By Emmanuel Nduka, Chioma Iruke and Grace Udofia
Ogoni land gained international attention in the early 1990s, after a group of nine noble men under the auspices of the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) rose to resist the operating practices of the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Corporation. The group was led by Author and Playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Others were Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine.
The group later known as the ‘Ogoni 9’, were arrested by the military regime of late dictator, General Sani Abacha. They were mischievously tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni Chiefs at a pro-government meeting. All nine of them were later executed in 1995 on the orders of Abacha.
BUHARI’S GESTURE OF PARDON
On Friday, October 22, 2021, a powerful delegation of Ogoni leaders paid a courtesy visit to President Muhammadu Buhari to hold serious talks. The team of Ogoni leaders were not like some other groups from the Niger Delta Region that travel to the Aso Rock Villa to do eye service. Their demands were sincere and straight forward. They demanded exoneration for their kinsman, whom they do not find guilty of committing any crime.
In the aftermath of the meeting, President Buhari resolved to grant Presidential Pardon to Saro-Wiwa and the eight other activists, and bring the case to a closure.
The motive behind the president’s gesture is in a rainbow of conflicting colours. On one hand, is the Federal Government truly pardoning the group from its conscience? Or is it trying to score a political point? Either way, the move may not be unconnected to efforts to calm the agitations in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The government is losing revenue because there are no drilling operations going on in the Oil and Gas industry, most importantly, the OML11 in Ogoni land. The government may have made this commitment to the Ogoni people because of the huge economic downturn in the Oil and Gas industry.
WHAT BUHARI SAID
The posthumous pardon for Saro-Wiwa was announced in a statement conveyed by Presidential Spokesman, Femi Adesina. It noted that despite the gravity of the circumstances, the Federal Government will consider the request to grant them pardon and bring closure to the case.
“Furthermore, we are committed to ensuring clemency and national integration as part of this administration’s bid to lay the foundation for genuine reconciliation and bring closure to the issues of Ogoni Land. 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.
“Despite the grievous circumstances, the Federal Government will consider the request for the grant of pardon to finally close the Ogoni saga,” Buhari was quoted as saying.
President Buhari lobbied the Ogoni leaders to sensitize their people on the value of protecting national assets like pipelines and other oil installations, saying wilful damages usually create more havoc on their environment and hamper development in the area. He also posited that the Federal Government is committed to the cleaning up of Ogoni land so that indigenes can regain their lives, return to farms and reactivate economic activities. He said the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Ltd (NPDC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), had been granted license to operate OML11, which will stimulate economic activities and integration in the zone.
“You will need to educate the people of Ogoni Land and the region more that when pipelines are broken, the damage is more to the immediate environment and the people. The majority farmers and fishermen struggle because the fishes now move to the deep sea.
“Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished representatives of the people of Ogoni Land, I note the need to ensure completion of segment of the East-West road traversing Ogoni Land, and steps will be taken to ensure delivery under the Infrastructure Development Fund as earlier conceived. We intend to complete this vital artery of Nigeria.
“To ensure the stimulation of economic activities in Ogoni Land as underpinned by the vast petroleum resources underlying Ogoni Land and neighboring communities, NPDC, a subsidiary of the NNPC has been granted license to operate OML11.
“Accordingly, NNPC is hereby directed to engage all host communities, particularly Ogoni people to ensure inclusive processes of oil and gas exploration and production is anchored on optimum involvement of host communities. NPDC will lay a broad-based programme for the emergence of a new Ogoni Land for the benefit of the Ogoni people and Nigeria as a whole,” he added.
While the President in his wisdom has done his best, the Ogoni people have largely rejected the pardon, and demanded exoneration instead.
Owens Wiwa, brother of the late activist said the people of Ogoni land reject any plan by the President to grant state pardon to the late renowned activist. According to him, “the Ogoni people demand that the Buhari government exonerates Ken Saro-Wiwa and not grant him a Pardon.”
Senator Lee Maeba, former Senator representing Rivers South East, who spoke to The Heritage Times via text message, commended President Buhari for the gesture, noting that it was “a good posthumous honour”. Replying to questions as to why a pardon and not exoneration, he explained that the President noted that it was a “pardon and Clemency”.
Former Director of Military Intelligence and younger brother of Saro-Wiwa, Gen. Letam Wugate Wiwa when contacted, declined comments on the issue, stating that the Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation will issue a statement regarding the questions.
King of Bangha and Chairman, Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, King Baridam Suanu lauded the President for the proposed gesture. Speaking via a telephone conversation, the Monarch said, “If the President has granted them pardon, that is a good thing and we are happy about that.
“Irrespective of the President’s move, there is still going to be a reaction because it’s a thing that has been in the heart of everyone, whether you call it exoneration or anything, whether we like it or not, a law or a tribunal or a tribunal junta either it was legally or illegally formed, pronounced nine of them guilt for a criminal offense.
“As far as I am concerned, no court or law in the land has reversed the decision. So if that has not been done in the eye of the law, it means that they were found guilty of the charges that was brought before them.
“I was part of that delegation and I was so happy about the President’s decision. There will definitely be different reactions from other people, but for me as a king going to see the president this time is the best thing that ever happened. I have gone to see different presidents five times, this one was different. All the request brought before the president was granted, that meant a lot to me. History has surely been made,” he said in a rather cheerful mood.
Meanwhile, Senator Magnus Abe did not respond to calls and messages to his lines on the issue.