2 Echoes of an ecological war

This article was written to mark the 15th anniversary of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders. It was published on 14 November 2010[1]

The world’s addiction to fossil fuels put the hangman’s noose around the neck of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders on 10 November 1995. That noose was tightened under the watch of Shell through a kangaroo military tribunal rigged by the worst dictator Nigeria ever had. Today, we can say that every oil rig that sucks oil in the Niger Delta is a hangman’s noose around the necks of the suffering peoples and communities.

Today, we all stand before history. We stand in front of a backdrop of injustice, oppression, and ecological genocide—not just historical, but current and it is the threat of its progressing into the future that we must stand together to fight.

In his statement after the verdict of guilt was passed on him, Ken Saro-Wiwa declared, ‘We all stand before history… appalled by the denigrating poverty of peoples who live in richly endowed lands.[2]

We stand distressed by ‘their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land and their ultimate heritage.’

He went on to call for ‘a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group, and gives us all a valid claim to human validation.’

Ken Saro-Wiwa’s words, though spoken fifteen years ago, still ring true in our ears today. A man with a keen sense of history, he told the agents of the military dictator that he and his colleagues were not the only ones on trial. Hear him: ‘Shell is here on trial, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief… The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come, and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.’

A man of history

Saro-Wiwa was indeed a man of history. While shackled in one military jail or another, the world recognised his worth and the validity of the Ogoni struggles. In the last months of his life on earth, he won several awards in recognition of his just struggles: the Fonlon-Nichols Award for excellence in creative writing and the struggle for human rights; the 1994 Right Livelihood Award or Alternative Nobel Prize for Peace; the 1995 Goldman Environmental Prize, the most prestigious environmental award in the world; the 1995 Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights; the 1995 British Environmental ad Media Special Awareness Award; and the Hammett Award for Human Rights of Human Rights Watch.

The Students Union of the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria conferred on him the award of Grand Commander of the Oppressed Masses. Surely, none of these could have been given to a man of mean repute.

Standing on the shoulders of history, we see clearly the beginnings of the trials that were bound to expose those who have waged ecological wars against the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the world. We continue to see a company like Shell bowing before courts and before the Stock Exchanges in North America, accepting out of court settlements, and paying fines to avoid prosecution on bribery and corruption charges.

In 2005, they also admitted to having falsified their crude oil reserve figures the previous year, and paid some hefty fines to cover that up. Recent reports have it that they are halting suits over bribery by paying some fines. Last year, they agreed in a New York court to pay over US$15 million to Ogoni litigants for human rights abuses. [3]

In all these, we are confident that the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa will come to pass. One day, the eco devourers will have their day in the dock. And this is already happening in The Hague, where three Niger Delta communities are suing Shell for environmental degradation.

Perpetual death

The dominant predatory production and consumption patterns in the world, and the myth that crude oil is a cheap form of energy, has meant perpetual death sentence on communities where there is crude oil and gas.

If good men like Ken Saro-Wiwa had stayed silent[4] and allowed the pattern of environmental degradation by oil extractive activities to go on unchallenged in Ogoni land, it is conceivable that things would have been worse by now.

Today, on account of the massive oil spills, gas flares, and careless handling of other industry-related toxic pollutants, life expectancy in the Niger Delta has plummeted to 41 years. If Ken Saro-Wiwa had not started the struggle, perhaps life expectancy would have possibly nose-dived to 20 years.

We stand before history and affirm that a sane future must be built on the platform of solidarity, dignity, and respect for the rights of Mother Earth.

We demand an end to fossil fuel addiction: be it crude oil, tar sands, or coal. We call for a Sabbath of rest for Mother Earth. Over the years, she has been abused, raped, and exploited and it is time to say enough is enough.

The blood of Ken Saro-Wiwa and all those massacred in the ecological wars for crude oil cry out today in demand for remaining oil to be left in the soil. With less than 40  percent of crude oil still left in the soil, it is foolishness to insist that we can go on driving on dregs through eternity.…


  1. http://nigeriang.com/money/nnimmo-bassey-echoes-of-an-ecological-war-2/5527/ (accessed 7 June 2016)
  2. Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas. 2001. Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil in the Niger Delta. Sierra Club Books, New York. P208
  3. Shell Agrees to Pay USm for Role in Murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Other Ogoni Leaders. http://www.skycoded.com.ng/forum/8362-shell-agrees-to-pay-15m-for-role-in-murder-of-ken-saro-wiwa-other-ogoni-leaders (accessed 7 June 2016)
  4. A collection of the last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa was published posthumously under the title Silence Would be Treason. 2013. Daraja Press

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