By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, it seems like yesterday when Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa, the hero of the Ogoni Rights Movement, was hanged on November 10, 1995, by the Abacha government after a kangaroo trial. Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa and eight others were tried and found guilty of complicity to murder some conservative Ogoni leaders opposed to the radical members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Ken had led the fight against environmental degradation of his community by the multinational companies involved in oil exploration.
That epic struggle culminated in the demand for better regulations of the activities of these international conglomerates in order to check the environmental impact on the hapless people who have had nothing to cheer about the natural resources that abound around them. The idea behind the struggle was to correct the anomaly of a people living in squalid conditions in the midst of plenty. It was a well-coordinated campaign by Ken Saro-Wiwa and his group. Their activities created panic in high places and it was not surprising that they were promptly eliminated when the opportunity presented itself.
Shortly after his death, a motley crowd of Nigerians gathered at the St. James’s Piccadilly, an Anglican Church by Jermyn Street, in the West End of London, for a memorial service to celebrate the life and times of this great Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, orator and social critic. I remember with regret our high expectations as we huddled in small groups to discuss the future of Nigeria in hushed tones as is normal wherever and whenever two or more Nigerians are gathered.
Like the incurable optimists that we were, we had hoped that a post-Abacha Nigeria would bring forth all the goodies we desired and deserved as a people blessed with vast and monumental resources. We were certain the biggest problem to be eliminated was that of the despoliation of the Niger Delta. We foolishly believed that pumping more money into the oil-producing states would help alleviate the sufferings of our people. We studiously ignored the gargantuan problems befuddling the minds of the peoples of other regions. Everyone ignored the drift of our education into oblivion and the mass unemployment that began to pile up like the groundnut pyramid but with dangerous consequences. It would have been unthinkable and unimaginable at the time that a day would come when Nigerians would transfigure into a terrorist state and a nation of Janjaweed-like militias.
Going by our theoretical analysis, the blood of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Nigerian martyrs would water our field of revolutionary change and propel our nation into prosperity. How wrong we were. We didn’t anticipate things were actually going to move from bad to worse when the so-called owners of the oil take over the control and destiny of Nigeria. It is doubtful if Ken Saro-Wiwa envisaged the possibility of an Ijaw man becoming President 15 years after his cold-blooded murder by the Nigerian State.
Today the impossible has happened and a full-blooded Ijaw man is in charge as Commander-in-Chief. The question to tackle is if the life of an average Ijaw man or that of any citizen of the South South has improved beyond what it was at the time of the struggle for self-determination and other such terminologies. My thesis is that the people of the Niger Delta who have become the new oil sheikhs of Nigeria are yet to justify the power-shift that catapulted them into relevance. This new-found significance has only translated into wealth and fame for a few privileged people of Ijaw extraction and their cronies. The majority of the people of South South continue to wallow in abject poverty. This is the paradox of most agitations. Those who slave for power often get the glory but hardly the medal.
Power often falls into the wrong hands after every major struggle in Nigeria. What Ken Saro-Wiwa couldn’t achieve by speaking eloquent English and blowing grammar all over the place became possible through an aggressive armed struggle by the Niger Delta militants who did not possess his elocution. The ferocious crusaders must have understood that a bully only respects a bully and took up arms to bully the King Kongs of the Nigerian State. It worked such wonders that other ethnic groups soon learnt how to achieve what the Wole Soyinkas and Gani Fawehinmis couldn’t do through non-violent campaigns spanning decades of imprisonment and torture. The militants thus created a new language and culture for would-be agitators; the power of brawn over brain.
The new oil sheikhs have taken over from the Umaru Dikkos, Uba Ahmeds, Suleiman Takumas, Bamanga Tukurs, Shettima Ali Mungono, Ishaya Audus, Adisa Akinloyes, Adamu Ciromas, Richard Akinjides, Mamman Ali Makele, Joseph Wayas, Chuba Okadigbos, and those powerful names of the NPN era in Nigeria. Action has now shifted from the apartments of Sussex Gardens to Hilton Metropole and Hilton Paddington of London. Dinner has shifted from the then Bali and Maroush restaurants on Edgware Road to Royal China Dim Sum on Baker Street and Tradervix restaurant in the basement of Hilton Park Lane. The Mauri and F. Pinet shoes of those days have yielded way to Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin. The fine cognacs and champagnes of those have become cheap commodities compared to the XOs, Dom Perignom and Cristals of today. We sure know how to invade the Dubai Malls and the expensive shops on Rodeo Drive Beverley Hills but are unable to recreate our own paradise at home. Our new kids on the block are living large and throwing their weight around exotic capitals of the world. I doubt if anyone of them remembers how Ken Saro-Wiwa and others fought and died for this day to materialise.
To be very honest, nothing has improved in the lives of our people, and it is necessary to tell ourselves the home truth. It is ungodly to replace one set of oppressors with another. While we enjoy our new status, we must remind ourselves about how we came this far and spare a thought for majority of our people who have gained nothing as citizens of a stupendously endowed Region. Our dream should be to transform our environment into a Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi. Our Governors and Leaders of thought should jettison distractive partisanship and concentrate on projects that can transform our abject ugliness into sparkling beauty. There is nothing difficult or impossible about this. We now have an opportunity to demonstrate that we are not a hopeless and unambitious people.
I have read and re-read the latest tirades of our Grand-Papa of the Niger-Delta, Chief Edwin Clark, against the perceived enemies of President Goodluck Jonathan. I will like to tell the ultimate godfather like I did the last time I responded to him, that President Jonathan has no enemy other than himself. God has placed the President in a position to transform the lives of not just the people of the Niger-Delta but Nigeria as a whole. But has our man done with it? The answer is No, but there is enjoyment galore for a select few. It is very obvious that the President is not interested in making the necessary sacrifice to change Nigeria for the better and set our country on the path to eternal bliss. He has all the necessary tools to work with but has allowed himself to be carried away by the glamour and trappings of power. He has demonstrated no capacity for an aggressive overhaul of Nigeria’s debilitating status quo. He wants to live and behave like an American President without having the resources of America.
A serious President must first admit to himself that Nigeria is in big trouble and adopt a sober disposition. But our President does not see any big deal in our lack of substantial progress two full years after becoming our substantive President. Money is still show being wasted on frivolous projects. The politicians still no sense in tightening their belts. The PDP Federal government has not been able to construct decent motorways. Nigerians are dying like chicken on our roads. Our waterways are not safe and the Nigerian Navy is struggling for serious attention. Our airports remain a source of shame with most facilities in decay and disarray despite the recent futile attempts at a whitewash. The Nigerian Railway is still not empowered to modernise. Our leaders have to fly abroad for the most basic of medical needs. The banks now groan under a cashless fiasco that makes life even more difficult for the poor. Education no longer enjoys pride of place and no Nigerian university is in the top 1000 in the world. We can go on and on.
I disagree that we can’t fix those problems because some people have chosen to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan. It is a fact of life that even your enemies would applaud your good work when it becomes incontrovertibly visible. No Nigeria has had the mega fortunes of Goodluck Jonathan. He’s the only Nigerian ever to have gone through the comprehensive gamut of executive power. He has had the rare privilege of being Deputy Governor, Acting Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President and President. His wife has climbed from state First Lady to national First Lady and now a first of its kind Permanent Secretary. Chief Edwin Clark should please educate us if Boko Haram stopped the Jonathans from building a good road from Yenogoa to Port Harcourt.
I’m not a lawyer and can’t defend Generals Mohammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida in the obvious case of libel they can establish against Chief Clark for openly saying they are Osama bin Laden re-incarnates. But I refuse to buy Chief Clark’s argument that Boko Haram is majorly fighting a political war. I’m surprised that Baba and his political godson can’t smell the revolution that is at hand. If Boko Haram is targeting churches and mosques, the homes of Emirs and Vice President in broad daylight it should be obvious that something has snapped in our country. We can no longer situate these calamitous occurrences as mere religious or political struggles. It is a revolution in the making, pure and simple. If the politicians don’t change their reckless modus operandi, we don’t even have to wait for Pastor Tunde Bakare to predict the outcome of this unprecedented war of attrition.
Chief Clark should urgently call his godson into the bedroom and advise him on the following. The President should be more sensitive to the suffering of Nigeria by cutting down drastically on his flights of fancy. The future will not praise him for being the most travelled leader in history; I think President Olusegun Obasanjo holds the world record in that regard. President Jonathan would be rated on how many schools he built or revamped, the hospitals he upgraded, the megawatts of power he generated and added to the national grid, the number of youths he rescued from poverty and hopelessness, the diversification of our economy, his genuine war against intractable corruption, and so on.
A leader who wants to fight corruption must start from his personal home. Why should anyone declare his assets and liabilities if the President openly says he will never declare his? Why should a civil servant work himself to death when they see ghost workers being promoted and decorated?
Why should the Police not take bribe when they help the big men carry the loots inside their rooms? Why would a judge not obey the politicians when his appointments and promotions depend totally on the whims and caprices of whosoever is in power? A leader does not require an eternity in power before we feel his overwhelming presence. General Murtala Mohammed shook Nigeria to its marrow in six months. Everyone imagined what he would have done in four years had he not been assassinated. Two years is enough time to see and feel the direction and mission of the Jonathan administration.
And it is clear to even his most fanatical supporters that his is not a government that wants to rock the boat. It is a government that wishes to mark its two terms with minimum discomfort to its prime promoters and sponsors.
This cannot be what Ken Saro-Wiwa and other great Nigerian visionaries wished for when they set out to fight for self-determination and the rights of their people.