By Ajiri-Oghene Oreh
The 10th day of November, 1995 was an unusual fateful day. The world froze! The world stood still as agony filled throbbing hearts. Lamentations rented the air. Hopes and aspirations were dashed. Eyes became tear-glazed. Ground reeled.
The “wretched of the earth” shuddered with cold just as the atmosphere was eerie. Why the melancholy and lachrymal in the air? It was because the poor people’s hopes and aspirations were hanged to death in a broad daylight by their collective enemy of progress on that day, the tyrannical and murderous military regime of General Sani Abacha then Head of State (1993-1998) despite pleas from home and abroad. The rising sun was eclipsed by Abacha’s devilry.
The rising sun that was murdered by the General was Ken Saro-Wiwa, and his eight ebullient compatriots, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuine, Nordu Eawo, Saturday Dobie, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera and Felix Nuate of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) for the ideals of autonomy, economic self-determination, and environmental justice. These nationalists were the hopes and the aspirations of the people and nations of the fabulously oil-rich but long-neglected Niger Delta region.
The black continent of Africa is renowned for killing her sun, and her most populated black country Nigeria has an unbeatable records of having the most brutal rulers as represented by the likes of Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Sanni Abacha, the insensitive Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Mohammadu Buhari, and more recently, Bola Tinuba and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.
The casualty list has Moshood Abiola, his wife, Kudirat, Papa Alfred Rewane, Dele Giwa, Saro-Wiwa, and the recent armless peaceful protesters at Lekki tollgate in Lagos, all mowed down in cold blood by insensitive agents of the military (and civilian) juntas.
Also, through obnoxious structural adjustment programmes, Nigeria, nay, Africa has eliminated and eclipsed her sun. The killing spree has taken a new trend manifested in the increasingly intractable unemployment rate and poverty, all giving rise to socio-political turmoil.
Although I never encountered the personage, Ken Saro-Wiwa physically, but as a student of African literature, I encountered him and his choices he made in favour of the oppressed people of the Niger Delta in particular and Nigeria in general in literary books and narratives often regaled by my teacher, Professor G.G Darah. Saro-Wiwa was charitable, compassionate, optimistic and radical.
He was an accomplished writer, fearless scholar, profound columnist, democrat, multi-talented intellectual, intransigent critic, ebullient environmentalist, human rights activist, ideological rebel and other well-earned sobriquets.
He was born on October 10th of 1941 in the then sleepy Bori, River State as Kenule Beason Saro-Wiwa to the family of Chief Jim Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa as he is often called was a child prodigy. He attended Government College, Umuahia, where he displayed academic wizardry and left with an excellent result. Next citadel for Ken Saro-Wiwa was at Ibadan, the University of Ibadan, where he bagged a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in English. Ken Saro-Wiwa had a brief stint at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as a graduate assistant. Thereafter, he was employed as a civilian administrator for the port city of Bonny.
As a man of regenerative ideas with the milk of patriotism, Ken Saro-Wiwa was first appointed as the Regional Commissioner for Education, River State in the early 1970s to use his ideas to revive the comatose education sector in the State.
But his revolutionary ideas, thoughts, approaches and actions offended the ultimate ruler and that led to his dismissal in 1973! General Babaginda appointed him to his military government. But the restless radical Ken Saro-Wiwa resigned his appointment sensing the dictator’s witchraftcy and satanic intents not to relinquish state power.
As earlier noted, Ken Saro-Wiwa was a writer, a prodigious writer who wrote works that empathise with the marginalised and wretched of the earth. Some of his works are satirical. From his fertile imagination includes works such as, Songs in a Time of war (1985), Sozaboy, a novel in Rotten English (1986), On a Darkling Plain: An Accounts of the Nigerian Civil War (1989), and Africa Kills Her Sun (1989) which only did not reflect the socio-political mood of the 1980s.
His artistic works align with the great issues of local colonialism, the systematic plunder and the dispossession of the natural resources of the minority Niger Delta and the resultant social and environmental disasters which constitute the central themes in the literature and arts of the region. Saro-Wiwa’s last work of art aptly titled Africa Kills Her Sun foreshadowed his premature death in 1995, twenty-five years ago!
It is now precisely twenty-five years since the environmentalist and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa was judiciously murdered/hanged by the Nigerian state, yet the country has not quell dehumanizing and killing its helpless citizenry and depriving them the fundamental rights of good living. The daily experiences in Nigeria reflect how our beloved country has descended into a Hobbesian state of terror where life is short, nasty and brutish.
