NIGERIANS, human rights and environmental activists paid tribute yesterday to the Ogoni Nine campaigners 20 years after they were executed.
A “justice walk” was planned in Nigeria’s main oil city Port Harcourt — although without a metal bus artwork shipped from Britain in memorial to activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Nigerian port authorities had impounded the sculpture because of the message, quoting Saro-Wiwa, on its side: “I accuse the oil companies of committing genocide.”
And Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike announced that the polytechnic college in Bori, the traditional home of the Ogoni people, would be renamed in honour of Saro-Wiwa.
Saro-Wiwa was hanged on November 10 1995 along with eight others who had challenged devastating pollution by oil giant Shell.
The group were convicted on trumped-up murder charges and many of the witnesses subsequently recanted their evidence, stating that they had been bribed by the military government and had been offered money and jobs with Shell to lie.
Supporters have called for the nine to be pardoned, and the head of Nigeria’s human rights commission Chidi Odinkalu said the trial was “deeply flawed” and “unsafe.”
Reckless oil exploitation by Shell in the region destroyed traditional Ogoni livelihoods, contaminating creeks and destroying fish habitats.
Twenty years on, the Niger delta region is still heavily polluted. Oil slicks have killed fish, crude-covered land has wrecked crops and people’s health has been further hit by fumes from gas flaring — the flares are sometimes as big as a tower block.
“It is heartbreakingly tragic,” said Amnesty International’s Nigeria director MK Ibrahim. “The oil spills have not stopped, and Shell has still not cleaned up this huge environmental degradation.”