Ogoniland Gets Justice | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Ogoniland Gets Justice

Posted: Jun 8, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

On November 10, 1995, the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s military government hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni men after a flawed murder trial. Of course, the world knew that Saro-Wiwa was made to pay for confronting the oil giant, Shell, and a notorious military dictatorship. Through the campaigns of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which he founded, Saro-wiwa brought the environmental pollution of his homeland by the activities of oil companies to international limelight and galvanised public opinion against the injustice. Writing in the British Guardian newspaper last November on the 20th anniversary of the execution, Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken, expressed the determination that his father’s death “must not be in vain.” He got his wish on June 2, 2016 when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the cleanup of nearly 60 years of destruction of the land.
It was like Liberation Day in Ogoniland. The occasion was marked with singing, dancing and goodwill messages from the locals, the state and federal governments and the outside world which sent observers. An environmental audit of Ogoniland done by the United Nations Environment Programme sometime ago had shown that while oil extracted from the land had generated billions of dollars for Nigeria, the goose laying the golden egg was left in a state of total devastation. While roads, bridges and social amenities were springing up in other parts of the country, Ogoni’s farmlands were scorched, its waterways blackened by crude, leaving its sons and daughters deprived of farmlands, fishing assets, drinking water and even clean air to breathe. The Ogonis were treated like a conquered people in their own land. The cry of Saro-Wiwa and others was considered an affront by the oppressors and they had to pay with their lives.
Thankfully, things changed after Abacha died and the civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo initiated moves to redress the wrongs done to the people. Credit must be given to President Muhammadu Buhari for showing the will to start the cleanup. Hopefully it should serve to reconcile a penitent nation and the longsuffering Ogonis who for long were consigned to political wilderness. By now it must be clear to all that in a federation like ours, never again should any one group treat others as inferiors. This government needs to ensure that the Ogoni restoration begins without further delay. Precious time has been lost since 2011 when UNEP’s report was presented to the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration. While President Jonathan delayed, the despoliation of the land and the impoverishment of the people continued apace. A key suggestion of the UN body to Nigeria is: “Given the dynamic nature of oil pollution and the extent of contamination revealed in UNEP’s study, failure to begin addressing urgent public health concerns and commencing a cleanup will only exacerbate and unnecessarily prolong the Ogoni people’s suffering.” Honestly, we think they have suffered enough.
The Ogonis deserve praise for their non-violent struggle which has paid off in the end. It won worldwide admiration and support, making a multinational company like Shell to look bad in the eye of people worldwide. The company is yet to fully recover. To redeem its image, it must keep its promise to play its own part – financially and morally — in righting past wrongs.

But amidst the optimism now pervading the land, the enormity of the cleanup exercise should not be lost on anyone. Just as the devastation was massive, the restoration also will be thorough and comprehensive. The world is watching to see the quality of work to be done. UNEP says $1 billion will be required immediately to start the cleanup over an initial five-year period. The government and the oil companies, Shell in particular, should quickly make the funds available. UNEP estimates the whole exercise will last the next 25 to 30 years. So nothing should obstruct immediate action.
Also, the cleanup must be a first class job that will become a global benchmark. Let nobody be in doubt that the project will be subjected to very close scrutiny by civil society, the media, and the international community. Agreed timelines must be adhered to strictly. The cleanup of Ogoniland should be the beginning of restoring the entire Niger Delta.