November 9 2005 – Copyright The Financial Times
Ten years ago tomorrow my father and eight Ogoni men were hanged by Nigeria’s military regime. The news of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder sent shock waves around the world, not least because the executions were carried out in the face of mounting international pressure for justice to prevail. The world vowed that Ken’s death must not be in vain.
My father and many others in the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (Mosop) had been campaigning for years against the destruction of the environment of the Niger Delta by the working practices of western oil companies – in particular, Shell.
Our protests were equally directed at the Nigerian government, which for nearly 40 years had accrued a vast income from oil revenues yet returned a pitiful amount in the form of development to the impoverished communities from whose lands the oil was extracted.
Mosop was expressly committed to non-violence, yet my father was executed on false charges of murder and remains a convicted murderer on Nigeria’s statute books, in spite of widespread international condemnation of the judicial process that sent them to the gallows, including a United Nations resolution following a fact finding mission.
Despite all the anger, despite the trauma that the families have endured and despite UN resolution that the convictions be reviewed and compensation paid to the families of the deceased, Ken Saro-Wiwa remains criminalised and estranged by a country that has since made the transition from military dictatorship to a civilian administration.
It is tempting to conclude that the more things change the more they remain the same, but things have changed in Nigeria – for one, the issue of resource control and greater consciousness of the environmental impacts of resource extraction is now at the front and centre of the political debate in Nigeria. If nothing else, the death of thousands of Ogoni reconfigured the country’s politics.
The administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, the president, is working hard to tackle the country’s ills. Through the work of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, substantial efforts have been made to combat the corruption for which Nigeria has become famous. The only concern is that anti-corruption measures can be selective, primarily aimed at Nigerians and ignoring the individuals and companies that are known to have perpetrated the largest frauds against the Nigerian people.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a trenchant and unremitting critic of waste and corruption and his ghost continues to stalk Nigeria. His trial and execution sent a clear message that the international order impoverishes people who are unfortunate enough to live on rich natural resources. Over the past 10 years there has been a disturbing upsurge in violence; a vicious cycle of oil theft, the arming of gangs, repression, killings and the destruction of communities. Last week, Amnesty International published a report that concluded that: “The exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta continues to result in injustice, violence and deprivation.”
As the Niger Delta assumes greater strategic importance in the energy sector, the US has increased military aid to the region in response to the flood of small arms. My father saw this coming. “I predict,” he wrote in a final statement that the tribunal prevented him from making, “that the denouement of the riddle of the Niger Delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful way I have favoured will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.”
If the situation in the Niger Delta is to improve there must be greater political accountability concerning the needs of the people, but that process will have to be accompanied by a Ã?Âgenuine attempt to make companies responsible to those communities and not just their shareholders and beneficiaries.
There is no better place to demonstrate that globalisation can be a mutually beneficial system than in Ogoni, a place that has become synonymous with everything that is morally wrong with the global economy. Resolving the Ogoni question will not be easy, but it would be a marvellously humane story, not to mention a public relations coup, that can provide genuine hope for the future. I know that Mr Obasanjo is committed to the cause and Dr Peter Odili, my state governor, has conveyed his hopes for a better future. Where better to start the process in earnest than to clear Ken Saro-Wiwa’s name as a gesture of good faith?
The writer is an author and journalist