The Ogoni massacre remains one of the saddest moments in the history of Nigeria. It was a series of events that culminated in the hanging of nine Ogoni activists by the Gen. Sani Abacha led Military junta on the 10th of November, 1995. This was after a specially convened tribunal found them guilty of inciting the killing of four Ogoni chiefs on the 21st of May 1994.
The Ogoni kingdom which is located in Rivers State, east of the capital city of Port Harcourt is one out of the many communities in the Niger Delta that is massively polluted as a result of the exploratory activities of International Oil Companies (IOCs). The Ogoni people like many other communities in the Niger Delta, have their major occupation as fishing and farming but this was before their communities became polluted to the point that farm lands and water sources were lost.
With the loss of their basic means of survival, the people rose up in protest against Shell Oil and the Nigerian government. This resistance was led by Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). This was a mass‐based social organization of the indigenous Ogoni people of central Niger Delta. Its mandate was to use non-violent methods to promote democratic principles for the Ogoni people in the pursuance of rights of self-determination in environmental issues in the Niger Delta, cultural rights and practices in Ogoni land.
Ken Saro-Wiwa captured the reason for this agitation in an interview while in the United Kingdom, where he asserted that “the Ogoni country has been completely destroyed by the search for oil. Oil companies have flared gas in Nigeria for the past thirty three years causing acid rain. What used to be the bread basket of the delta has now become totally infertile. All one sees and feels around, is death. Environmental degradation has been a lethal weapon in the war against the indigenous Ogoni people.”
MOSOP attracted international attention with a major protest at Shell’s facility in Umuechem community of Etche, Rivers State, on October 30 and 31, 1990. This incident saw approximately 80 unarmed demonstrators killed and the severe destruction of hundreds of houses by men of the Nigerian Police.
MOSOP developed the 1990 Ogoni Bill of Rights addressed to the General Ibrahim Babangida led military government. In the course of these agitations, Chief Saro-Wiwa in July 1992 addressed the United Nations on MOSOP in Geneva.
After years of advocacy and loss of innocent lives to the struggle, the military regime led by Gen. Sani Abacha, saw the perfect opportunity to nail Ken and his group when four Ogoni chiefs were brutally murdered on May 21, 1994. Saro-Wiwa who was away on that day was accused of inciting the killings. He was arrested and kept in prison for over a year even as his pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears. He was eventually convicted based on the testimonies of witnesses who spoke against him in court.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, alongside eight others were hanged on the 10th of November, 1995 in a bid to silence the agitations of the people of Ogoni and the whole Niger Delta as regards the issues of environmental degradation. This sparked worldwide condemnation and brought with it many sanctions, most notably was the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. The other men who were hanged with Ken on that dark day were: Saturday Dobee, John Kpuine, Nordu Eawo, Paul Levera, Baribor Bera, Felix Nuate, Barinem Kiobel, and Daniel Gbooko. They were all buried at the Port Harcourt cemetery after the execution.
However, the witnesses that testified against them were reported to have later recanted their testimonies claiming that they were bribed to give them. Twenty-two years after their death, the Ogonis are yet to get positive action as regards their polluted environment.