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Recruitment Speech and Flyers of Weke Okujagu
Developed by Michael Lassiter, Highland Park High/Middle School

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 your plight.

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?

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