On November 10, 1995, nine leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine were summarily executed based on trumped up charges of murder. Led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, the movement had been a pain point for the military regime of General Sani Abacha. What fuelled the disagreement was document pushed by the MOSOP. It was known as the Ogoni Bill of Rights, and it called for the increased autonomy for the Ogoni people; a fair share of the extracted crude oil proceeds; and also a call for the rehabilitation of the environment from the damages caused by the oil extraction.
These demands were somewhat taken as an affront on the existence and profitability of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) which was the primary oil extraction company in the Ogoni vicinity. The matter escalated fast and it soon got the attention of Gen Sani Abacha who would stop at nothing to ensure that the revenue pool for himself, his cronies, and the country does not suffer any losses. Sani Abacha went into action – he set up a sham trial which caught international attention even before the execution eventually took place. SPDC too, as would later be revealed by witnesses who recanted, supplied several hundred trumped-up evidence to corroborate the case for execution of the accused nine.
All efforts by some world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and others who reached out to Abacha, seeking clemency for the Ogoni 9 were to no avail. Abacha would have his way in this, and he knew he would have to damn the consequences to achieve that.
The execution of these Ogoni 9 leaders was expected to silence agitation in the region. Instead, it became the fuel which led to a part-solution as the amnesty deal for militants by President Musa Yar’adua. Several other militant groups grew out of the anger borne by the Ogoni execution. And though, SPDC failed to still decommission a few oil extraction units, Ogoni land and the entire Niger Delta region would have suffered worse fate environmentally if the Ogoni 9 had not martyred themselves.
23 years later, the Ogoni 9 still continues to haunt. Not only is Abacha and SPDC’s history in Nigeria stained, that partakers in the sham trial still roam free while enjoying the best of life is a strange omen for our polity which we must shake off. One of the judges at the trial, Col Hamid Ali (Rtd) is currently the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service. This alone calls into question how importantly we take history; it keeps challenging how we allow questionable characters at the helm of national affairs while shaping our future to their statutes.
The entire Niger Delta region is still an environmental risk with oil spillage and gas flaring rife. However, the recent move by the Federal Government further increasing the gas flaring penalty by oil extraction companies is a great development. Even if the promised Niger Delta environmental cleanup keeps getting postponed, discouraging gas flaring is a pragmatic step which shows that Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other 8 leaders of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) did not die in vain after all.