By Osa Okhomina,Yenagoa and Anayo Onukwugha, Port Harcourt
The recent declaration made by President Muhammadu Buhari to leaders of the Niger Delta region who paid him a visit at the presidential villa, that his government will consider pardoning the late human rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, has resurrected memories of the injustice suffered by the Ogoni people on their lands, the environmental degradation and political suppression that led to his trial by a military tribunal and subsequent hanging along with eight others.
The inheritors of Saro Wiwa’s cause, political leaders and human rights activist are responding to President Buhari consideration of a pardon, with their own demands for not only a total exoneration of the late activist, but also an official apology to the people of the entire Niger Delta region for the injustice they have suffered in the hands of the state.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Port Harcourt, an environmental right activist, Rev. Nnimmo Bassey, said everything about the circumstances that led to the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders was clearly unjust.
The late environmental right activist, Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa was hanged along with eight other Ogonis on November 10, 1995, after they were allegedly found guilty of murder by a Special Tribunal set up by the regime of former Head of State, late General Sani Abacha.
Besides being a successful writer, Saro-Wiwa was active in politics. He criticised the Federal Government for exploiting the oil resources of his tribe’s traditional homeland in Rivers State.
He was a founding member of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the author of the Ogoni Bill of Rights and the primary opposition leader in the early 1990s.
Saro-Wiwa paid a high price for his activism. He was detained on several occasions. He was arrested in May 1994 for alleged incitement to murder. A harrowing and lengthy trial followed. In the end, he was sentenced to death and hanged alongside eight other activists in November 1995.
His case drew international attention to the cause of the Ogoni people, though the solidarity campaign was not strong enough to prevent the execution of the “Ogoni Nine”.
Bassey said: “Everything about the circumstances that led to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders was clearly unjust. The trial was a sham and judgement was not based any form of objectivity.
“The patriots were hanged even before the appeal period had elapsed. The injustice remains a sore point not only in Ogoniland but among all people of conscience around the world.”
He said the right thing for President Muhammadu Buhari to do was not exonerate Saro-Wiwa and others, but to
render an apology on behalf of the government for wrongly executing the renounced environmentalist.
On his part, a legal practitioner, Chukwuma Okirie, said the trial and execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders still evoke a sense of injustice in the Niger Delta region.
Okirie said: “I think the trial and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa still evokes a sense of injustice in the Niger Delta because we all know that it did not follow due process. Since it did not follow due process, it was intricically unfair.
“The whole system that led to his execution was unjust. It was against national law, it was against international law. It was a kangaroo justice and therefore will remain unjust.
“The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to grant Saro-Wiwa and eight others pardon is just pandering to sentiments. His death is an injustice to his family, the Ogoni people and the people of the Niger Delta.”
On his part, an Ogoni leader, Goodluck Diigbo, said what the people of Ogoni expected from Buhari was exoneration and not pardon as the late Saro-Wiwa and others never committed any crime.
Diigbo said: “Buhari has a choice among several options as to what to do with his time; Diigbo noted, but said, “his sudden shift might suggest a change of heart.
“The hint to pardon, rather than exonerate Saro-Wiwa by Buhari to a similar gesture by the Anglo-Royal Dutch/Shell Oil Company to some members of the murdered Ogoni Nine families. Shell managers offered them $15M in New York; uninfluenced by moral conscience, justice, and remorse.
“I had a whole night of conversation with General Victor Malu. Buhari’s influence had the weight of life and death in the Abacha regime. He accepted high risk to control and use power. Now, a change of heart is quite fathomable. I understand the reason; he knows Saro-Wiwa lives on.
“It was a wrong calculation, because it led to a wrong result. It was thought at the time that the state murder of a prominent writer and environmentalist; to defy the world; would project the regime to the rest of the universe; as very strong.”
President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba and a renowned Environmentalist, Comrade Morris Alagoa has called on the Federal Government to right the wrong done the people of Ogoni kingdom and the entire Niger Delta for the alleged wrongful killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa in November 1995.
Professor Okaba said the government should apologize to the people of Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta for the alleged wrongful killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa in November 1995.
According to Okaba, the last few words of Saro-Wiwa, ‘You can kill the messenger, but not the message’, remained very apt several years after as Ogoniland, Ijaw nation and the entire Niger Delta continued to suffer injustices, inequalities and rape of their freedom and right to control their God-given resources.
He added: “The people and the environment of the Niger Delta, in spite of the seeming interventions, have remained in a state of misery to the extent that the local economy has been disarticulated.
“In spite of our enormous contribution to the nation’s economy, the standard of living in our region is demoralizing and demeaning. State laws on Land Use, Petroleum Industry Act, Petroleum Act and other obnoxious policies have perpetually kept us as slaves and impoverished us in the midst of our God-given resources in the region.
Comrade Morris Alagoa, who is a renowned environmentalist and the State Coordinator of the Environmental Right Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) called on the Federal Government should make every Ogoni a proud Niger Deltan and human beings.
In his reaction, Comrade Morris ALagoa noted that Ken Saro-Wiwa legacy with a multitude of Environmental/Human Rights defenders, advocates or campaigners as direct effect of the activities of Ken Saro-Wiwa,” So, he remains large; an icon.”
“It is that since of injustice in the killing of Ken and his fellow Ogoni has made me not to like late Gen Sani Abacha; even though Bayelsans are happy Abacha created a State for us. I still have the grudge against Gen Sani Abacha for the killing of Ken and his fellow Ogoni”.
“Ken, as he is popularly called, had long preached nonviolence and the need for the Nigerian state to address the Social/Environmental issues before the curtain falls and warned of the coming war in the Niger Delta and a reasonable Government ought to have looked into those matters with a sense of responsibility rather than wait and rely on military might to destroy everything. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not enjoyed peace since the killing.”
“Ken was denied right to appeal judgement of the military tribunal and hence, many still consider what happened as unjust and Ken should be exonerated and not pardoned. The Federal Government should right the wrong. After all, without the great work of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the level of Environmental Justice consciousness prevailing in Ogoni and entire Niger Delta couldn’t have been and there wouldn’t have been the ongoing UNEP recommended Ogoni cleanup.”
“And, many, including myself are demanding that the UNEP recommended cleanup should be extended to Bayelsa State Oil industry induced pollution sites and beyond (entire Niger Delta). Having observed the type of HYPREP supervised ongoing cleanup in Ogoni, I say with all amount of seriousness of fact that the Oil companies have not done real cleanup and remediation in Bayelsa State polluted sites”