By Chido Onumah
On November 10, 1995, a horrifying event took place in Port-Harcourt, the oil city in South-south Nigeria. It was the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, internationally acclaimed author and environmental rights activists and eight of his compatriots. Two years after, echoes of that mindless and depraved application of state power still reverberate around the world.
The international community is justifiably appalled and concerned now as it was two years ago when the murders occurred. It is not the novelty or cruelty of the deaths (Saro-Wiwa was reported to have given in only after the fifth attempt of the hangman) or the fact that nine innocent souls were wasted; after all, military regimes in Nigeria have turned the country into a killing field and made a vocation of murdering Nigerians depending on their whims.
Those murders were a measure of how nauseatingly murderous and despicably arrogant the Abacha junta has become and the extent it would go in the pursuit of its imaginary enemies. They showed the degree to which the junta could imperil Nigerians and Nigeria, as it has done in keeping the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, in prison since June 1994. They also confirm the regime’s lack of commitment (except through hostage taking and assassination) to the resolution of the political problems in Nigeria; problems that were caused by the avarice and inordinate ambition of a discredited military cabal.
Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots stood for many things, not the least was the impetus they gave their Ogoni nationality in its struggle for self-determination and against environmental degradation; a struggle borne out of the need to extricate itself from the clutches of internal colonialism and the booby trap which Nigeria has become.
Abacha showed no scruples in the Saro-Wiwa case and he is even less circumspect now; for him power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Clearly, his reign of terror is not limited to vanquishing minority rights activists. Between November 10, 1995, and now, many more unresolved politically induced assassinations, including that of Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief Abiola, have taken place. So well has the Nigerian state honed its repressive apparatus that it is not content slaying innocent Nigerians at home, but has to go in search of
its perceived enemies beyond the frontiers of Nigeria to the furthermost parts of the earth.
Sembene Ousmane was right when he noted that, “Power is a citadel, you must be granted admittance. If you force your way in, you’ll have to use violence to remain”. Notwithstanding the campaigns of various countries and international rights groups engaged in undiluted condemnation of the Abacha regime, it continues its recourse to violence and intimidation, its vicious campaign of arrest and detention without trial. Put in another term, the public must be reduced to apathy and subservience for these infernal violators of human rights to maintain their stranglehold on power.
Just like every other bankrupt dictatorship, the current dictatorship in Nigeria is making a benevolent gift of democracy to Nigerians. However, Abacha remains undecided, or so he claims, whether to be a judge in his own case by contesting the hoax of an election scheduled for October 1998. Listen to the head of Nigeria’s ignoble military regime in an interview with Radio Nigeria some weeks ago:
“We have heard their request, it is a very difficult request, (in reference to some duplicitous traditional rulers calling on Abacha to run for president) it is something one has to think about…we pray that God will guide us so that whatever God decides will be in the best interest of all of us.”
Abacha who seized power in the chaos precipitated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election which he and his predecessor engineered cannot now claim to be under the direction of God. Abacha’s greatest problem is how to reconcile his ambition and the fervent desires of Nigerians to be rid of the embers of an ossified dictatorship and usher in democracy and freedom.
The justifiable struggle by Nigerians against a desperate military dictatorship shows that when a people are denied justice and freedom for so long they are forced to struggle to regain same. It was in one of such struggles against these latter-day fascists that Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots met their deaths. As we remember them two years after, we cannot but wonder how many more Nigerians have to die before Abacha and his goons fulfill their ambitions.
We cannot talk about Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots without talking about the collapse of the Nigerian state. Their deaths remind us of not only our inadequacies as a nation and how our duplicity, complicity and oppressive tactics can only create more deaths, but the fact that there is nothing sacrosanct about the monstrosity called Nigeria.
Not minding Abacha’s claims about democracy, it is clear through his dubious transition programme that in the months ahead, his regime will trample on the rights of Nigerians to freely elect their leaders. It is, therefore, not surprising that two years after Saro-Wiwa, Ogoniland remains uninhabitable because of oil pollution and an overbearing military presence. Shell’s monstrous instruments of death still dot every nook and cranny of the oil community.
Today, numerous Ogoni citizens, pro-democracy and human rights activists are languishing in Abacha’s dungeons. In Abacha’s perception of justice, no trial is needed, neither are victims entitled to know their offences. Not even the decadent Apartheid regime in South Africa could have been so cynically brutal.
Four years after Abacha seized power, it has become evident that military dictatorship in Nigeria is a spent force and has no relevance.
But, it has to take the efforts of the likes of Saro-Wiwa and company to make this reality sink in. We remember the “Ogoni 9” as if it was yesterday when their pains and anguish at the hands of the gruesome hangmen of a regime of equal status brought tears to our eyes and created deep gulfs in our hearts.
Adieu Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine as well as other unsung heroes and heroines of the struggle for democracy, freedom and justice in Nigeria, all for whom Abacha’s regime meant one thing: horrid death. May your spirits not rest in peace but continue to haunt your bloodthirsty murderers.
This piece is excerpted from the book, Nigeria is Negotiable. It is reproduced here to mark the 18th anniversary (November 10, 2013) of the execution of writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists.
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