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Ogoni Day - 4 January 2000
29 December, 1999
Statement forwarded from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OGONI DAY - 4 JANUARY 2000
So it was that decades of oil exploitation of Ogoniland by Shell had devastated the environment. The political marginalisation and economic strangulation by successive Nigerian Governments had left Ogoni a land in dire need of repair. This is the underlying reason behind the Ogoni story and experience.
Ogoni sits on oil and yet oil is a wasting asset to the Ogonis. Decades of oil exploration, which has provided about $60million to the Nigerian economy and Shell has brought nothing but misery, hunger and pains to the Ogonis.
Oil was discovered in Ogoni in 1958. The resultant effect of the discovery of oil to the peasant Ogonis was the total waste of a once beautiful countryside which was at one time the economic food basket of the Niger Delta. Ogoni became an ecological wasteland as nothing received from oil was put back in the land that had been so ravaged to provide the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. The year 1990 united Ogonis with one purpose: To put a stop to the decades of exploitation and repression. This heralded the drafting of the Ogoni Bill of rights by a team of 40 Ogoni wise men made of leaders and chiefs from the 6 Kingdoms of Ogoni. The Bill which articulates the voice of Ogoni was presented in October 1990 under the auspices of MOSOP to the Nigerian President Babangida and his council.
The Ogoni Bill of Rights among others called for:
a) Political control of Ogoni affairs
b) The right to control and use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development
c) Adequate and direct representation as of right in all Nigerian national institutions
d) The right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation
In order to be better heard after a studied silence from the Nigerian Government regarding the Bill that had been presented in 1990, the Ogonis through MOSOP decided to embark on a non-violent struggle. This led to the birth of Ogoni day.
On January 4, 1993, Ogonis in a show of solidarity against decades of exploitation and repression went to the streets of Bori in a peaceful protest. Over 300,000 Ogonis made up of men, women and children peacefully marched the streets of Bori in one of the most historic and peaceful protest ever seen where no stone was thrown. This was also historic because it was the day marked by the United Nations as the Year of the Worlds Indigenous People.
January 4th with all its significance to the Ogonis, marks the right of passage from a community unknown to a community of relevance. It marks the passage of a people from obscurity to prominence. It changed the deliberate dehumanisation of Ogonis psyche from a people who are meek and foolish to a people who could take their future in their hands; a people of initiative, ingenuity and capability.
January 4th has since been known and celebrated as Ogoni day and the year 2000 is no different. On this January 4, Ogonis will again celebrate their right of passage in Nigeria.
OGONI HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Ogonis are an indigenous people in Nigeria. They live on 404 square miles of the coastal plains to the North-East of the Niger Delta of Nigeria.
Ogonis have lived in this territory since the 1900 when the British ruled the place now called Nigeria. The people are mainly subsistence farmers and engage in migrant and nomadic fishing. The Ogoni community of 500,000 population is made up of three main groups: KHANA, GOKANA and ELEME It is this three groups that is further divided into 6 Kingdoms of Ogoni: BABBE, ELEME, GOKANA, KEN-KHANA, NYO-KHANA, and TAI Ogoni community is made of a total of 124 villages and towns prominent among which is Bori, the Headquarters; followed by other towns such as Bane, Bean, Beeri, Bodo, Bomu, Dere, Kono, Kpean, Nchia, Okwali, Taabangh and Tai amongst others.
The following communities bound Ogoni:
The source of livelihood is farming of which the sale of agricultural products sustains the income of a family. Supplementary income comes from sale of fishery products, others are pottery, palm wine tapping, coconuts sale etc. Subsidiary income include petty trading which is done mainly in the Bori main market, tailoring, making of products from raffia such as sleeping mats, and thatch used for building mud huts. Majority population of Ogonis lives in thatch houses. The average Ogoni family consists of 8 persons - father, mother and 6 children. Families are usually large because a typical Ogoni man is allowed by tradition to be a polygamist if he so prefers. Ogoni is based on the extended family system, which allows a family to be counted with the inclusion of the grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephew’s etc. Every compound in an Ogoni village is distantly related through grandmother, grandfather, mother or father.
Ogoni traditional religion is the worship of a common deity, Bari - the creator of Heaven and Earth. Other more immediate gods and ancestral spirits are worshipped in the various villages. There exist various denominations of the Christian church in Ogoniland.
