December 1, 1995 in Khana, a village outside of Port Harcourt in the Rivers State
“He cursed the earth for spouting oil, black gold, they called it. And he cursed the gods for not drying the
oil wells. What did it matter that millions of barrels of oil were mined and exported daily, so long as this
poor woman wept those tears of despair?…Could he make alternate land available? And would the lawmakers revise
the laws just to bring a bit more happiness to these unhappy wretches whom the search for oil had reduced to an animal
existence? They ought to send the oil royalties to the men whose farms and land were despoiled and ruined. But
the lawyers were in the pay of the oil companies and the government people in the pay of the lawyers and the companies.”
(“Night Ride,” A Forest of Flowers, 115-116)
These words written by Ken Saro-Wiwa should spur on the Ogoni
people. You desire change, I know, but what kind of change?
Do you think General Abacha will bring changes you need?
Even though he replaced interim President Ernest Shonekan,
who we know had been controlled by Shell because of his
former position as Shell Nigeria’s director, Abacha has
repeatedly shown he is untrustworthy. I say these words
knowing that I could face the punishment that Saro-Wiwa
did. His protests against Shell were ended on November
5 when he was executed after a hurried government trial,
but in death, his struggle for the Ogoni must continue.
General Abacha will not struggle for the 500,000 Ogoni
who live in just 650 square kilometers. Your land is
responsible for 80% of the government’s wealth. With
95% of our revenues coming from our combined oil reserves,
do you think they will trade your yams or cassava for
Shell, Texaco, Mobil or Chevron’s oil?
Many of our ancestors were taken from us in chains to the United
States of America long ago. The British also had their
days keeping us caged while we worked and slaved as their
colonial puppets. Now it is the Americans again who have
made us slaves to their economic desires. 58% of our
oil goes to the U.S. alone. That has given them tremendous
ability to influence our government. They have not.
They have remained silent as long as the government has
supported their oil companies or multinationals like Shell.
They make no protest over the destruction of Nigeria’s
delta farmland, which from 1982 to 1992 had more than
6.4 million liters of oil spilled on it! The U.S. does
not stand for freedom for the Ogoni and neither does Abacha
as long as Nigeria is enslaved to oil capitalism and blinded
by the hard shell of black gold.
The time has come to realize that your land is not safe.
The government does not hear your cries and neither does
the world. Even though the world watched as members of
your MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People)
were tried, convicted, and then hanged for false charges,
no country intervened. Earthlife Africa, Amnesty International,
Greenpeace, and others could do nothing either. The greed
that comes from over $30 billion since 1958 from the oil
in your region is a powerful influence on government policy.
There will never be enough political power in the Rivers
State to stop the drilling or clean up the land properly.
Anytime that you have tried, you have found yourselves
facing the guns of the Nigerian army. Do you not remember
when they tried to blame their violence against you on
a fictional struggle you were having with the Adoni in
your region in the summer of 1993? The government will
say they always have a reason to silence you in the name
of promoting peace and prosperity in all of Nigeria. I know that Ken Saro-Wiwa has told you, “We either
win this war to save our land, or we will be exterminated,
because we have nowhere to run to.” But your land is not
worth so many deaths in order to keep your farms. You
can only grow enough food to barely feed yourselves.
You drink from rivers that give you the guinea worm.
Your skies are filled with choking air. The oil has blackened
your land as it has blackened the eyes of the world to
I have come from Jos, in what used to be known as the
“middle belt,” to offer you a hope. But I am not Fulani.
I am Gwari, and I know what it is like to be dominated
by powers that have been in place for many years. We
Nigerians need to think of ourselves as Nigerians first
now. With over 400 different ethnic groupings, we only
have one or two things that can unify us and protect us
from those who would enslave us again. We have our pride
and the lands that we truly own for ourselves. In Jos,
we have both. We have even united our Christian and Muslim
communities to strengthen our pride in building a better
Nigeria. We have pride in everyone’s abilities to do
so. Our wives and daughters are respected and many of
us do not even take more than one wife. In fact, my wife
Fola has traveled with me on the difficult train ride
here to show you that I am not looking to attract another
wife with my speaking. Yes, I am an educated man, but
you are educated people. Life in the Rivers State has
taught you that the Niger River flows from the north,
but that money in Nigeria flows from the West. I am here
to show you that the key to changing your destinies lies
in the Center on the Plateau.
Nigeria has always thrived more on what we can mine from
underneath our land not what we can grow in our fields.
Gari (cassava porridge) may taste good to us, but it is
not being sent to other countries in crates. Our only
hope for real economic growth lies in the mining industry.
Even though there are not many nairas being paid right
now. My company, the Nigerian Mining Corporation is willing
to raise their wage rate for those who are willing to
commit to moving to the Plateau State to help rejuvenate
the mining industry. We used to be the world’s sixth
largest producer of tin, but because of the recklessness
of the British companies, who mined our land up to 36
meters below the surface, it is not that profitable.
Our future wealth lies in two minerals we have barely
begun to tap into: iron ore and uranium.
These minerals represent Nigeria’s ticket to a better
life. There is even a commitment by the government to
rebuild the mining industry properly. The tin industry
was nationalized in 1972. The Nigerian
Coal Corporation controls the coal industry. There
is a Ministry of Solid Mineral Development now that wants
to increase Nigeria’s revenues from mining from
1% to 15% in the next five years. Its minister, Kolomi
Ali, seems to understand that it may take foreign money
to begin our ventures in Nigeria but that the money they
invest should go to the Nigerian people.
He has provided for “full profit repatriation”. This
means you will be patriots of Nigeria in securing
profits for yourselves! Think of the opportunity
involved in making the move to Jos. You will no longer
have to live in leaky thatched roof huts farming land
that is polluted with oil. You can live in houses with
tin roofs and work in an industry that will bring Nigeria
freedom from the control of companies like Shell. This
is what Ken Saro-Wiwa died for. He died fighting to see
Nigeria united in protecting the rights and lands of its
common people. I have come here to your village today
to find those willing to take the risk to carry on his
fight on an economic level, the only level our government
understands. I travel to Tai, Gokana, and Korokoro over
the next few days to enlist more of your Ogoni brothers
in this fight. In a week, I will travel to villages near
Warri to enlist members of the Ijaw also. Together in
Jos, we can fulfill Ken Saro-Wiwa’s final statement before
the Military Tribunal sentenced him on October 31, 1995.
“I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta,
and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand
up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights.
History is on their side. God is on their side. For
the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41s: All those that
fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish
the oppressor. Come the day.”
What will you do? Will you stay in the Ogoniland and fight
what is a never-ending battle for your oil-polluted farms
and homelands? Or will you travel to Jos with your families
and make a new home for yourself working in the mines
of the Plateau State?