Statement by Ledum Mitee, the acting president of MOSOP,
on the occasion of the Ogoni Day celebrations on 4th January 1997
Four years ago today, 300,000 Ogoni people came out on a remarkably peaceful march to give practical expression to our struggle for environmental and social justice. That bold act of rejection of slavery and oppression marked the beginning of our worsening season of suffering. Ever since, consistent efforts have been made to silence our cries for justice through deaths, detentions and general repression.
In the past year the trend which many thought peaked with the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in November 1995, was carried to frightening proportions. Thirty six extrajudicial executions were carried out, 286 people detained and military raids carried out on 21 Ogoni communities at various times in the past year. 1,000 Ogonis are now refugees in neighbouring West African countries, in terrible conditions. The curfew that was imposed in the futile attempt to frustrate the activities marking the first anniversary of the executions is still in force in Ogoni, whilst the state of terror has been been entrenched to the extent that even church thanksgiving services and burial ceremonies in Ogoni can only take place with the permission and payment of levies to the soldiers of occupation in Ogoni.
Despite calls from all over the world, the Nigerian military dictatorship continues to detain the Ogoni 19 under inhuman conditions, and insists on subjecting them to the same gravely flawed process through which the murder of the Ogoni 9 was given a judicial mask. This time it is intended only to military the charade by substituting the military member of that tribunal with a civilian appointee of the military.
Shell persists in its refusal to condemn this obvious injustice and continues to oil the apparatus of repression on the Ogoni, defying world opinion to change its acts , not its image. Although it was forced recently to admit that it actually paid field allowances to soldiers terrorising the Ogoni people, Shell continues to bask in the vain comfort of its public relations offensive. So crude and inhuman has been its recent tactics that it now makes payments for spillage claims conditional upon the claimants' supporting Shell's return to Ogoni. If they will not support Shell, they do not get paid.
All of us Ogoni people and our supporters world wide must step up their rejection and non-co-operation with all instruments of oppression and repression. Since Shell has shown its preference for propaganda over genuine resolution of the problems, I hereby call on all Ogonis to resist to the last man any attempt by the company to stage a forced and/or forged return to Ogoniland until our demands are met in full.This is the most abiding duty which destiny has thrust upon this generation of Ogoni people, the abdication of which is suicidal. As I anniversary in my speech during the first anniversary of the executions, ' to fail in this task) would be a betrayal of the dead, an enslavement of the living and perpetual depravity for our posterity'.
I call on all men of goodwill the world over to embrace the Ogoni struggle and to equally reject the brutality of the forces against it. The Ogoni struggle has come to represent the abiding battle between injustice and justice represented by the monstrous alliance between a powerful but heartless trans-national oil company and a brutal dictatorship determined to silence a nonviolent protest by an indigenous minority group, if only to intimidate others struggling for justice. This therefore imposes a corresponding duty on all lovers of justice to ensure that the Ogoni struggle succeeds against the forces of oppression, repression and injustice.
Consequently, I plead with governments, organisations and all those who cherish freedom and justice the world over to step up pressure on Shell to respect the environmental and human rights of the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta, as well as use the influence, which it undoubtedly has, over its slick ally-the Nigerian Military, to:
One most effective way of putting this pressure is to boycott Shell products, which is being urged as the target of this year's campaigns.
Western governments and international organisations notably the Commonwealth, EU and the UN should see the compliance by the Nigerian government with the above as an important benchmark in assessing Nigeria's human rights records, the non compliance with which should attract tougher actions. After all, it was the judicial murder of the Ogoni leaders that led to the international outrage and limited sanctions which were intended to force Nigeria to make positive changes towards the respect of human rights and genuine democratisation. Those changes have not come and the promises and gestures of the regime remain hollow to the Ogoni and other Nigerians who suffer dearly. The only convincing evidence of transition to democracy must be the restoration of basic freedoms and due process.
As we celebrate yet another Ogoni Day today, I must thank all our supporters who have stood by us in our determined efforts at ensuring that the sacrifices of the heroes of the struggle must never be in vain. Although recent actions by the Military government and Shell have shown a determined attempt to silence the Ogoni people, it is gratifying to note that today is not only being marked in Ogoniland in defiance of the repression, but also all over the world.
To the Ogoni people, I once again salute your courage and spirit of steadfastness. To me, nothing is more reassuring than the fact that in spite of these repressive efforts intended to silence and intimidate us, we have by our courage, resilience and discipline cast out the yoke of crass complacency and passivity that has enslaved many an oppressed people. Your courage has demistified the oppressor. Your resilience in the face of agonies has attracted world attention and reprieved the oppressor a slumbering conscience . Your discipline in the face of provocations has inspired hope and rewarded faith in non-violence as a weapon for fighting oppression.
May I repeat the fact that being fortified by the lessons of history, inspired by the sacrifices of our heroes and vindicated by the justness of our cause, there is no doubt about our ultimate victory. This strong but patient confidence I have in the ultimate justice for our cause is no vision of a distant millenium. It is attainable, and must be attained, in our own time and generation!
Ledum Mitee - 4th Jan 1997