Ogoni community has a culture of its own which is extremely rich although with some adaptation from other neighbouring customs. Ogonis speak mutually intelligible dialects of the languages of Khana and Gokana; and Eleme, which is a bit more divergent from the others although related to them.
Ogonis have always lived in very peaceful co-existence with themselves and their neighbours. However, soon after the peaceful protest of 4th January 1993, this was no longer to be the case. Instead of attending to the problems and demands of the Ogonis, the Nigerian Government at the request of Shell declared war on Ogoniland. Ogoni was under siege.
The Government of Nigeria initiated the first of its many attacks of its own people using its military on a defenceless people. These dastardly acts of military repression and shameless human rights violation on Ogonis is yet to be equalled on a DEFENSELESS minority people in Nigeria. Shell on the other hand embarked on a smear campaign against Ogoni leaders - locally and internationally - who refused to be intimidated or bribed.
The aftermath of this war remains the most destructive on a minority community in the Niger Delta of Nigeria:
1. 30 Ogoni villages completely burnt in operation scorched earth policy by Major Paul Okuntimu under the command of Lt. Col. Dauda Musa Komo, the then Rivers State Military Governor on the instructions of the most brutal dictator yet in Nigeria - the late General Sani Abacha.
2. Thousands of Ogoni women were raped.
3. Thousands of Ogoni children, women and men were maimed.
4. Over 3,000 Ogonis - children, women and men were murdered.
5. Properties of untold value were destroyed, looted and stolen. Killings of animals - goats, dogs, cats etc were normal occurrence; Ogoni farms, crops, food trees, flora and fauna were destroyed without exemption.
6. Over 100,000 Ogonis were displaced and made internal and international refugees
The following poem better describes the destruction in an Ogoni village - Kpean . The author, Majella McCarron, is a member of the Africa/Europe and justice Network who is from Co. Fermanagh and has worked with the Ogonis for many years.
No piercing siren to rouse you,
No caring friend to conceal you,
To say the least, the efforts to crush MOSOP achieved its results. MOSOP has since been severely affected by the years of repression, intimidation, bullying and killings. Many of its original members now live underground and abroad in fear of their lives. The situation remains the same for real MOSOP activist. This fact has been re-echoed in the Nigerian newspapers one of which is the PM News: 'Police still chase Ogoni Activists' Wednesday, October 6, 1999. The police continue secret manhunt for the activists; states the paper. 'Over 500 students and businessmen who supported the agitation for compensation for Ogoniland according to reports, have been forced into exile after several of their colleagues were allegedly secretly murdered in cold blood between 1998 and this year 1999.' The semblance of calm in Ogoniland is not guaranteed, as the new democracy of President Obasanjo is not yet matured enough to withstand genuine activism as experience in Ogoni and other quarters of the Niger Delta have confirmed. Genuine Ogoni activists still remain in limbo. The reason for killing the most eloquent and powerful voice of Ogoni Ken Saro-Wiwa who could not be bribed or bought has therefore yielded temporary results to Shell who plans a comeback to Ogoniland. Nigerian Government and Shell now believe they have Ogonis where they want them. A confused and disorganised MOSOP only guarantees results to Shell and the Nigerian Government - get back into Ogoniland and complete the draining of their remaining natural resources if any. MOSOP the one voice Ogonis had, apparently no longer speak with one voice. A tactics deliberate to discredit Ogonis while they ignore her existence.
Let no one be confused with the present state of affairs in MOSOP. The movement has now been willingly divided into 2 voices with issues of irreconcilable differences. While the Mainstream MOSOP with the vision of its founder late Ken Saro-Wiwa maintain the rejection of the return of Shell to Ogoniland, a breakaway group under the leadership of Mr. Ledum Mitee continues to hold consultation and dialogue with Shell under the guise of introducing 'developmental projects' in Ogoniland. The ploy to misrepresent this issues to imply internal wrangling in MOSOP is a deliberate plan which has been used time and time again by the various interest groups and enemies of Ogoni. The plan is always to distract Ogoni activists and supporters by engaging them in inconsequential issues while hoping that the focus of the organisation is forgotten and ignored. While this goes on, MOSOP is discredited and sidelined while it is business as usual for the Government of Nigeria and the Oil producing companies.
