BY GEORGE ONAH
THE Ogoni people of Rivers State do not want to be addressed as Niger Delta people because â€œwe are notâ€.Â They also want political autonomy, which translates to having their own state. Sunday Vanguard travelled to Teyork, Khana Local Government of Rivers State to speak with the new leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Mr. Goodluck Diigbo.
He recalled his association with the late leader of the movement, Ken Saro Wiwa, his electrified cell, their last moments together, before Ken was hanged. Diigbo spoke about the many attempts on his own life, escape to Ghana and the two attempts to kill him there. Central to all these was the MOSOP non-violent struggle and well as the Ogoni Bill of Rights, NDDC,Â MOSOPâ€™s recent elections and controversy about the location of UNDP and UNEP offices to tackle environmental problems there.
SHALL we talk about the Ogonis in the Niger Delta region
Listen, I want us to know one thing, the Ogonis are not Niger Deltans, we are just neighbours with the Niger Delta people. There is documentation on how Ogonis and people in the Niger Delta became a province. It was not Niger Delta and it is clearly stated in those documents that those in the Niger Delta and some sub-groups were joining them and the Ogonis were one of those sub-groups. This Niger Delta thing has been used to over shadow our non-violence struggle and our demands. People have just been lumped together and they said they created the Niger Delta Development Commission to address the Niger Delta problem. The NDDC has not addressed any problem of the Ogonis.
Are you suggesting that the NDDC has not impacted on the lives of the Ogoni people?
It is simply no impact at all. When I travel to other communities in the region I see signpost indicating projects by NDDC, but here, there is nothing of the sort, no road, just nothing. But I must quickly say that the Federal Government has been very supportive when this land was deserted for four years because of community clashes. Today, up till date, the state government has not asked about what has happened to the people that used to be known as Teyor Kaani, now Teyork community.
The MOSOP elections have come and gone but we are hearing some bickerings, what is it about?
Yes, about the elections and the new leadership. It is like the old leadership has not come to terms with the fact that a new leadership has emerged in MOSOP
I want to say that we are moving on and we are not dissipating energy on what those who lost out in the elections are saying. We are just moving on with our very critical programmes. Our focus now is no longer on the election but on the agenda of the new leadership
What was your position in the days of Ken Saro Wiwa?
It is a long history; I was involved from the scratch from Ogoni Central Union until it metamorphosed into MOSOP
What was this Ogoni central union all about?
Well, it was a political union founded by the foremost Ogoni nationalist Hon. Paul Timothy Birabi. The organisation was later disbanded but we reactivated it.
Let us recall the days of yore in Ogoniland.Â Now were you able to escape from the military when Ken and others were picked up?
All that is contained in my book that was supposed to have been released in New York last week. However, it was Godâ€™s will. I survived five attempts on my life here in Nigeria in the course of my hiding. You see, it is rather emotional. There were also two attempts on my life in Ghana and that brings the attempts to seven. These were difficult moments but I managed to walk across the border all the way to Accra.
Letâ€™s go a little backward, down memory lane. How did you feel the day you heard that Ken had been hanged?
I was in this country; I was here in Nigeria because I did not want to go. I was in communication with Ken until that last moment and until his cell was electrified with barbed wire and the purpose was for any unauthorised person who went near or touched the cell to be electrocuted. He had insisted that I should leave the country. He had also spoken to Prof. Claude Ake (of blessed memory) to persuade me to leave but I said I was not going to leave unless they were released. Of course that was a very difficult principled position.
Even to leave Port Harcourt for Lagos, I said I was not leaving. I, however, had a premonition that if I left for Lagos I would have been arrested anyway. So I stayed here until six weeks after the execution. I was virtually the last key person to leave here.
I was here when Ledum Mitee was released from detention, I communicated with him but that almost led me into danger and I donâ€™t want to talk about that now. I had to leave when it became difficult for people around who were crying day and night that I would be killed and I also became unwanted in the place that I was hiding.
Ken would always say that you can kill the messenger but you cannot kill the message.Â On the day Ken was hanged, did you see the fire in you go off or did you think that the struggle was over?
No, definitely not. Rather, I thought that the struggle was just beginning. I was quite aware that he had pre-warned me about 153 times on the basis of person-to-person and itâ€™s in my diary while talking about his death. He knew death was coming and he was very clear on what should be done when he is finally killed.
Ken visited me on the night of November 9 and that was the day before he was hanged. I sat on a couch and he sat by my side. I turned and tried to touch him but the place was void, there was no one there.
Couldnâ€™t this have been some kind of dream while you were sleeping or some sort of hallucination?
No, I was not dreaming and I was not sleeping, I said I was seated on a couch and people around me know the story. I started weeping and throughout thatÂ night I could not sleep because he came back again when I slept to lie by my side. Finally, he went into some kind of a river and left and said I should go back and that was on the 9th of November. I wept all day and all night and so on the 10th when I now learnt that he had been hanged, I couldnâ€™t cry again. I just took the story as if nothing happened.
But why didnâ€™t you want to leave?
Actually, I stayed back to see how we could regroup and resist. But you see our people were deceived by the reaction of the international community to pacify our people, which I think was good. Of course, we were still vowing to be non-violent, but I think the pacification by the reaction of the international community turned around to what has killed MOSOP now. The action of the international community gave a lot of hope or high expectations to our people on what would happen. A number of others (Ogoni people) left for overseas and to be overseas as refugees was not something easy.
What exactly are you asking for?
We are not just asking for those basic amenities that we can provide for ourselves.Â Up till today Ogoni land has not been connected to the national grid, just look around, there is no electricity.