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Nigeria's Ogoniland:  Has Anything Changed Since Democracy? - 2003-01-08

The Ogoni people, a minority ethnic group in the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of Ogoni Day. The day is set aside to commemorate the launching of Ogoni bill of rights.

The late environmentalist and playright, Ken Saro Wiwa, launched Ogoni Day in 1993. Mr. Saro Wiwa introduced the Ogoni bill of rights -- a document, he said, was aimed at correcting the injustice done to the Ogoni people by the Anglo – Dutch oil giant, Shell. The bill of rights demanded Shell to pay Ogonis millions of dollars in compensation for oil exploration and what was called exploitation in Ogoni land.

However, Mr. Saro Wiwa did not live long enough to reach his goal. He was executed with 8 others by the then military Government in 1995. They had been convicted by a military tribunal of inciting violence that led to the deaths of four pro-government Ogoni chiefs.

Ledum Mitee is President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People or MOSOP. He says the Ogoni have achieved results.

He says, "Since our struggle, a lot has been done. Today issues of corporate responsibility, issues of resource control, self determination within the Nigerian Federation, which others refer to as true Federalism. These are the core issues which we raised in our bill of rights when we launched the struggle. Today they have become the issues that will either make or mar this country”.

Mr. Mitee says the Ogoni cause is justified because it has attracted National and International attention. But the Mosop leader says the Ogoni people have not normalized their relationship with Shell despite avenues created for that.

“Our relationship," he says, "could not have been worse. We had thought that there were opportunities created, especially during the Oputa commission on Human rights violations, for them to frankly see how they can do the resolution. But they spurred all those situation. Right now, we do not have any relationship”.

However, a spokesman for shell who asked to remain anonymous disagrees with Mr. Mitee. He says since Nigeria returned to civil rule four years ago, Shell has made several attempts to reconcile with the Ogonis. He says Ogonis rejected all peaceful overtures made by Shell. The Shell spokesman confirmed that the oil company has not resumed exploration activities in Ogoniland.

As for the return of democratic rule, Ledum Mitee says Ogonis are not happy with President Obansanjo. He says the president has not been able to address their problems. He comments on the president’s victory at his party’s recent primaries.

he says, “For us, as Ogonis, we do not blink an eye whether he wins or not because first the processes that produce candidates has been so much made to favour only the incumbents. But more importantly, it is not personal against Obansanjo but I think that he actually either out of poor advice or lack of proper appreciation, he has not been able to resolve the issues of the Niger Delta. And I think whether he wins or not, does not so much strike us as something so fundamental. We think that at the end of the day when all the candidates emerge, we will be able to tell our people where to go and it will be on the basis of the records”.

However, an Ogoni lawmaker with the Rivers State House of Assembly disagrees with Mr. Mitee. Magnus Abe, the minority leader of the house, says president Obansanjo has been good to Ogonis. He says the president appointed two ogoni men as federal ministers and brought government projects to Ogoniland.