By Yinka Odumakin
We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalisation and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated.
I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.
I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief.
The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.
On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine.
We all stand on trial:
We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our Country and jeopardised the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.
I predict that the denoument of the riddle of the Niger Delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful ways I have favoured will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.
In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger Delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: ‘All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.’ Come the day.”
-—Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa
THE above were the last statements of Ken Saro-Wiwa which Abacha special tribunal headed by Justice Ibrahim Auta refused to listen to before it handed death sentence to the renowned environmental campaigner,prolific author and successful businessman who stridently brought the cause of the oppressed Ogoni people to global focus. Ken and his eight colleagues were handed death sentences on October 31, 1995 amid global outrage.
By November 10, a month after Ken turned 54; hangmen were brought to Port Harcourt from Sokoto to carry out the executions. They were the first condemned men to be executed in the oil-rich city since independence in 1960.It was reported that it took five attempts to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa before the diminutive writer with the heart of a giant spoke his last words and his body went limp. “Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues,” were the activist’s final words before he died ,blindfolded and dangling from a rope.
The hangmen made four attempts before finally killing Saro-Wiwa on the fifth one. At one point Saro- Wiwa asked: “Why are you people treating me like this? Which type of country is this?”
That was quintessential Ken, a man I first came across through his literary works and activities as National President of Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA. I was so thrilled by one of his TV drama series, Bassey and Company running on Nigerian Television Authority to the point I never missed any episode.
Interview with Saro-Wiwa
My personal contact with Ken, however, did not come until sometime in 1990 when my editor at the Features Department of The Punch,Mr Bola Bolawole, assigned me to interview him. Bolawole and Ken just had some exchanges over the Ogoni issue whose quest for self-determination the environmental campaigner was bringing on the front burner then. I was to go and prod him to understand what he was up to.
I arrived his office at Tejuosho area of Yaba late evening and met him discussing with some European visitors .He came out to see me briefly with his trademark pipe tucked in the left ridge of his mouth.He was dressed in a purple Kampala shirt atop a black trouser and a leather sandal to match.He pleaded for a few minutes to get done with his meeting .
Fifteen minutes after he was done and he ushered me into his office which was a forest of books.I didn’t waste time before I fired the first question to him:Why would a man like him who should be looking for solutions to the problems of 150 million people be agitating for only 500,000 people? He smiled first before he said the first word and his mien transfigured. By the time he spent about 20 minutes elucidating on the nationality question and the plight of minorities in Nigeria he suggested we should go into his car to continue the conversation.We spent the next one hour in his Peugeot 505 car from Yaba to Ogba in Lagos talking about the plight of the Ogoni people. After the theoretical class,he promised to take me to Ogoniland for a practical class.
A few months after I was in Ogoniland as Ken’s guest on an unguided tour and I saw firsthand man’s inhumanity to man unedited.Ogoni people were in abject poverty and in excruciating pains on account of their degraded environment despite being the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. I contrasted the horrible scenes I saw with the first world environment in Shell Camp in Port Harcourt where I spent two nights a few months earlier on the train of Christy Essien -Igbokwe who was there on performance and concluded that if I were in Ken’s shoes I would not lead a people carrying leaves but arms against a state that could be that wicked.
His death: I wept profusely from the evil court in Port Harcourt the day the death sentence was pronounced on Ken as I accompanied his wife Hauwa to his home to give a message to Pa Beeson Wiwa(his father) from the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
For rousing Ogoni people to reject these conditions peacefully, the irrational Nigerian state under the murderous Abacha killed Saro-Wiwa and poured acid on his bones thinking it could kill an idea whose time had come.
No way! As we mark 20 years of the state murder of Ken,his ideas still haunt a criminal state as the Nigerian Customs impounded Ken’s memorabilia. ”The bus calls attention to the environmental degradation and economic deprivation, in which the Ogoni people live, despite being naturally blessed with enormous deposits of crude oil,” MOSOP said in its statement.
“After being on display at various places in the United Kingdom for nine years, at the request of Nigerian partners, the bus was shipped from London to Nigeria via Lagos Port.”
According to MOSOP, all efforts made by the Ogoni people to have the bus released have been futile and there have been no explanations on the seizure of the memorabilia.
MOSOP added that a different box containing flyers and reports to mark the 20th anniversary of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s death, also sent by the platform through DHL, was likewise seized “for no justifiable reason” by the State Security Services.
Suppression of the memorial
“We are concerned about this hostile attitude of the Nigerian government towards the Ogoni people and the suppression of the memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa. We are concerned that 20 years after the killing of Ogoni leaders and the widespread attacks, which killed thousands of other Ogonis and sent many into exile, the Nigerian government seems to be maintaining this attitude of belligerence towards the genuine activities of the Ogoni people.
“We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni eight, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.”
Take heart Ogonis,the seizure is a victory for Ken and the struggle he lived and died for. Events all around us daily show that Nigeria will not experience peace until Ken’s soul is appeased by attending to those issues he raised which the country continues to run away from in a bid to sustain the “command and control” centre which enslaves the constituent units.