It is exactly 23 years today since Ken Saro-Wiwa, a playwright, environmental activist and Ogoni leader was brutally executed.
He was executed on November 10, 1995, by the Nigerian government under the leadership of the then military dictator, Sani Abacha.
Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen, who became popularly known as the Ogoni Nine, were sentenced to death by a special military tribunal set up by Mr Abacha who later died in June 1998 inside the presidential villa under mysterious circumstances.
Most people considered the sins of the Ogoni Nine majorly to be their very impactful non-violent campaign against oil-extraction and the continuous degradation of the Ogoni land by the government-backed multi-national oil companies, especially the Royal Dutch Shell.
But the military government had accused Mr Saro-Wiwa and others of being responsible for the murder of five Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting.
Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years after Mr Saro-Wiwa, 54, and his group were hanged to death.
The world was outraged by the execution.
“This heinous act offends our values and darkens our hope for democracy in the region,” the then American Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, was quoted as saying, immediately the news of the execution went out.
Shell is facing a civil suit in Netherland over its alleged complicity in the killing of Mr Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Ogoni activists.
The suit was filed on June 28, 2017, by four of the widows of the Ogoni Nine, led by Esther Kiobel.
A renowned environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey, said the federal government should exonerate Mr Saro-Wiwa and others of the charges levelled against them.
“His death remains a matter that is yet to be resolved because the state necessarily has to exonerate him of the false charges and the kind of kangaroo judgment that was given by that tribunal,” Mr Bassey said on Saturday in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
“Besides, the state has to apologise to the victims and to the Ogoni people for executing them when the appeal period had not even elapsed,” he said.
After the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the country has had four presidents so far, including the current President Muhammadu Buhari, yet the Niger Delta has remained a troubled region, owing largely to unresolved environmental issues and widespread poverty.
The Buhari administration in June 2016 launched a campaign to clean up the Ogoniland. But the campaign, to the consternation of many interested people, appears to be too slow.
“As we speak, there has been no serious effort to manage the expectations of the Ogonis. While some believe that the clean-up process is a money-making venture, others are facing difficulties to pursue the clean-up process,” Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, said last year.
“Authorities responsible for the clean-up should come up publicly, provide a template for the clean-up and a step by step blueprint on how it would progress.
“The media is even kept in the dark, for example, no one knows the effective date of the clean-up process, and this is not good enough to manage the people’s expectations. Not everyone is being carried along at the moment,” Mr Ojo said.
As part of the federal government effort to build trust with the Ogoni people and other people in the Niger Delta, the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, toured the oil-producing communities last year and had interactions with the people affected by long years of oil exploration.
Mr Osinbajo told the people how corruption among the elites was also responsible for the lack of meaningful development in the oil-producing communities.
“I have looked at some of the issues of abandoned projects. I can tell you precisely how much have been voted or spent in several of our communities. And there is no sign of development in those areas.
“I can tell you how many of these projects are supposed to have been completed, and when you looked in the books, they say they have been completed. But they have not been completed. They haven’t even been done. Many have not even been started at all,” he said in Benin City, Edo State, in March 2017.
“It does not make sense for leadership not to look at the plight of the people, especially in the oil-producing areas. This is the source of the wealth of the nation. Even if you ignore the people for a while, a time will come when you can no longer ignore them.
“So, there’s no question at all that we are committed to doing the things we say we will do, and that is the pledge coming directly from President Muhammadu Buhari himself.
“We must make the oil producing communities become hubs for petroleum refining,” Mr Osinbajo said.
Nigerians will be electing a new set of leaders three months from now, in February 2019. The Niger Delta question, as usual, is most likely going to be among the top campaign issues.
Oby Ezekwesili, a presidential candidate in the forthcoming election, said last year on Twitter in remembrance of the death of Mr Saro-Wiwa, “22 years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa + 8 other leaders who dared to take a stand paid with their lives – hanged by then FG of Nigeria. A season of anomie to which we must NEVER return. Ken & our other compatriots are #NeverToBeForgotten.”