By Donu Kogbara
This Wednesday was the 26th anniversary of Ken Saro Wiwa’s execution by the Abacha regime. Saro Wiwa, an environmental activist, was hanged for inciting the murders of four Ogoni chiefs; but he is widely celebrated as a hero and his supporters are demanding that he be exonerated by President Muhammadu Buhari. In the interests of journalistic balance, here is an alternative viewpoint.
MY name is Suage Badey. I am one of the many normally silent Ogonis who are opposed to an exoneration for the late Ken Saro-Wiwa because I believe that he masterminded the brutal murder of my father, the late Albert Tombari Badey, a former Secretary to the Government and Head of Service to the Rivers State government from 1987-1993.
My father, Albert Badey loved his people dearly, he was a devoted Christian of the Methodist faith and a responsible family man. His love for my mum, my siblings and I was indisputable and at any given opportunity, when free from the tasking responsibilities of state, he always ensured he had quality time with us.
On May 21, 1994, my father and three of his friends – Chief Edward Kobani and the Orage brothers, Chief Theophilus Orage and Chief Samuel Orage – were brutally murdered in cold blood in broad daylight; and I hold the machinations of Ken Saro-wiwa and his cohorts responsible for this disaster. Ken-Saro-wiwa’s campaign for a restoration of our environment was apt and right at the time and all the elite came together to give the umbrella body known as the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, the steam it required to actualise its objectives.
But when Saro-wiwa introduced violence by setting up a militant wing of the movement known as National Youth Council of Ogoni People, NYCOP, which later became his private army, hell broke loose and Ogoni from then on suffered a lot of setbacks internally that is still hurting us till today.
The pioneer President of MOSOP, Dr. Garrick Leton, along with his deputy, Chief Edward Kobani and other members of the steering committee, resigned and Saro-wiwa saw the golden opportunity and declared himself president of the movement.
Ogoni during Saro-wiwa’s reign experienced a lot of crises. Ogonis were fighting almost all their neighbours – the Andonis, Okirikas and Oyigbos; and our internal crisis led to the fratricidal killing of my poor dad and his friends. Saro-wiwa defamed the character of all his contemporaries and made all who dared to challenge his methods an enemy of his army of thugs. Defamatory leaflets were circulated around Ogoni describing those with opposing views, which included my father, as “vultures” who fed on the miseries of the masses.
My father had served in several capacities with military government from the 1970s till the 1990s without blemish and had lobbied for human and infrastructural developments for our people. He had as a commissioner connected Ogoni to the national grid at a time Ogoni had no electricity in its local government headquarters and villages, he sponsored a lot of our people through government scholarships abroad and paved the way for creation of three more local government areas, which ultimately quadrupled our position at the seat of governance as well as offering more employment opportunities to our people.
He was a visionary man, he never believed in being boisterous but knowing our weakness as a minority in a nation of over 250 ethnic nationalities, he adopted diplomatic measures to intractable problems and by so doing he succeeded in employing several Ogonis into the civil service and enhanced our ethnic group’s participation at the centre of power.
He also felt that the ordinary Ogoni boy or girl-child should be able to easily access an institution of higher learning within Ogoni territory; and with that objective in mind, he ensured that a polytechnic was established. It is the only institution of higher learning in Ogoni till date. This was the man Saro-wiwa tagged a vulture.
Ironically today, the polytechnic is named after Saro-wiwa because Saro-wiwa’s supporters have a very effective propaganda machinery that seeks to distort facts and promote falsehood. I still remain shocked that after 27 years, the gruesome murder of my father and his friends has not attracted sufficient sympathy from the people my father sacrificed his life for. The murders of the Ogoni Four are treated with levity and disdain as if they deserved to die. These men were besieged in a meeting to foster peace and reconciliation and descended upon by thugs.
Machetes, clubs, bottles, axes and rakes were used to hack them down. Orage’s eye was plucked out, a rake was driven into Kobani’s skull, my dad suffered multiple matchet cuts and while gasping for breath and in need of his inhaler, being an asthmatic, they threw it away and spat at him.
The Ogoni Four finally gave up the ghost before their lifeless bodies were dragged through foot paths littered with stones and debris to a pre-arranged destination to be cut to bits, never to be seen by their loved ones till date.
The questions I ask are:
•When will the conscience of Saro-wiwa’s supporters and descendants come alive to profess the truth?
•Are we to accept that anyone who styles himself as an activist or to be more precise, an environmental rights crusader is one incapable of committing crimes?
I see a people lacking in empathy as they remain unremorseful and lacking in conscientious behaviour. I am not in any way bothered by the calls for exoneration by PANDEF, the apex Niger Delta group, because they don’t know the facts and are only playing the Niger Delta script in support of their fellow Niger Deltan.
However, we must be heedful of what we stand for because, as they say, history always replicates itself. I kindly appeal for the remains of my dad and also use this medium to appeal for the remains of his friends too. We need their remains, even if MOSOP considers an exoneration far more important.
I believe in the integrity of the tribunal that tried the nine and in the thorough investigations that lead to their capture, even as we know that many of the culprits still lurk around in the shadows.
Saro Wiwa’s execution has been described as judicial murder; but the truth, as far as I am concerned, is the truth.