RE:The Nigerian Activist Whose Death Shamed Shell

By Ben Ikari

I read the above title published on Nov. 10, 2019 with mixed feelings. It is an Online JACOBIN-Magazine's interview with Dr. Roy Doron and Dr.Toyin Falola. On the one hand the picture painted of Ken Saro-Wiwa by Doron and Falola looks like an honest image based on traceable facts or evidence. On the other hand the same painters exhibited what looks like a poor hit job alongside poor knowledge of some of the benefits which the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has brought not only to the oil producing communities and states in the Niger delta region of Nigeria, but to other regions of the country.

Although I agree largely with the pictures Dr. Doron, who is associate professor of history at Winston-Salem State University, and Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mosslker Chair and professor in humanities at University of Texas at Austin, painted of Saro-Wiwa, some of the points or negative claims they made are not proven. One of such comments made in respect of the achievements of MOSOP juxtaposed MEND could have been made with little or no research, or researched but they may have deliberately ignored and refused to tell the truth.

Saro-Wiwa was human thus fallible like all humans. He was not without blemish. The fact that he is dead and no longer with us to answer those writing in the negatives even positives about him, should encourage anyone, especially those in the academic circle like Dr. Doron and Dr. Falola, to honor the truth and write with facts, evidence to the best of their knowledge. Good or great writing, which are nonfiction are factual, evidence traceable where possible; they are contextual. So writing about Saro-Wiwa or anyone living or demise should not be done with any hidden agenda including attempts to sharply smear.

Meanwhile, the first point of correction relative to the aforementioned interview is that Ogoni is no longer half a million people. This number only derived from the 1973 Nigerian census. And, it has been widely reported that Nigeria's population census (1991-92 and 2006) are usually manipulated by the ruling class/powerful politicians, mostly of the three ethnic groups which fight for majority status (Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo), to help grant their respective ethnic groups or local councils and states large revenue allocation and other benefits. These manipulation reports cast doubt on the 180 million claim. Some politicians and leaders have been reported to have affirmed the accurate population as 140 million, even though studies have also shown that conditions such as hardship, poverty to say a few could force Nigeria's population to skyrocket.

Well, Ogoni population currently is over million. Even though the people have been experiencing systematic military repression, which took the lives of many, it is obvious a people who were 500,000 in 1973 cannot remain the same 46 years later. Also, Doron and Falola did not show any substantive proof of how Saro-Wiwa "self deal" to enrich himself while a Rivers State government official.

Secondly, while answering question on how the tension between Saro-Wiwa's less work on the environment then and more on the need for minorities to have self-determination within Nigeria affected his choices of who to side with in the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War of 1967 to 1970, Doron and Falola claimed, "A close reading of his Civil War memoir shows that though he painted a picture of himself as a loyal Nigerian from the beginning of the war, his actions call those attitudes into question." They, however, did not show any evidence of this claim, which sounds like that of late Sani Abacha and his likes, who lied that Saro-Wiwa was used by foreign groups to try to dismember or dissolve Nigeria.

The written philosophy of MOSOP and the Ogoni known as the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR, 1990), written by Saro-Wiwa and presented to Ogoni elders and chiefs for deliberation and approval bears witness to the fact that Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP/Ogonis were loyal Nigerians. The summary demand made by Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni people in the OBR, is their right to Political Autonomy within Nigeria or internal self-determination. This will allow and guarantee Ogonis the right to control their sociopolitical, economic and cultural affairs in a state of their own like other ethnic groups in Nigeria which currently share 25 ethnic-based states out of 36.

Thirdly, the interviewees stated that Saro-Wiwa was at Ibadan before the Civil War, "But left to the Eastern Region with the mass exodus of internally displaced Easterners in the aftermath of the 1966 attacks on the Igbo in the North." And, "At the same time, he belittled those who did the same thing, calling them weak-minded people, who only needed a word of encouragement and they were instantly on the move back home."

