National Union of Ogoni Students

Dedicated to the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni people, and all indigenous students around the world

April 26, 2006

Background to the Ogoni Struggle

Filed under: Uncategorized @ 3:54 pm




Movement for the Survival of the 

                                                Ogoni People




A Brief Presentation 


                                                                    - Sir Meshack Karanwi 




The MOVEMENT FOR THE Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) is an Ogoni-based non-governmental, non-political Organization committed to the advocacy of human, environmental, economic, political, and cultural rights of the Ogoni ethnic minority people of Southeastern Nigeria. Adjudged 500,000 in population by the Nigerian census of 1963, the Ogoni may number about one million people currently. 


In land mass Ogoni is larger than 21 and, in numerical strength, more populous than 37 nations registered with the United Nations. As an ethnic nationality of one of the indigenous peoples of the West African sub-region, the Ogoni fought for their survival among other ethnic minorities of today’s Niger Delta and enjoyed self determination under- self rule until the advent of colonialism when it was forced into varying types of political arrangements over different periods of its history. The Ogoni struggle for survival and self- determination can rightly be said to have begun with western colonialism and the resultant geo-political amalgam which resulted from it, the Nigerian nation state. Today, in independent Nigeria it fights internal colonialism which began with the political penetration of Ogoni through a planned but ethnic- inspired political control and resource transfer from the numerically weaker Ogoni for the development of the dominant areas. By that indegenous colonialism with its tins of oppression, repression and criminal exploitation, Ogoni has remained impoverished despite the endowment of all its six kingdoms with a fertile alluvial pain for agriculture, streams and rivers for fishing, and oil and gas. Through undemocratic laws, Ogoni lands have been allocated for people of other tribes, its resources exploited without consultation or participation and its environment degraded. 



                                         The Birth of MOSOP 

Having failed, through decades of a painful pursuit of economic and political empowerment for the Ogoni through political participation, petitions and agitations, it became clear that Ogoni emancipation would not be achieved so long as the constitutional arrangement and the existing political structures remained. An alternative strategy to amplify the Ogoni struggle and hasten the realization of its goals was to be pursued. Behind this new thinking was Ken Saro-Wiwa, prolific writer, business-man, minority rights campaigner and environmentalist. He wrote the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) and convened the Ogoni assembly to consider it. It was unanimously adopted and local chieftains, elders and the Ogoni elite scrambled to sign it. MOSOP was then proposed to be the umbrella organization through which the OBR was to be pursued through non-violent struggle. 


The Bill of Rights which was presented to the Government in 1990 called for, among other things, political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the republic as a distinct and separate unit (by whatever name called), provided that this autonomy guarantees political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people; The right to control and use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development; Adequate representations, as of right in all Nigerian national institutions, and the Right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation. 


The OBR was ignored by government for three years. The Ogoni assembly, under the leadership of Ken Saro-Wiwa reconvened and in an addendum to the OBR empowered MOSOP to make representations to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the economic and cultural rights of the Ogoni people especially that the Nigerian constitution does not protect the rights of the Ogoni as an ethnic minority. 




Although the efforts to mobilise the Ogoni people had been sustained from 1989, a major turning point was in 1992 when Ken Saro-Wiwa, spokesman of the Ogoni presented the Ogoni case before the UN Commission on Human Rights at its summer confab in Geneva. The OBR received wide coverage in the local and international media. Village, district and nationality meetings and rallies were held in Ogoni to educate the people on the purpose and tenets of the struggle. If the whole idea of MOSOP and an organized struggle was exciting to the Ogoni, the presence of Ken as the Grand theorist and ‘commander’ of the movement had an electrifying effect. His patriotic love and zeal for the Ogoni had long endeared him to the people. Some elite and chieftains that had long been discarded by the Ogoni were beginning to earn respect and acceptance merely by association with MOSOP. An elite Ogoni group, KAGOTE, under the leadership of Dr. G.B. Leton (first president of MOSOP at the time) conferred the first Ogoni national merit award on Ken in November 1992. The citations on that occasion cannot be reproduced here, except to say that when envy and jealousy, oiled by the government tactic of divide-and-rule set in later, some members of the same elite group were not only to desert the movement but also rewrite their eulogies to call for Ken’s hanging. 




January 4, 1993 was the day for carefully planned demonstrations throughout Ogoni. All six kingdoms of Ogoni turned out 300,000 people in protest rallies characterized by marches, speeches, drumming and dancing.  Most of the lost vegetation appeared’replaced’ on the streets, roads and playgrounds as every protester brandished green leaves alongside placards. The rally was also to mark the UN International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. 