Ogoniland in the meantime continues to denigrate in poverty. MOSOP is wiser to this trick now and wishes to clearly distinguish between the issues that are presently causing the rift in our organisation.
While the Mainstream MOSOP continues to hold to the original dreams and agenda of the Ogoni people, which believes that the Oil companies remain ‘Persona non-grata’ in Ogoniland, the breakaway group with a coined name 'Progressive”'MOSOP believes in the negotiation for the return of Shell to Ogoniland.
Shell and the Nigerian Government continues to maintain an arrogant stance on the Ogoni issue and refuses to meet one demand made by the people. For the untold hardship, misery and pain imposed on the Ogoni people, the Nigerian Government is yet to compensate one Ogoni family. Ogoniland remains an ecological disaster and wasteland. Ogoni is yet to benefit from any form of developmental project from the Nigerian Government. The Ogoni Bill of rights is yet to be acknowledged by the Nigerian Government. Shell refuses to clean up Ogoniland which it had desecrated with oil blowouts, spills, fires and devastated her environment through years of pollution. Gas flares still light up the Ogoni sky 24 hours a day in the vicinity of human habitation emitting its most dangerous and poisonous gases to the lungs of Ogoni children, women and men.
MOSOP as was founded by Ken Saro-Wiwa with the support of Ogonis continues to restate her commitment to the Ogoni dream and refuses to be misled, misrepresented or bullied into derailing from the Ogoni agenda. This is as echoed in the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa '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.' This is the premise on which MOSOP stands. She believes in the blood of her heroes, which had been shed on her struggles and refuses to be a platform for which agents of destruction Shell and the enemies of progress the Nigerian Government will rather bribe and enrich a few individuals to the utter detriment and neglect of Ogoniland and Ogoni masses. MOSOP maintains the struggles for which thousands of Ogonis have been killed and her community ravaged.
The Mainstream MOSOP is represented in Nigeria by a committee headed by a Chairman in the person of Mr. Richard Nimaa, another eloquent Ogoni activist from the days of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The committee, which operates from the main office of 24 Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt has as its patron Papa Jim Wiwa, the Octogenarian father of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. The group is supported by distinguished Ogoni men and women from the six kingdoms who believe in the truth and has the backing of the Ogoni masses. Branches exist across Europe, United Kingdom, Canada, America and South Africa among others.
On the other hand, Mr. Ledum Mitee is the leader of his breakaway group the so-called 'Progressive' MOSOP. Mr Mitee lost the support of essential MOSOP activists and the Ogoni masses after the trials and subsequent murder of the Ogoni 9. This is because allegations later emerged of betrayals and sabotage of the movement. Other issues included the uncovering of cases of financial misappropriation and derailment of the movement. While these issues remained a great torn in the fabrics of the movement, Mr. Mitee on the other hand made no efforts at refuting the allegations and rather chose the route of encouraging disunity and creating factions. His unholy silence that has been interpreted by members as an attempt at muffling the voices of truth and a presentation of a leader without accountability to its subjects led to his reasons to breakaway with his supporters.
MOSOP, which is a member of the Unrepresented Nations’ and Peoples organisation (UNPO) in The Hague, continues to demand for the rights of the Ogoni indigenous people among others, which include: a) To educate the Ogoni masses of their rights b) To protest the destruction of the Ogoni environment c) To protest the political marginalisation of the Ogoni people d) To protest the economicc strangulation of Ogoniland e) To organise the Ogoni people for self-reliance f) To revitalise Ogoni culture and Society which have been destroyed.
MOSOP with the original demands of the Ogoni people, and for which Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other activist were murdered, pleads with all her true supporters to continue to exhibit understanding to the Ogoni cause especially on this January 4th 2000. A cause, which has cost Ogonis so much bloodshed, will not be abandoned under the guise of disagreement and deliberate betrayals. According to Ayi Kwei Armah: “A people losing sight of their origins are dead, a people deaf to purposes are lost. Under fertile rain, in scorching sunshine there is no difference: their bodies are mere corpses, awaiting final burial.” MOSOP stands firm on her grounds to demand justice for the Ogonis as she enters a new millennium with renewed hopes and dreams for a better life for Ogonis today and generations unborn.
On this January 4, 2000, Ogonis with sincere intentions of purpose will dance their angers away by referring to the poem of Ken Saro-Wiwa:
Dance your anger and your joys