Owei Lakemfa

June 17, 2009

The past came visiting

By Owri Lakemfa
THE past popped its face twice last week.  First it was when Shell succeeded in paying peanuts to buy its way out of trial for complicity in the judicial murder of Ken Saro – Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders.

Shell realised that the trial that was commencing in the United States could expose its murderous activities, including paying and arming soldiers and policemen to terrorise, attack and murder Nigerians.

Therefore, paying $15.5 million which is not up to half what it can pay an individual to facilitate a contract, made a lot of sense to Shell.

The other event last week was when a prime mover of the 1990 attempted coup against the murderous Babangida regime, Saliba Mukoro appeared in Abuja to beg the former dictator.

The primary error of that coup attempt which was symbolised by the stoic attitude of Major Gideon Orkar, was its strategy of excising a part of the country.

But that regime led by the professional and veteran coup plotter, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida was itself an illegitimate usurper of the rights and sovereignty of the Nigerian people.

The military with its string of coups and counter-coups was a dog-eat-dog institution and a coup against the regime might not have mattered.

Until his journey to demythologise himself, Mukoro was a legendary figure in that attempt to rid the country of the monstrous Babangida regime that had made political gatherings a treasonable felony.

Mukoro was said to have been close to the Babangida regime.  So to have taken a principled stand against it was thought to be commendable.  But the legend of Saliba Mukoro was actually built around the dramatic rescue of his wife and children.

A furious Babangida regime was rounding up the April 22 soldiers and murdering some of them.

But it could not lay its hands on Mukoro, so it took his family hostage at the Ikeja Cantonment.

Mukoro’s colleagues risked their lives by organising an audacious escape.  Before Babangida knew it, the Mukoro family had not only been rescued from his clutches but had been spirited out of the country.

So Mukoro’s  return to his vomit was not only a betrayal of those who risked their lives for his family but also his colleagues who were massacred in batches in the guise of the firing squad.

When Mukoro claimed that his visit and “reconciliation” with Babangida was “historic” he meant it was an historic betrayal of men like Major Orkar, Captains Nimi Harley Empere and Perebo Dakolo.

It was a betrayal of fellow officers like lieutenants Cyril Ozoalor, Awokoya Akogun, Nicholas Odey, Emmanuel Alade, E . J. Ejeyesuku and Umukoro.  All these were amongst the first batch of 42  soldiers executed for taking part in the coup planned by Mukoro.

If the Babangida regime had been overthrown, the country might have been saved the nightmare of a looted treasury, the bloodshed in fighting against Babangida’s life presidency bid and the tragedy that was the annulment of free elections in 1993.

Most importantly, we might have been saved the calamity of the murderous General Sani Abacha regime.

It is clear that Babangida seeks to gain some credibility from the apology by Mukoro, but it is baffling what Mukoro stands to gain. Is it pecuniary? What will Mukoro  tell his children?

That he betrayed the men he led into battle against an unpatriotic regime and begged a man who held them hostage at gun point 19 years ago?  What manner of a soldier or father is Saliba Mukoro?

A man who betrays at noon the convictions he was ready to die for in the morning?

Like Mukoro, Shell may think it is smart by escaping trial in the American courts for its criminal activities in the Niger Delta which include the pollution of the air and water, neglect of the people on whose ancestral land it reaps profit and hiding behind the army to perpetuate atrocities.

Before Shell began paying and arming security forces, the Niger Delta had been quite peaceful, and except for Adaka Boro’s 12-day war, the peoples protests had been non-violent.

The murder of Saro-Wiwa was particularly myopic.  He went about his campaigns against Shell in a peaceful manner.  He was no socialist, communist, revolutionary or radical seeking to overthrow the system.  His interests primarily was justice for his people and the protection of the environment.

When with Shell’s complicity, the Abacha regime killed him and other Ogoni leaders, it was to send a clear message to the country; that they would brook no opposition to their exploiting the oil resources of the country for private gains.

So it was the terror tactics of government, Shell and other oil companies that led to the militancy in the Niger Delta.

Two events culminated in the rise of militancy in the Niger Delta from the late 1990s.  One was the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections and the incarceration or murder of those who insisted it should be de-annulled.

The second is the murder of men like Saro-Wiwa who used peaceful methods but were hanged.

The message in theses twin events seemed to be that ordinarily, justice cannot be obtained using peaceful means.

The challenge therefore is to demonstrate that, at least the judicial process, like the case against Shell in America showed, can deliver justice to the aggrieved.

But just as Shell will not change its ways despite its settlement of the Ogoni case, it is doubtful whether our political elites will repent of their military mentality and seek peaceful, mutually beneficial ways to settle and resolve the Niger Delta Question and ensure justice for all.