On October 22, 2021, a selected group of Ogoni leaders attended a parley at State House with President Muhammadu Buhari. Among other issues, the President stated that the “federal government will consider the request for the grant of pardon to finally close the Ogoni saga”.
The President made this commitment to “consider” a pardon immediately after he declared that “the unfortunate incidents of the early 1990s leading to the loss of lives of distinguished sons of Ogoni land and the collateral judicial processes are indelible in our memories”.
Based on the above, it is important to note that no civil society organisation in Nigeria has asked for a presidential “pardon” for Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine, who were unjustly murdered by the Sani Abacha dictatorship. The nine were denied the opportunity to appeal their sentence and were hurriedly executed amidst tremendous international pressure including sanctions against Nigeria.
What we have consistently demanded is an admission that the quasi-judicial process which resulted in the conviction of the Ogoni 9 was a mockery of justice orchestrated by the military government with the active collaboration of Shell to quell community demands for resource and ecological justice.
What we continue to demand is the complete exoneration of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8. It is also important to note that the President’s suggestion of granting a “pardon” is tantamount to saying that the 9 were guilty and rightly executed.
We deem the proposal to “consider” a pardon for Ken Saro-Wiwa and his comrades insensitive and offensive to their memory and that of other victims of environmental injustice. We also consider it a denial of the need to bring closure to the thousands of Ogonis who were victims of government driven repression characterised by murders, rape, torture and forced exile.
The President also used the opportunity of the parley to state that the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Ltd (NPDC) had been granted license to re-open and operate OML11. It is pertinent to recollect that, in 1993, Shell was forced to abandon its OML 11 operations located in Ogoni and pull out of the area.
This was the direct outcome of passionate but peaceful campaigns by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by Ken Saro-Wiwa. MOSOP had called the attention of the world to the poverty, neglect and environmental destruction which decades of oil exploitation had bequeathed on the Ogoni people.
MOSOP had also demanded fairer benefits to the Ogoni people from oil wealth, as well as remediation and compensation for the ecological damage caused by the reckless activities of oil companies. These have still not been addressed.
In 2007, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) carried out a scientific assessment of the impact of oil pollution on parts of the Ogoni environment, the report of UNEP indicated massive soil and water contamination in Ogoni land, which has significantly compromised sources of livelihood and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants.
So alarmed was UNEP about the findings that it recommended that inhabitants of the area immediately stop using water from all their traditional sources, while the government was to immediately commence a clean up exercise which could take up to thirty years. It was only about three years ago that the government began actual clean up with a new agency called HYPREP.
It is therefore shocking that while the clean up is ongoing, the government is prioritising the restarts of oil extraction in the same area being cleaned up, with all its polluting impacts. We also know for a fact that the level of soil and water contamination in other parts of the oil producing areas of the country are similar to Ogoni or worse. The ecological disaster in Ogoni land provides a cue for the government to take actions towards the clean up of the entire Niger Delta.
It is important to reiterate that proposing an unnecessary “pardon” for the Ogoni 9, seemingly in exchange for support to reopen OML 11, is in bad faith and capable to breeding conflict.
If the President is interested in reversing the injustice which the murder of the Ogoni 9 represents, the appropriate action is to exonerate the Ogoni martyrs and apologise to the Ogoni people. We also advice the President to institute strategies for a region wide clean up of decades of environmental pollution which has stolen the people’s livelihood and poisoned them.
Statement endorsed by; Nnimmo Bassey (Health of Mother Earth Foundation), Ken Henshaw (We the People), Celestine AkpoBari (Peoples’ Advancement Centre), Chima Williams (Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria), Abiodun Baiyewu (Global Rights), Umo Isua (Peace Point Development Foundation), Philip Jakpor (Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa), Iyingi Irimagha (Gender and Development Action), Olumide Idowu (International Climate Change Development Initiative), Tijah Bolton (Policy Alert11), and Rev. Williams (Probel Ogoni Peoples Assembly)