Yes, the death of Saro-Wiwa and his eight patriots resulted in both local and global outrage. Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots died for the Niger Delta region whose history of resource agitation can be traced back to the 19th century, bearing in mind the tragic fates of heroes such as Jaja of Opobo, Nana Olumu of Itsekiri, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin, Major Isaac Adaka Boro, Samuel Owonaru of which Saro-Wiwa belonged to this revered pantheon of revolutionaries.
The Niger Delta region to which Ken Saro-Wiwa hailed from was edenic and pristine before it was rendered degraded and impoverished by the environmentally unfriendly activities of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Chevron, AGIP and other multinational oil companies with the unstinted support of the various Fulani Government of Nigeria (FGN) ruling oligarchy from the North for primitive greed which has and still reproduces both rural and urban poor.
As the eco-activist, Sunny Awhefeada put it, what has become the “conflictual experience of the Niger Delta is also one of the consequences of the presence of Shell in the region. Having been born into an edenic ambience which Shell ruptured, a generation that was conscious of the company’s exploitative and destructive tendencies in contrast with the economic boom in Europe, came of age to halt the environmental holocaust.
Ken Saro-Wiwa remains the arch representative of that generation. Saro-Wiwa, an acclaimed writer took on the role of an environmentalist struggling to remedy the degraded Niger Delta beginning with his native Ogoniland. The Nigerian state in cahoots with Shell spurn a web of intrigues which led to the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis in November 1995. By the time of Saro-Wiwa’s martyrdom, the indigenes of the region had come to a level of awareness that made them to kick”.
For the federalist and public intellectual, Professor Darah, “The martyrdom of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni, the heavy casualties suffered by the Ijaw, the Ogbia, Engeni, Itsekiri and other nations of the Niger Delta testify to the currency of the resource control theme in Nigerian politics”.
Suffice to say that, it is the resistance and relentless struggles and the demands for the reversal of the economic injustices against the people of the Niger Delta that have generated all the uprisings such as the Adaka Boro Revolution of February 1966, the Ogoni-Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) uprising of 1996, the death of 1000 innocent children and women of Jesse in pipeline fire disaster in September 1998, the Kaima Declaration by the militant Ijaw youths of 1998, the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) led by Asari Dokubor in the early 21st century, the activities of the MEND led by Henry Okah and Tompolo of Gbaramatu in Delta State, the Greenland of Justice Movement of Isoko and Urhobo, the Odi massacre by Obasanjo’s soldiers in November 1999, the Bakassi boys and lately, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). All these guerrilla movements arose from the positive determination of the people of the embattled and endangered Niger Delta region to broke the yoke of economic conquest imposed by the imperial Federal Government of Nigeria.
True, some of the resistance movements have yielded some token of ameliorations. Notable among them is the 13% derivation recommended by the 1994/1995 National Conference convoked by the late dictator, General Sani Abacha which is enshrined in section 162 of the 1999 Constitution. The implementation of it suffered some setbacks as it was deliberately delayed by bogey called General Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo which led to the resource control agitation at the beginning of democratic rule 1999-2001.
There is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), an interventionist agency created in 2001 which is headquartered at PortHarcourt in Rivers State and, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) in 2007 first headed by Chief Joseph Ekaete, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation during the Obasanjo tenure (1999-2007). These ameliorative measures put in place have slightly changed the condition of economic apartheid inflicted on the oil rich Niger Delta region by the avaricious exploiter, the Federal Government of Nigeria and made messed of thieving politicians.
Also quite significant is the presidential amnesty programme put in place by the Yar’Adua/Jonathan’s administration in 2009. Of course, the uncompleted East-West Federal highway maybe be counted as one of the gains of the decades of bloody struggles.
However, it is not yet UHURU as the people of the Niger Delta region anxiously awaits remediation and total cleaning of their environment despoiled by Shell and the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference which deals with the many cases of injustices particularly the resource ownership and control and enhanced derivation principles, devolution of powers to both state and local government areas (LGAs) and the idea of state and Local Government policing system to curb crimes and insurgencies.
These progressive matters are now advocated for under the umbrella term called RESTRUCTURING. For this how we make irreversible the ideals and cumulative gains of the revolution sustained by Ken Saro-Wiwa, and all the other revolutionaries departed…
*Oreh writes from Lagos State.