One of the things that touch a raw nerve in me regarding Nigeria(ns) is that we forget easily. We forget our heroes, our villains, our collective experiences and the lessons we shoulda/woulda/coulda learned from them. We therefore do not question when our media airs such stupid (for lack of a more creative word at 1am) comments made by government sycophants, as that made by Useni (below). We are too interested in where our next meal is coming from that we dare not be bothered by whose memory is being tarnished for whatever reasons. 13 years on, as Britain remembers 90 years of brave soldiers who fought and died for their country, I hope that we as Nigerians in our respective hustle and bustle, will take a moment or two to remember a great Nigerian hero - Ken Saro-Wiwa - who paid the ultimate price for the justice that still eludes the victims of the Niger Delta's pillage, who died for his country, for OUR COUNTRY.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jerry Useni And A Forgetful Nation - By Reuben Abati
"I'm in good spirits...There's no doubt that my ideas will succeed in time, but I'll have to bear the pain of the moment...the most important thing for me is that I've used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it. And it sure makes me feel good! I'm mentally prepared for the worst, but hopeful for the best. I think I have the moral victory" - Ken Saro-Wiwa
The nation-wide excitement over Senator Barack Obama's victory in the US Presidential election, almost allowed Lt Gen. Jeremiah Useni to get away with some of the silly things he has been saying lately about federalism and even more offensively about the late Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed by the Abacha junta, of which Useni was a principal member, 13 years ago. Indeed, it will be exactly 13 years tomorrow since we lost Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who were hanged on trumped up charges of murder. The timing of Jerry Useni verbal diarrhoea could not have been fortuitous, it comes across as a pre-determined attempt to rubbish Ken Saro-Wiwa's memory and to diminish the significance of the struggle that he championed. But Jerry Useni is wrong, and he needs to be told so, clearly and in no unmistaken terms.
Permit me to note that Jerry Useni is one of those conveniently forgotten figures of Nigerian history. In a more disciplined society, a man like him would not have the gumption to speak up with such reckless confidence, he would be in self-imposed hiding out of shame and contrition. But in Nigeria, we forget so easily, so quickly and so readily, that some of the architects of past pains can now come forward to tell us how to run our lives and we are forced to listen, because the media, fighting a battle against censorship, can also not afford to censor the views of others even when they seem unreasonable. These days, surprisingly, even General Ibrahim Babangida, the man who annulled the democratic elections of June 1993, also gives lectures on democracy and his views are given air-time!
It is a sad comment on the capacity of Nigerians to remember and reward and sanction past conduct that a Jerry Useni would still be able to stand up in the market square and pontificate. He was Abacha's side-kick, and one of the main promoters of military tyranny. His dismissal of Ken Saro-Wiwa as a traitor who deserved to be murdered by the Nigerian state is therefore in character, but it is such a lie that should not be allowed to stand.
On October 28, Lt. Gen Jerry Useni showed up in the day's papers as having uttered the following tosh at an encounter with journalists in Jos: that the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in November 1995 was in the "country's best interest" because "the Nigerian state was under Western threat"; that "Saro-Wiwa was a surrogate of the West. Executing him at that time was to save the Niger Delta from his terror;" that a film was made available to the Abacha government which showed Saro Wiwa using crude methods to torture his kinsmen; that the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry is likely to worsen the situation in the Niger Delta, and that Nigeria is not yet ripe for federalism because federalism might lead to the country's break-up". Useni with these statements confirms the long-held and widely affirmed view that Nigeria suffers from a crisis of leadership. Useni, by the accident of history is supposed to be a national leader, but see how poorly he reasons!
Ken Saro Wiwa did not deserve to die in the hands of Abacha's hangman. He was not a traitor, he was a patriot. He was not a saboteur, he was a nationalist. He was not a villain, he was a hero. He was a martyr and a victim of military tyranny and the sadism of the military elite. His murder was certainly not in the nation's best interest, and Useni should know as Ken Saro-Wiwa's ghost continues to haunt the Nigerian state in the Niger Delta. Ken Saro-Wiwa wanted for his people, the Ogoni, in the Southern part of the country what every Nigerian desires for his or her own people: dignity, better life, humanity, equity and justice. But the Ogoni, 500, 000 of them, whose land supplies Nigeria with the bulk of its oil wealth, lived and continue to live in abject poverty, their land despoiled, their farmlands laid waste, their air polluted due to oil exploration activities.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, author, writer, polemicist, entrepreneur, television personality, accomplished public affairs analyst, decided to wake up his people and mobilise them to fight against the injustices of the Nigerian state. He was a rich man of means who decided to sacrifice it all in order to lead his people and raise their voices. He was a class-rebel who chose to defend the truth. In 1990, he set up the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). The accent on survival is worth noting, it speaks to the threats faced by the Ogoni. In October 1990, an Ogoni Bill of Rights was launched and "presented to the government and people of Nigeria". The Bill noted in part:
That in over 30 years of oil mining, the Ogoni nationality has provided the Nigerian nation with a total revenue estimated at over forty billion naira, thirty billion dollars.
