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What You Probably Never Knew About Ogoniland

Ogoniland is a region in the South-East of Nigeria. The land and people of the region have been subjected to various incidents of human rights violation, injustice, environmental pollution, degradation and hazards over the years by the actions and the inactions of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Oil companies situated in its domain. In this article we highlight some facts you probably never knew about Ogoni Kingdom.

The Ogonis as the inhabitants of Ogoniland are typically referred to, are one of the many indigenous people in the region of south-east Nigeria. They number about 1.5 million people and live in a 404-square-mile (1,050 km2) homeland which they also refer to as Ogoni, or Ogoniland.

The territory is located in Rivers State on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, east of the garden city of Port Harcourt.

The major language of the Ogoni people is khana which mutually twisted intelligible by the six kingdom Khana, Gokana, Tae (Tẹẹ), Eleme, and Ban Ogoi part of the linguistic diversity of the Niger Delta.

According to oral tradition, the Ogoni people migrated from ancient Ghana down to the Atlantic coast eventually making their way over to the eastern Niger Delta. Linguistic calculations done by Kay Williamson place the Ogoni in the Niger Delta at a period before 15 BC, making them one of the oldest settlers in the eastern Niger Delta region.

Radiocarbon dating taken from sites around Ogoniland and the neighboring communities oral traditions also support this claim. Traditionally, the Ogonis are agricultural, also known for livestock herding, fishing, salt and palm oil cultivation and trade.

Like many people on the Guinea coast, the Ogoni have an internal political structure subject to community by community arrangement, including appointment of chiefs and community development bodies, some recognized by government and others not.

They survived the period of the slave trade in relative isolation, and did not lose any of their members to enslavement. After Nigeria was colonized by the British in 1885, British soldiers arrived in Ogoniland by 1901. Major resistance to their presence continued through 1914.

In 1990, under the leadership of activist and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) planned to take action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the oil companies located in Ogoniland.

In October 1990, MOSOP presented ‘The Ogoni Bill of Rights’ to the government. The Bill hoped to gain political and economic autonomy for the Ogoni people, leaving them in control of the natural resources of Ogoni land, protecting against further land degradation

Ogoni rose to international prominence after a massive public protest campaign against Shell Oil, led by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

The movement lost steam in 1994 when the Abacha junta accused Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others of killing four Ogoni chiefs who were on the opposing side of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP.

The Ogoni 9 as they were popularly called were subsequently arrested, tried by a special military tribunal. Though they denied the charges against them, they were imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and hanged on November 10, 1995.

Asides the leader of the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, others killed were Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine.

Consequently, the killings sparked international outrage. While the European Union and the United States placed an economic embargo and other restrictions on the country, the Commonwealth promptly suspended the country from its fold.

Shell, at the centre of the unrest, was accused of complicity in the killings, with allegations it sponsored the military junta’s onslaught on Ogoniland.

The company denied the allegations despite testimonies stating otherwise, and a $15.5 million out-of-court settlement it agreed in favour of the families of the victims in 2009. Shell said the payment was not a concession of guilt, but a gesture of peace.

Going back down memory lane, the Ogoni were integrated into a succession of economic systems at a pace that was extremely rapid and exacted a great toll from them. At the turn of the twentieth century, “the world to them did not extend beyond the next three or four villages,” but that soon changed.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, the late president of MOSOP, described the transition this way: “if you then think that within the space of seventy years they were struck by the combined forces of modernity, colonialism, the money economy, indigenous colonialism and then the Nigerian Civil War, and that they had to adjust to these forces without adequate preparation or direction, you will appreciate the bafflement of the Ogoni people and the subsequent confusion engendered in the society.”

Ogoni land shares common oil-related environmental problems with the Ijaw people of Nigeria.

The Ogoni people have been victims of human rights violations for many years. In 1956, four years before Nigerian Independence, Royal Dutch/Shell, in collaboration with the British government, found a commercially viable oil field on the Niger Delta and began oil production in 1958 and that was the beginning of many atrocities

In a 15-year period from 1976 to 1991 there were reportedly 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell company worldwide.

In a 2011 assessment of over 200 locations in Ogoniland by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), they found that impacts of the 50 years of oil production in the region extended deeper than previously thought.

Because of oil spills, oil flaring, and waste discharge, the alluvial soil of the Niger Delta is no longer viable for agriculture. Furthermore, in many areas that seemed to be unaffected, groundwater was found to have high levels of hydrocarbons or were contaminated with benzene, a carcinogen, at 900 levels above WHO guidelines.

UNEP estimated that it could take up to 30 years to rehabilitate Ogoniland to its full potential and that the first five years of rehabilitation would require funding of about US$1 billion.

In 2012, embattled former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, announced the establishment of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, which intends to follow the UNEP report suggestions of Ogoniland to prevent further degradation.

While oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta began in the late 1950s, operations were suspended in Ogoniland in the early 90’s due to disruptions from local public unrest. The oilfields and installations have since largely remained dormant.

However, major oil pipelines still cross through Ogoniland and oil spills continue to affect the region, due to such factors as a lack of maintenance and vandalism to oil infrastructure and facilities.

Environmental contamination in Ogoniland from oil spills remains untreated, or only partially remediated, today.

The flag-off of the clean up of Ogoniland by the Federal Government of Nigeria though long over-due, is highly commendable.

If the cleanup will bring back contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves to full productive health, then the environmental restoration of Ogoniland may as well prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean up exercise ever undertaken

This would mean a restoration of people’s source of livelihood, as every thing from the soil to water bodies in Ogoniland has been destroyed by the oil pollution in that area

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