Reaction of Shell & Government 

Rather than dialogue with MOSOP and accredited Ogoni leaders, government and Shell chose to harass, arrest and detain them, especially Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa. Rallies and demonstrations were frequently stopped and the people intimidated but the Ogonis were not to be deterred. When peasant farmers turned out to protest further destruction of their crops for new pipelines, Shell would promptly call in soldiers who would shoot, kill and maim. In april 1993 government promulgated the treason and treasonable offenses Decree which made the demand for any form of political autonomy a capital crime. The Attorney-General at the time explained that the decree was  “aimed at combating organizations such as MOSOP which are viewed as secessionist by virtue of their championing of ethnic causes and their advocacy of fundamental changes in the relations between the central government and local communities.” Since the decree would not deter the Ogoni people, Government and Shell held meeting on how to stop the Ogoni agitation and counter the international campaign against government and Shell. They were to monitor Saro-Wiwa and mount an anti-MOSOP campaign. Ken was arrested in June 1993 and charged for traeson. Alhaji Alhaji, Nigeria’s High Commissioner in Britain said MOSOP had declared Ogoni republic, hoisted its flag and printed its own currencies. 

Shell and government collaborated also to use the divide-and-rule tactic on Ogoni to ‘weaken’ the movement. Money and other enticements were to be used to ‘split’ the organization by bribing people against each other. 


Armed attacks were sponsored against the Ogonis, first, using the Andoni axis (June-September 1993), the Okrikans (Nov. 1993), the Ndoki-Ibo axis (April 1994). The ‘grand finale’ was to start on May 21,1994 after four pro-government Ogonis were murdered at Giokoo in a riot precipitated by a planned military occupation of Ogoni that day. The entire Ogoni was sent into the forests and several people shot (reports on these incidents are available from several human rights organizations). Several Ogoni villages were wiped out in some of these ‘wasting operations’. 



Military Tribunal and the 1995 Hangings 

Accusing MOSOP of ‘dissident tendencies’ and ‘acts of economic sabotage’, the Nigerian military, in collaboration with Shell, rather than address the demands articulated in the Ogoni Bill of Rights chose to visit warfare on the people and kill MOSOP. Without any valid allegation Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis were sentenced to death and executed on November 1995 using testimonies ‘witnesses’ were bribed to sign. Shell retained the services of an attorney, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to represent ‘the interest of Shell’ throughout the proceedings of the military tribunal. In that, Shell and the Nigeriam military, demonstrated again, that the spilling of blood is legitimate as long as oil would flow. While 20 other Ogonis await trial by the same tribunal, Ogoni remains under military siege. MOSOP leadership is being decimated in an attempt to crush the movement. 



January 1996 killings 

Undeterred, the Ogoni defied the military to hold their annual Ogoni Day celebration on January 4th 1996. The army again went to work, increasing troops to over 3,000, shooting, killing, and looting at the end of which some persons were killed, several wounded and at least 300 arrested, including Ledum Mitee, lawyer and deputy president of MOSOP who came out of a 16-month detention in October 1995. Ogoni remains under severe suppression. 


MOSOP offices have been looted and sealed by security forces while several officers and activists have gone underground or fled into exile in different countries. While government lies that Ogoni is free for everyone to ‘visit and see things for themselves’ independent reporters who venture into the area are arrested and detained, sometimes tortured. Paul Adams of the Financial Times of London is one of their latest victims arrested on January 4th, 1997. Ogoni is today in an undeclared state of emergency and its people under severe military repression and punishment. 



Government Propaganda 


The anti-MOSOP campaign by Shell and the Nigerian military have been intensified since the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The circulation of two booklets printed by government since last year have been intensified and Nigerian diplomats have been given handouts to advertise in foreign newspapers. While the booklets aim to discredit MOSOP the trust of the advertisements is to justify the judicial murder of Ken.


Although the first booklet is unsigned, MOSOP has evidence that it is published by the Federal Ministry of Information. Captioned The Ogoni Crisis: How Saro-Wiwa turned MOSOP into a Gestapo and the later (though backdated) booklet, The Ogoni crisis: The true Story contain fake pictures and documents to portray MOSOP as a terrorist organization. Government got ‘smarter’ with the latter in accrediting it to a non-existent ‘Ogoni Study Group’. Government films on Ogoni have been aired on State stations and circulated in the Western world. A commissioned film has been released which is partly sponsored by Shell. 


Published by MOSOP Bureau of Information & Publicity, October 1997. 




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