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Visions of the Alfa Talakawa, from the Proletariat...Nigeria, as I see it

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is on trial here, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learned here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished. Ken Saro-Wiwa before the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Trial in 1995

I honestly do not know if I should laugh or cry.

For the uninitiated, let me tell you a thing or two about the man called Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa.

I never knew who he was until the rested Basi and Company sitcom debuted in 1985. I was a kid then but I will never forget the catchphrases ‘To be a millionaire, think like a millionaire’ ‘Madam the Madam’ (which drew the ‘It’s a matter of cash’ response from the flamboyant landlady Mr B (Basi) was always owing rent arrears) ‘Brandy for Dandy’…ohhh I am getting nostalgic and nostalgia is taboo in a generation suffering from induced amnesia.

Fast forward to 1993, and I read he was arrested and detained for mobilizing the Ogoni people in Nigeria to boycott the June 12 Presidential election. At a time there was mass hysteria for millionaire turned politician, the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, to be elected President, I wondered why my childhood hero went against the grain.

That would begin my initiation rites to the travails of the Niger Delta and the complicity of the ‘Oil Giants’ in the power play. I would later read his account of that detention under the Ibrahim Babangida administration in A Month and a Day, a Detention Diary much later in 2004, long after I had become so enmeshed in the pains and travails of the GusuTalakawa (The Proletariat from the South-South).

I take it back to 1994, Abacha was in Power, he had just granted some reprieve to Zamani Lekwot who was sentenced to death by hanging for ‘aiding and abetting’ the Zangon-Kataf communal unrest under the Ibrahim Babangida regime. The death sentence was commutted to a short prison term, and Abacha released him 18th March 1994.

Then Ken Saro Wiwa got arrested May 22, same year. Four prominent Ogoni had been killed and Ken was arrested with 8 others, his offence? He allegedly had incited the mob to kill those four by saying in his dialect ‘Go to Giokoo and deal with the Vultures’ and according to Justice Ibrahim Auta, calling someone a vulture in Ogoniland is equivalent to sentencing the person to death. I still wonder how Ibrahim Auta got so schooled in the ways of the Ogoni and honestly, I wish I had a means to save the electronic copy back then because I have searched fruitlessly for a copy of his ‘explanation’ which was published in the wake of Ken’s brutal hanging. I feared for Ken back then for a very unlikely reason. Zamani Lekwot had just been spared; to ‘spare’ Ken would be a ‘show of weakness’ tyrants can go on ‘pardoning’ everybody…

November 10, days after the then Provisional Ruling Council (I wonder why it is only Abacha’s name that kept popping up?) approved the execution; I was listening to the radio at 11am when my worst fears were confirmed: Ken and the others had been hung! His last words? "Lord, take my soul but (let) the struggle continue(s)!"

Fingers were pointed in Shell’s direction, I recall reading some pamphlet by Shell claiming that the allegations of environmental degradation in Ogoni were exaggerated and they were going to conduct an independent Environmental Impact Assessment to prove it (I am still waiting, 14 years after).

I eerily term Ken’s last words as The Hang(ed)man’s Curse (To take liberties from Frank Peretti) because the struggle did indeed continue, however with a grisly dimension. The spate of kidnaps, the blowing up of Oil installations, further wrecking the environment, the Odi massacre…..the Spectre of Ken’s hasty hanging just keeps looming over Nigeria like an ominous portent. Why was he treated so bad, that even in death, his body had to be desecrated with acid and dumped in a shallow prison grave, the grave diggers allegedly threatened that the burial site be a secret they would take to their own graves;wherever that will be? (thanks to DNA sampling, the Obasanjo administration approved that the remains of the Ogoni Nine be exhumed for a ‘proper’ burial)

Fourteen years of legal tussle with Shell will follow, with Ken Saro Wiwa junior burdened with the legacy of his father. After years of brick walls, a US District court in Manhattan, New York decided to give the case a hearing. That was when I heard the news that made me so undecided if I should laugh or cry. Shell was settling out of court to the tune of $ 15.5 million! For once, I was hoping Shell was finally admitting guilt even though I felt the amount was a paltry sum compared to the gains of Shell exploiting oil from this region. Then, in characteristic arrogance, they would have us believe it is just a humanitarian gesture. After years of fighting valiantly to be heard, did Ken Jnr. Lose his steam just at the time someone finally decided to grant a hearing?

Why is Shell’s ‘humanitarian gesture’ just getting in about the time the trial was to commence? The excerpts from the plaintiff stole whatever rant I had on this issue: I, Plumbtifex Rantimus, Priest of the Proles, hit a psychospiritual (add that to the dictionary) crossroad!

The larger disputes between Shell and Ogoni remain and are beyond the scope of our


The decision to accept Shell’s offer came after lengthy and exhaustive deliberations

by ten individual plaintiffs in consultation with our attorneys, but today we, Lucky

Doobee, Monday Gbokoo, David Kiobel, Karalolo Kogbara, Blessing Kpuinen, James

N-nah, Friday Nuate, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., Michael Vizor, and Owens Wiwa, have

collectively agreed that it is time to move on with our lives and we have decided to

put this sad chapter behind us. -PLAINTIFFS,WIWA V. ROYAL DUTCH/SHELL,

I do understand the families’ need for closure. Fourteen traumatic years is a whole lot, what I fear is the image of Ken Saro Wiwa in my mind’s eye, waving his pipe furiously, telling Shell, “This is just a prequel, your day, foretold by me almost fourteen years ago, HAS NOT COME!”

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