That in return for the above contribution, the Ogoni people ahve received NOTHING.
That today, the Ogoni people have:
(i) No representative whatsoever in ALL institutions of the Federal Government of Nigeria
(ii) No pipe-borne water
(iii) No electricity
(iv) No job opportunities for the citizens in Federal, state, public sector or private sector companies
(v) No social or economic project of the Federal Government.
These, among others, were the injustices that Ken Saro-Wiwa and others chose to rebel against. But Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the struggle, was not a nihilist. He preached non-violence, he ran a struggle driven by ideas. He simply wanted a better Nigeria and a better deal for the Ogoni. He wanted his people to be treated as "equal members of the Nigerian federation".
In 1993, General Sani Abacha siezed power and became Nigeria's Head of State. The country was on the boil over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. The Ogoni struggle was in full ferment. AbaCha was a typical soldier, he could not handle arguments. He turned the gun on every subject and anything that moved.
It is a long story that cannot be made better by cutting it short but for the moment, it is enough to state that in May 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa and fifteen others were arrested and accussed of having had a hand in the murder of four Ogoni chiefs. Ken Saro-Wiwa and the others denied the charges. On November 2, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other men were sentenced to death. Eight days later, they were hanged at the Port Harcourt prison, in spite of appeals from all over the world. The trial was an abuse of due process and fair hearing, in the course of the trial, the accused persons were not allowed the right to fair trial and an appeal. Indeed, the defence lawyers at some stage had to withdraw in protest! The government's eventual open display of wickedness earned Nigeria a suspension from the Commonwealth and sanctions from across the world. Saro-Wiwa and others were buried in unmarked graves and there were reports that Saro-Wiwa's body was doused with acid, to be sure that he would not suddenly ressurect. Jerry Useni and his friends were afraid of Ken Saro Wiwa even in death. Thirteen years later, it is instructive that they are still afraid. Truly, conscience is a wound.
But the truth, I hope Useni gets to read this, or hears about it in case he is one of those Nigerians who are too big and too rich to read newspapers, is that Ken Saro-Wiwa has long been vindicated. Stupid Nigerian leaders have forever postponed the evil day by refusing to listen to ideas and by refusing to engage voices of reason. The evil day that Saro-Wiwa sought to prevent is now upon the Niger Delta and the rest of Nigeria. The present-day militants are his children but they are also not exactly his children: they are his children because they are fighting for change and justice and hope for their people, but they are not his children because they have opted for violence; in that regard, they are the children of Nigeria, the children of a nation that is forever seeking an embrace with evil by postponing a dialogue with the present.
Ken Saro-Wiwa has been vindicated because what he fought and died for has become the issue in Nigerian politics: the need for equality, justice and equity. But Jerry Useni doesn't get it. Ken Saro-Wiwa and other revolutionaries of the Delta sowed the seeds for the emergence of the Niger Delta Ministry. They made the argument afresh for federalism, but Jerry Useni does not understand, so he says a Niger Delta Ministry is unnecessary and that federalism is undesirable. He lives, we can see, in the past. If Useni were an American, he would have voted for McCain and he would have lost his vote. Ken Saro-Wiwa has been vindicated because he has liberated the minds of his people and brought them recognition. It was the fashion not to take the Ogoni seriously, but through MOSOP, the people have shown their capacity for resolve. Shell, the arch-villain of the Ogoni struggle had to close its wells in that area, 13 years later, it still has its tails between its legs in Ogoniland.
Tomorrow, it will be 13 years to the day since Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were murdered by the Nigerian state, Jerry Useni and his friends may remember the day with joy, but those who cherish the truth, justice and equity, and all who love Nigeria will light a candle in remembrance of the fallen martyrs. Ken Saro-Wiwa lives. The Ogoni Four and the Ogoni Eight also. Tell that to Jerry Useni, please.
Rest in Peace Miriam Makeba: