A memorabilia donated to the Ogoni people to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of the writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, has been seized by the Nigeria Customs Service, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People has alleged.
The group said Customs claimed the souvenir had “political value”.
Mr. Saro-Wiwa was executed by a military tribunal set up by the Sani Abacha-led junta on November 10, 1995.
In a statement published on Wednesday on the website of the People Advancement Centre, a civil society group that specialises in Niger Delta affairs, MOSOP said the memorabilia, a sculptured bus donated to the Ogoni by the Platform, a UK based group, and made in remembrance of the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni environmental rights activists, had been seized.
MOSOP said the bus, which has the names of Mr. Saro-Wiwa and eight others executed inscribed on its side, was seized by the customs on September 8, after it arrived at the Lagos port from the UK.
Customs reportedly claimed the bus had political value because a quote made by Mr. Saro-Wiwa – “I accuse the oil companies of practising genocide against the Ogoni” – was also inscribed on its side.
The spokesperson for the Nigeria Customs Service, Wale Adeniyi, did not respond to our request for comment. He did not answer or return calls, and did not respond to text messages to his phone.
“The Bus calls attention to the environmental degradation and economic deprivation, in which the Ogoni people live, despite being naturally blessed with enormous deposits of crude oil,” MOSOP said in its statement.
“After being on display at various places in the United Kingdom for 9 years, at the request of Nigerian partners, the Bus was shipped from London to Nigeria via Lagos Port.”
According to MOSOP, all efforts made by the Ogoni people to have the bus released have been futile and there have been no explanations on the seizure of the memorabilia.
MOSOP added that a different box containing flyers and reports to mark the 20th anniversary of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s death, also sent by the platform through DHL, was likewise seized “for no justifiable reason” by the State Security Services.
“We have submitted letters of appeal to the Customs Boss Col Hameed Ali (Rtd).
“It is of note that he was the only military member of the tribunal that sentenced Ken Saro-Wiwa and the 8 others to death on November 10, 1995. Upon receipt of the letter by his Personal Assistant, we were assured that the Bus would be released. That has not yet happened.
“We are concerned about this hostile attitude of the Nigerian government towards the Ogoni people and the suppression of the memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa. We are concerned that 20 years after the killing of Ogoni leaders and the widespread attacks, which killed thousands of other Ogonis and sent many into exile, the Nigerian government seems to be maintaining this attitude of belligerence towards the genuine activities of the Ogoni people.
“We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.
The organisation threatened to protest if the bus and the box were not released wihin five days.
“We shall mobilize the Ogoni people and other interest groups and friends to begin a series of mass actions and protests until the Bus is released. We regret that these mass actions will seriously disrupt economic activities in the Ogoni areas of the Niger Delta,” the statement read.