Statement on the occasion of the death anniversary
of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine, 10 November 2009
By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Chairperson, International Coordinating Committee
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Since oil was discovered in the Niger delta in the last days of British colonial rule in the late 1950s, the lands of the Ogoni people and other indigenous ethnic groups have been snatched away for the development of oil fields for Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Julius Berger and other oil companies. Since then Nigeria has become increasingly dependent on petroleum extraction as agricultural production of both cash and food crops were abandoned. From high levels in the 1960s, Nigeria has dropped in cocoa production by nearly half and rubber production by a third in the early 2000s.
While causing the distortion of Nigeria’s national economy, foreign-led oil exploration, extraction and landgrabbing have spawned local corruption, dispossessed and displaced the local and ethnic communities, destroyed the environment and contributed to global warming. For nearly five decades, Shell has been responsible for nearly 2900 spills and a fifth of the gas-flaring that releases toxic gases causing skin and respiratory ailments, deformed babies and death of flora and fauna. More than 1.5 million tons of oil have been spilled and poorly maintained pipelines have exploded, harming communities in this densely populated area.
Almost half of this oil is exported to the US. Since it started, oil production has earned more than $700 billion. More than 80% of this goes to only 1% of the population. Majority of Nigerians remain poor. With over 30 million people concentrated in the area, the Niger Delta region is among the places with the highest population density in the world. It has one of the lowest average life expectancy, highest corruption rates and high child mortality rates in the world. Access to potable water is inadequate. Around a third of the population are illiterate. The Nigerian government remains dominated by a small corrupt elite. Nigeria is mired in poverty and multiple conflicts.
Shell, Chevron and other oil companies have relied on the military to sow terror in local communities that call for a greater share of the oil proceeds as well as oppose the environmental destruction wrought by these companies. These companies have also retained security services to protect their interests.
Local communities have resisted the oil plunder for decades. In May 1994, nine activists from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Ogoni Nine– including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were arrested and accused of incitement to murder four Ogoni elders. They were later hanged by the Nigerian military government on November 10, 1995 sparking international condemnation. Over 15 years since the incident, Shell was forced to settle, on June 9 this year, the lawsuits that were brought against it by the relatives of the Ogoni Nine.
In May 1998, the Ijaw people of Bayelsa state demanded that oil company operations cease due to the destruction of their drinking water sources. Ijaw youth groups turned off the gas flares and shut down oil operations on more than 20 installations owned by Shell and Chevron. A massacre in the Bayelsa capital on December 30, 1998 killed dozens of protesters. Soldiers riding a Chevron helicopter murdered several villagers on January the next year. This culminated on November 20, 1999 in Odi town where soldiers massacred more than 100 people and razed nearly all buildings in the town.
In 2006, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) emerged as an armed group that raided oil platforms, bombed oil pipelines and attacked the military. The guerilla attacks by MEND and other armed groups have succeeded in reducing the output of Chevron and Shell by nearly 20% causing them as much as US$ 4 billion a year in lost revenues.
While a nominal ceasefire and government amnesty was recently accepted by some key leaders of armed resistance, the root causes of the people’s resistance remain. It will not be long before various forms of anti-imperialist and democratic resistance by the oppressed communities in the Niger Delta flare up again. Meanwhile, government military operations continue in other areas such as the Warri South West communities, displacing more than 25,000 and killing more than a few hundred people.
In Nigeria and the rest of the African continent, a renewed, more vicious campaign of imperialist plunder continues. Africa is losing forests three times the world’s average rate– equivalent to more than 4 million hectares of forests a year. Oil continues to be one of the region’s top exports. US trade with sub-Saharan Africa increased by 28 percent in 2008 with nearly 83% of this being petroleum products. Export of precious metals and gems are also significant.
The peoples of Africa and other Third World countries continue to suffer under the conditions of neocolonialism. These countries have sunk deeper into depression since the late 1970s because of the global overproduction of raw materials. The continuing plunder and pollution of their environment has made victims of their poor communities many times over. Africa remains deeply-indebted as income from its exports keep on falling far below its payments for imports and for debt service.
Military coups and civil wars, painted by the Western media as ethnic conflicts, continue to flare up in the region. Whenever these threaten the imperialist control of oil resources and other strategic interests, the US and other powers intervene while they turn a blind eye to senseless massacres when these do not. In 2007, Africa surpassed the Middle East as the top source of US oil imports. By 2025, the US is expected to be importing about one-fifth of its oil from West Africa. This makes the region strategically important to the US.
In October 2008, the US established its first new US overseas military command in a quarter of a century, the Africa Command (AFRICOM). This move signals a heightening of inter-imperialist competition for control of resources in the African continent and US determination to establish military, political and economic hegemony in the Southern Hemisphere, especially in the face of China’s growing presence in the region as trade partner and foreign investor. The AFRICOM area of responsibility includes 53 nations with rich oil and natural gas deposits as well as mineral resources.
The US has also convened the Gulf of Guinea Energy Security Strategy (GGESS) together with Nigeria and the United Kingdom to devise and implement strategies to provide military technology and aid to protect its interest in the region. They plan to join forces in ensuring stable oil operations in the area and uphold the status of the Gulf of Guinea as the safest crude oil exporting zone of the world for the foreign oil companies. The plan covers the coastal oil regions of Angola, Sao-Tome, Cameroon and Nigeria to secure militarily the unhampered extraction of oil at all cost.
Imperialist plunder of forests, mineral and energy resources leave in its wake environmental backlashes and deepening poverty. These have resulted in intensified resistance and struggles of the people to defend our environment and uphold a future rid of the root causes of the socially destructive system of monopoly capitalism.
We call on the people of the Niger Delta to carry forward the lofty and noble cause for which Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine were martyred. We urge the peoples of the Niger Delta and the entirety of Africa to further intensify their struggle for national and social liberation against the imperialist powers headed by the US and by the local reactionary classes.
We, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, stand in solidarity with the people of Africa in their revolutionary struggles and are resolved to encourage anti-imperialist and democratic forces to join or cooperate with us in an international united front for national independence, democracy, social justice and all-round development against imperialism and all reaction.###