The inconveniences which I and the Ogoni suffer, the harassment, arrests, detention, even death itself are a proper price to pay for ending the nightmare of millions of people...
Acceptance speech – Ken Saro-Wiwa / Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People
The speech was read in his name by Simeon Kpoturu.
Honourable Members of the Swedish Parliament,
ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and myself, I express my profound thanks to the Foundation of the Right Livelihood Award for honouring us with its 1994 prize. I also appreciate the rare privilege offered me to address this august Assembly on this momentous occasion.
The Award acknowledges, I understand, the efforts which MOSOP and I have made in striving non-violently for the civic, economic and environmental rights of the Ogoni people, thus setting a practical example for the solution of urgent social problems.
We appreciate this acknowledgement, coming at a time when, to say the least, all Ogoni people have been put under tremendous pressure by the military rulers of Nigeria who, over the last eighteen months, have declared war on Ogoni babies, pregnant women and unarmed men, devastated several Ogoni villages, murdered one thousand eight hundred people in cold blood, detained and extorted money from hundreds and driven an estimated one hundred thousand people into the bushes and forests.
While these atrocities have not broken the resolve of the Ogoni people, the 1994 Right Livelihood Award has served to re-kindle our faith in our just cause and in our methods and has inspired many others to commence a struggle similar to our own.
In recognition of the sterling role which the members of the MOSOP-affiliated Federation of Ogoni Women’s Associations (FOWA) have played in the Ogoni struggle, and in deep gratitude to my mother who, at seventy-three, is a leading member of MOSOP and an eternal inspiration in my quest for social justice, I dedicate the award to the Ogoni Woman.
I salute the Foundation of the Right Livelihood Award and its founder, Jakob von Uexkull for their generosity in establishing the prize and their wisdom and perspicacity in identifying, in far-flung parts of the world, worthy causes which would otherwise have gone unrecognized. By these actions, the Foundation is helping to make the world a much better place for all mankind.
The Ogoni have become a metaphor for the agony and exploitation of indigenous peoples and national minorities throughout Africa. Their non-violent struggle for their rights deserves the support of the international community because their success will inspire a multitude of despairing and disappearing peoples in Africa to the happy ways of peace and reduce the number of armed conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.
The questions raised by the Ogoni struggle include the global issues of the right of man to a clean and pure environment; sustainable development; the political and economic rights of the various peoples who make up the multi-ethnic states of Africa, states which were created primarily to serve European colonial interests and which are therefore largely irrelevant to the needs of their constituent peoples; democracy and military dictatorship in African nations; the role of multi-national corporations among indigenous African peoples.
What has particularly interested me as a man of letters in the Ogoni question has been how the multinational oil giant Shell which discovered oil on the Ogoni plains in 1958 can complacently cart away 900 million barrels of oil estimated conservatively at 30 billion US dollars and insensitively leave the Ogoni people with a completely devastated environment, living in pristine conditions in mud houses, without pipe-borne water, electricity, medical care or schools, threatening the very survival of the people.
Of equal interest has been the alliance between Shell and successive rulers of Nigeria. Shell has often been accused of actively encouraging the latter in extreme acts of repression and brutality against defenseless ethnic minorities in oil-bearing areas such as Ogoniland. The rulers of Nigeria both through unequal laws and force of arms, have denied the Ogoni the right to the management of their affairs and the development of their culture and economy, effectively reducing them to paradoxical poverty, slavery and extinction.
My experience is that we are face to face with a Modern Slave Trade similar in many ways to the Atlantic Slave Trade in which European merchants armed African middlemen to decimate their peoples and destroy their societies in return for intangible profits. As in the Atlantic Slave Trade, the multinational company reaps huge profits; the African middlemen – in this case the Nigerian nation-state – are debt-ridden and in chaos; their common victim, the Ogoni and similar resource-bearing communities face extinction. But what makes the Modern Slave Trade worse is that it has the capacity of destroying the environment as well and is thus omnicidal and affects all of man-kind.
I submit that we all have a responsibility to end this Modern Slave Trade and that all men of conscience and all Governments in the Western Hemisphere must not only condemn but fight it with as much energy and will as was used against the Atlantic Slave Trade.
When, therefore, I mobilized the Ogoni people and called out 300,000 of them to stage a remarkably peaceful protest march on January 4, 1993, the people marched not only against environmental degradation, political marginalization, economic strangulation, slavery and genocide but also against the Modern Slave Trade. That the Ogoni have, on their own, sustained this struggle without recourse to arms is a testimony to their will to survive.
To end the agony of the Ogoni, to ensure that the Ogoni have a chance of survival, I appeal to all people of conscience in the West to set up an International Rescue Mission to salvage the Ogoni environment and save the Ogoni people from slavery, genocide and extinction. This would be a worthy service to humanity and would serve notice to multinational corporations and their local military allies in all parts of the Third World that the twenty-first century will not tolerate disregard for human life and the environment in the pursuit of their ambitions. It would also serve the cause of democracy against thriving military dictatorships which continue to denigrate black African societies and dehumanize the people thereof.
I harbour the hope that in founding the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, in empowering the Ogoni people to fearlessly confront their history and their tormentors non-violently, that in encouraging the Ogoni people to a belief in their ability to revitalize their dying society, I have started a trend which will peacefully liberate many peoples in Africa and lead eventually to political and economic reform and social progress.
The inconveniences which I and the Ogoni suffer, the harassment, arrests, detention, even death itself are a proper price to pay for ending the nightmare of millions of people engulfed by the wasting storms of denigrating poverty on the sea of dehumanization.
I wish to thank my family for the wonderful support they have given me throughout this struggle, and all Ogoni people at home and abroad for their unwavering commitment to the cause of their upliftment. I thank all those who have assisted the struggle of the Ogoni people. In particular, I wish to mention The Body Shop International Plc, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, the World Council of Churches, the entire free press in Nigeria, Greenpeace, the Catholic Church of Nigeria, Civil Liberties Organisation, Amnesty International, International PEN, Human Rights Watch (Africa), the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of the British Parliament and the Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress.
Once again, I laud the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for kindling hope in the breasts of despairing peoples and pledge that I, MOSOP and the Ogoni people will live up to the expectations of the Foundation by continuing to struggle non-violently for Ogoni rights within the Nigerian nation-state.
I thank you all for patiently listening to me and wish you God’s blessings.
6 Otonahia Close
Off Olu Obasanjo Road
Port Harcourt, Rivers State