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The Guardian : The prophecy of Saro-Wiwa: ‘The coming war in the Niger delta’: ‘Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil’.

11 years after the Ogoni leader’s brutal hanging, violence is erupting in the Niger delta region

Ike Okonta
Saturday November 11, 2006

In November 1990 Ken Saro-Wiwa sent his column to the editor of Nigeria’s Sunday Times as usual. It was not published. The article highlighted his campaign for environmental protection and a fair share of oil revenue for his Ogoni people and other ethnic groups of the Niger delta. Saro-Wiwa was told that the military government had taken exception to his warning that the delta would erupt in violence if western oil companies and the state failed to meet local people’s reasonable demands. He headlined the article: “The coming war in the Niger delta”.

Saro-Wiwa’s prophecy is being terrifyingly realised today, and people of conscience have gathered in London to mark the 11th anniversary of the junta’s hanging of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists. Youth militias have taken over the delta’s creeks and mangrove swamps, blowing up oil installations, abducting workers, and taking on the military in bloody shoot-outs.
The militias, drawn mainly from the Ijaw, the dominant ethnic group, are demanding a larger share of oil revenue for delta communities (now 13% of total receipts), to be worked out at a “sovereign” national conference that the government should convene immediately. They also want policing, policy-making and revenue-generation powers to be devolved to the region, and laws to check the oil spills ruining farming and fishing. The area, despite its oil wealth, is one of the country’s least developed.

In 1999, after three decades of military rule, the armed forces handed power to President Obasanjo. But the economic problems persist: 70% of the population survive on less than a dollar a day. And despite his two election victories being marred by violence, vote-rigging and fraud, Obasanjo enjoys strong support in the west, including Britain and the US.

The most prominent militia – the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) – began a bombing campaign in January after anti-corruption agents arrested the governor of the Ijaw state of Bayelsa (who had jumped bail in London, where he had been charged with money laundering). Mend said the government was persecuting the governor because of his support for Ijaw self-determination. Asari Dokubo, a militia leader, had also been incarcerated after he called for secession. These events, on top of growing poverty and repressive tactics in the oilfields, triggered the violent insurrection that has now overtaken the region.

Saro-Wiwa saw clearly 16 years ago that authoritarian rule, and domination of smaller ethnic groups by the larger ones, would force the delta peoples into an impossible position, and he urged an immediate remedy – but he embraced nonviolence, in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Were he alive today, he would urge the angry young men of Mend to put down their guns and engage with the government peacefully. Yet all he received from the government and oil companies was calumny, harassment and, ultimately, the most brutal form of censorship: death.

As Nigerians prepare for make-or-break elections, as oil prices continue to surge, and as the spectre of global warming hovers over us all, governments and citizens across the world should ponder the words uttered by Saro-Wiwa in his final hours: “We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardised the future of our children: as we subscribe to the subnormal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression.”

· Ike Okonta is a research fellow in Oxford University’s department of politics and international relations, and co-author of Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil. A memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa is on show outside the Guardian offices in Farringdon Road, London, until November 24; the Guardian’s Newsroom will host a film programme and debates.,,1945180,00.html and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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