January 4th of this year marked the 16th anniversary of the day more than 300,000 Ogonis participated in “a mass non-violent protest against the devastation of their environment by the heartless multinational, oppressive, genocidal, and apartheid-like policies of both the Nigerian authorities and Royal Dutch Shell towards them.”
Soldiers and mobile police responded to the protest by firing tear gas and live ammunition into the crowd, killing four youths. Over the next year, acts of genocidal violence were repeatedly committed against the Ogoni.
Three years prior to this, Ogoni Elders signed The Ogoni Bill of Rights, which put out the call for “political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people, control and use of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, adequate and direct representation as of right for Ogoni people in all Nigerian national institutions and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation”.
Continuing to move this vision forward, in a recent statement, the Ogoni Journalists Platform (OJP) urged the recently elected “President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Governor Chibuike Amaechi to implement the content of the Ogoni Bill of Rights, connect all Ogoni communities to national grid, site federal institutions and companies in Ogoni in order to provide job opportunities for the unemployed youths of the area.”
This was reaffirmed in October of last year, when the National Union of Ogoni Students (NUOS International) USA, started a petition demanding a state “in fairness for our contributions and economic viability to Nigerian and in the belief that it is a genuine method of resolving the prolonged yearnings of our people, and the crisis in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.”
Just three weeks after this petition was started – one week after 13th anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni colleagues for their work against the devastation wrought by oil companies in the Niger Delta – the Ogoni won a landmark court case which ruled that Shell’s practice of gas flaring violates their right to life, health and dignity. Shell was ordered to immediately stop the (completely unnecessary) practice. The Ogoni have vigorously protested against flaring since the middle of last century – when Nigeria was still a British colony.
According to IPS News, this judgment also followed “the unprecedented 2001 ruling by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) that called on the Nigerian government to compensate the Ogoni people for abuses against their lands, housing and health caused by oil-and-gas production practices, including flaring, by multinational corporations.” Shell is of course, appealing the decision.
The Ogoni have yet to receive any adequate compensation, however it is well understood that any type of compensation must be followed by a change in circumstances, otherwise anything they receive can serve little more than to cloud Shell’s anti-human and anti-environmental business practices.
Today, more and more Ogoni are making it clear that this change must come in the form of self-governance and self-reliance. With a population exceeding 500,000, the Ogoni have well-enough proved themselves capable of defending themselves and standing up for their rights, as well as for that of the land. They continue to do so peacefully.
Let us hope the Ogoni continue raising their voices to accomplish what can only benefit the whole of Africa.
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