an estimated $40Billion daily oil production revenue which has been left stranded in the ground of our Ogoni lands for the past 30 years due to a mismanagement of the oil conflicts between Shell and the Ogoni people.

Our proposal is a win-win for all parties. But it is important for the government and the oil industry to generously make the required and expected compromises to drive the sustainable development we envisage in the interest of our country and the Ogoni people. We have paid the price and there can be no justification to deny us the good life we seek.

On the part of the Ogoni people, our travails are a compelling reason to support this honest and genuine initiative to win a better future for our people, our children and our children’s children. Failing to achieve these goals would mean we have chosen to disregard the sacrifices of all those who committed their lives and resources to bring us to where we are today.

We have fought a good, though very costly fight, we also need to turn away from the shadows and face the realities of today’s Nigeria.

The reasons for which we launched the Ogoni struggle and the development we seek will only be attainable when we are able to get Ogoni resources to drive the process. That has been our ultimate goal and it is time to bring this dream into reality.


The writer,  Fegalo Nsuke is president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

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