Unfortunately they carefully picked what they believe to be a negative soundbite thus refused to contextualize his comment, which did not amount to belittling. On page 40, paragraphs 3 and 4 of "On A Darkling Plain: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War," which Doron and Falola reference, Saro-Wiwa wrote:

From that time began the process whereby large numbers of Igbos were encouraged to leave their places of work, particularly in Lagos and Western Nigeria, and return home to Eastern Nigeria. No responsible leader would have encouraged any Easterner to remain in Northern Nigeria. Most of them either fled or were sent away. But in Ibadan and Lagos, the weak-minded only needed a word of encouragement and they were instantly on the move back home. I stopped at the Armels Transport Office on the morning of August 7th and observed the great rush by, particularly women and children who were being encouraged to return home by their husbands and fathers. It was a sorry sight to see women, their life-long belongings packed up in shabby bundles, children tied to their backs, fighting their way into the offices of the transport companies in their bid to get a booking on huge lorries traveling to the Eastern Region. I traveled on one of these sorry vehicles the following day back to Port-Harcourt.

This was, of course, after the first Nigeria's bloody military coup led largely by Igbo soldiers. The coup brought to office as first Military Head of State, Major Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo, in 1966. There was a counter bloody coup staged by mostly Northern soldiers which brought to office Lieutenant Col. Yakubu Gowon (an Ngas, Lur--Middlebelt of Nigeria), who was Ironsi's Chief of Staff, and a Junior officer to Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, then Biafra secessionist leader.

Saro-Wiwa pointed out the animosity such promotion of Gowon (who believe in One Nigeria), when Brigadier Ogundipe, who was senior but declined the responsibility, created between Ojukwu and Gowon. Consequently, after these coups there were constant heat and tension between Igbos, and Hausas of Northern Nigeria. Igbos in the north became targets of physical force and abuse. Therefore the need for them to return back to Eastern Nigeria, which had other ethnic groups such as Ijaw, Ibibio, Itsekiri, Ogoni and so forth. While Saro-Wiwa was honest about the situation having assessed it, he was also expressing pity or empathy for the women and children, instead of the "belittle" claim.

What Doron and Falola refused to disclose is that Ibadan and Lagos were and still are in Western and not Northern Nigeria, where Igbos were attacked. These two cities are in Yoruba-land and not Hausa-land in the north. Such difference of geographical location may have informed the point made by Saro-Wiwa. He was also at Ibadan, and considering the distance between the north, Lagos and Ibadan, could not have seen any reason to return home, but did because others were moving.

Lastly, Doron and Falalo misled their audience and the public by claiming the only organization which has had even moderate successes in forcing the Nigerian government to enact any reforms is the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). It is on record that MEND, which the Ogoni peaceful struggle influence emerged in about 2004. Among other reforms and benefits, the Ogoni struggle which began on Jan. 4, 1993 and the unjust hanging of Saro-Wiwa and 8 others on Nov. 10, 1995, led to the increase of the funding for Oil Producing States from about 1.5 percent in the 80s and 90s to 13 percent in 2000, before MEND emerged. The struggle also brought about the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC, 2000), which for the "rapid and sustainable development of Niger delta" replaced the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC-1985 to1999).

The Nigerian government and Shell, other International Oil Companies also indicated stronger interest in cleaning and restoring the Ogoni and Niger delta oil communities' polluted environment. I refer you to the United Nations Environmental Program's Report on Ogoni (2011), which came as a result of decades of complaints and pressure from Ogonis and MOSOP. Saro-Wiwa and Ogonis accused Shell and Nigerian government of gross environmental pollution and degradation hence genocide or ecocide, despite the controversies following the Ogoni clean-up project.

In terms of Ogoni Political Autonomy or self-determination, the lack of a state for Ogoni irrespective of its contribution to Nigeria (and the pay-back of pollution and death Ogonis received) has caused the people to not directly benefit from said 13 percent revenue derivation increase and other benefits granted oil producing states. A state for Ogoni in Nigeria, or any arrangement by whatever name called that will guarantee Ogonis their right to self-determination will resolve the Nigeria-Ogoni conflict and help with the management and protection of Ogoni environment from further degradation. This is the reason Saro-Wiwa enlightened and mobilized Ogonis having founded MOSOP, to demand Political Autonomy, which allows other ethnic groups to enjoy their right to self-determination also called self-government, while working with the central government for the good of the people and nation. As such the Ogoni struggle continues!

Ben Ikari is the author of Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP: The Story and Revelation (2006); Rights and Environmental Justice Advocate