Saturday, 19 May 2012

Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP)

Saro-Wiwa experimented with his ideas among his Ogoni kin’s people. Using his position as the President of Ogoni Central Union he was able to organize seminars on the fortunes of the Ogoni. These activities went alongside with his similar efforts in some Ogoni elite associations, notably Kagote and OgoniKlub, to address
the burning issues affecting the Ogoni people and to form a mass movement of the Ogoni People.

It was under the auspices of the Ogoni Central Union that the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) was adopted by six Ogoni Kingdoms at Bori on August 1990,and was later sent to the federal government. The OBR was disseminated widely, translated into the various Ogoni dialects, and was published in several national newspapers. The highlight of the OBR was the demand that Ogoni people be granted political autonomy, ‘as a distinct and separate unit’ within Nigeria. Critical to this were two ‘sub’ demands: political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people, and the right to the control and use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development. Shortly after the OBR, MOSOP came into existence in 1991.

The OBR, which expressed the feelings of the Ogoni masses, spoke directly to the issues that Saro-Wiwa had written and spoken about. From 1990onwards, he became the leading spokes person of MOSOP and of Ogoni resistance. He went around the world promoting the Ogoni cause, and addressed many meetings, seminars and conferences in Nigeria, and Ogoniland. Before long the Ogoni cause was well known, and the effects of Ogoni resistance had begun to be felt by the Federal government and Shell. By 1993 state repression of Ogoni resistance and its quest for self-determination had begun in earnest. The situation in which almost half a million Ogoni were fully mobilised was unprecedented in the Niger Delta. Military ruling circles were extremely concerned and saw it as a threat that had to be crushed at all costs. Taking advantage of factional squabbles among the leaders of MOSOP, in a context of tension, distrust and hardening of positions, the state (and Shell) moved in force fully to crush the ‘MOSOP revolution’. There is no doubt that the ideas which Saro-Wiwa was canvassing had raised consciousness and expectation among the Ogoni masses, and revolutionised the youth. It was thus not surprising that he became a target of repression, and finally elimination. His ideas struck at the heart of the state-oil alliance, and raised the spectre of a domino-effect in the other oil producing communities in the Niger Delta. Hence the decision of the state to act against Saro-Wiwa and his comrades. From 1993 onwards, Ogoni was militarised, and thousands of Ogoni were either killed, jailed, maimed, rendered homeless or exiled as security forces unleashed terror on the people. Following the murder of four Ogoni chiefs’ on21 May 1994, Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP leaders and activists were detained, and later arraigned before a military tribunal. Nine of them were eventually hanged on November 10, 1995.

There is no doubt that the ideas of Saro-Wiwa have radically altered the politics of the Niger Delta. His ideology of ethnic autonomy, of resource and environment control, continues to be the fulcrum of all struggles for self-determination and resource control in the area. His ideas also resonate in the current agitation in the Delta for the restructuring of a highly centralized Nigerian federation, and the devolution of powers, particularly ‘resource control’, to the lower tiers of government.

The politics of resistance of the Ogoni locally and globally, and the aftermath of the hanging of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists has been well canvassed, and will not be repeated here. What is important to note is that as an intellectual, Saro-Wiwa initiated a counter-hegemonic discourse hinged upon the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities in the Niger Delta, which continues to reverberate across the country up to today. His ideas are being built up, refined and modified by other resistance groups using the platform of identity and the discourse of self-determination to agitate for their structuring of the Nigerian federation in ways that give ethnic groups control of their resources.

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