KEGBARA DERE, NIGERIA - Oil once flowed in Ogoniland, as it does from wells throughout the creeks and swamps of Nigeria's Niger Delta region. In 1993, the Ogoni people said enough.
Leaking pipelines were polluting the fields they farmed and the waterways they fished. Oil giant Shell was forced to pull out of Ogoniland in the face of protests led by the charismatic activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was later hanged by the country's military dictatorship, in a move widely seen as retaliation for his activism.
Nearly 20 years after Saro-Wiwa’s death, some Ogonis think they would be better off if production resumed.
“It will generate some sort of employment. It will definitely engage our youth. And you know if there is money, people can have access to good education. If there’s money people will have access to good food. And if there is money people will have access to good shelter,” said Donald Gberesu, the high chief of the town of Kegbara Dere.
In the years since Shell left, Ogoniland has remained polluted. An United Nations Environment Program report released in 2011 said it will take up to 30 years of cleanup to undo all the damage done by the decades of oil exploration.
Many in the region, such as Young Kigbara, a former member of the Saro-Wiwa's organization, feel the pollution issue needs to be addressed before Ogoni oil can flow once again.
“It is a precondition for any company to come in, which means the federal government first and foremost and Shell ought to clean Ogoni properly before any oil resumption can take place. It is after that any other company will come,” Kigbara said.
Some say Shell alienated the Ogonis by developing the region only to suit the needs of its business. Roads were paved, but only to access Shell infrastructure. Resident Gbarakporo Amstel Monday said a new contract will make sure locals benefit from the extraction.
“We are now going to start a new beginning. You are getting me. We are going to get a new beginning. Because we are going to negotiate. You give me what and I give you what,” said Monday.
In the meantime, Ogoniland’s creeks remain blackened by crude, much as they were when anti-drilling activist Saro-Wiwa was alive.