Two Ogoni groups have threatened a showdown with the Nigerian government if they failed to release the Ken Saro-Wiwa memorial bus allegedly impounded by the Nigeria Customs.
Speaking to journalists in Lagos, Friday, the Social Action and the Ogoni Solidarity Forum said they had exhausted “all peaceful avenues” to secure the release of the bus.
The bus, a memorabilia donated by a UK group to the Ogoni people to mark the 20th anniversary of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s death, was allegedly seized by the Nigeria Customs on September 8th.
Mr. Saro-Wiwa was executed by a military tribunal set up by the Sani Abacha-led junta on November 10, 1995.
Hameed Ali, the current Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, was a member of the tribunal which ordered the hanging of Mr. Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni environmental activists.
”For us it’s just more than a make-shift steel bus, and we demand to have that bus back. We have exhausted every peaceful avenue we have got, and that’s why we are calling this meeting and telling you, that come the 9th of November, 2015, if the government does not release the property of the Ogoni people to the Ogoni people, the Ogoni people will take action,” said Ken Henshaw, Senior Programme Manager, Social Action.
“And we dare to say that economic activity around the area of the Ogoni nation, which includes the NNPC and so on and so forth, will be stopped. The Ogoni people are fully mobilized. We have been the ones holding them back, that you don’t need to take this kind of action at this time. There is visible anger. We are being seen as traitors over this and we have made up our mind.
“We will let whatever wants to happen happen on the 9th of November. And this is our last attempt at appeal to the government – release what belongs to the Ogoni people to the Ogoni people. We are tired of this posture of belligerence with the Ogoni people which the government of Nigeria has continued environmentally and physically since the 90’s. And for us this is the last straw and it has broken the camel’s back.”
The groups’ threat came a day after the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People also threatened a protest if the Nigeria Customs fails to release the bus.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Nigeria Customs and the agency denied knowledge of the bus.
”As I speak with you I still don’t know in which Customs command this thing was done,” Wale Adeniyi, Spokesperson, Nigeria Customs, said over the phone on Friday evening.
“They just said Lagos port and I’ve called the two major ports in Lagos and they don’t seem to know about it. The Area Comptroller should know if such a thing exists.”
There are three major ports in Lagos – APMT at the Apapa port and TICT and Grimaldi at the Tin Can Island port.
When Mr. Adeniyi was told that the bus was being held at Grimaldi, he promised to call back in ten minutes.
He never called back.
And subsequent phone calls and a text message to his line were not responded to.
There is still no official reason why the bus, which had an inscription by Mr. Saro-Wiwa during his trial – ”I accuse the oil companies of genocide in Ogoniland” – on its side, is still being held at the Lagos port two months after its arrival from the UK.
Mr. Henshaw said his group and the Ogoni Solidarity Forum had written a petition weeks ago to Mr. Ali, the Customs boss, demanding the release of the bus.
“We have received no official response from Customs to our petition,” said Mr. Henshaw.
“So as far as we know, our bus has been seized by the Nigerian government for many many reasons one of which is an intentional aggression against the Ogoni people, second of which is an attempt to eliminate every memory of the struggle of Ken Saro-Wiwa from the history of this country.
After the bus arrived in Lagos, Mr. Henshaw, accompanied by Celestine Akbobari, another Niger Delta activist and Aremu Abiodun, a clearing agent, went to the Grimaldi terminal to clear the bus.
“We were taken to the office of the Valuation Officer, the Customs officer in charge of valuation, Aina Moyo,” said Mr. Akpobari, National Coordinator, Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Nigeria.
“And he told us right there in his office that ‘the shadow of Ken Saro-Wiwa can kill somebody. I don’t want to get myself involved in the release of this one, especially now that Buhari is on seat. If it were before I can just release this bus now. You will have to go to Abuja. You, you know that the shadow of Ken Saro-Wiwa can even sack somebody from work. My work is important to me.’
“We went to Abuja and stayed in Abuja for over two weeks meeting with people. The same thing. Important people, great people that we respect that we thought would have helped us, they were afraid. Even Ogoni people that are senior Customs officers ran away.
“And this is just an art work. Non-motorized. So the question here is why are they afraid of an artwork? And if they can waive billions of dollars for people like Dangote, is it an artwork donated for struggle that people are beginning to play drama with?
“We feel that the world should begin to know because we had been handling this matter with kid gloves.”
Mr. Akpobari said that the bus is important for the 20th anniversary commemoration of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s death, which holds on November 10th.
“The bus is a living memorial that was donated in honour of Ken by some activists in the UK,” he said.
“That bus has been in the UK moving from one city to another and during our visit to the UK two years ago, we pleaded with the owners that this thing was not meant to be in London forever. That it was planned that at some point it will move to its permanent abode in Nigeria which is Ogoni. And they agreed that ok the 20th anniversary will be the best time to move it.”
Mr. Henshaw said that a place – an erected pavement – had already been created for the bus at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Memorial Centre in Bori, an Ogoni community in Rivers State.
”We are trying to use this bus as a bridge, as a point of solidarity, as a point of commitment that whatever ills was committed, that we can fix this,” said Mr. Henshaw.
“The bus is more than just an artefact. It’s a symbol of brotherhood, an edifice that represents the global solidarity with the people of Ogoniland.
”We intend to make the inside of that bus a resource centre that will inspire different people who intend to carry out struggles for human and environmental justice just the way Ken Saro-Wiwa did.”