Dear Sr. Majella,
A million thanks indeed for yours of 14th Oct-21st. It was, as usual, most informative and made me miss you more than ever. You are the only one who gives me an almost complete picture. Had you gone to Ogoni, I’d have got a complete picture—local, national and international. It can be terrible here when one cannot phone or discuss with others. I spend a lot of money keeping the lines of communication open because I need every bit of information on time. As the Ogoni people learn to fight from the underground, not many of them realize the value of detailed information to those of us in detention. And we do not have a culture of writing. But because I reply to letters as soon as I get them, they are now learning to write to let me know what is happening. No one in London has written me—even my son did not write after his first letter—and my cousin who heads MOSOP in the U.S. has not written either. I only hear from him on the pages of newspapers.
The RLA prize [Right Livelihood Award] was most welcome. It encouraged the Ogoni people a great deal, legitimized MOSOP as a non-violent, and environmental and human rights organization, and the prize money will ease things a great deal for me. I don’t see Shell and the government allowing me to travel—they must dread what bombs my presence will drop in Europe as I’m supposed to address the Swedish Parliament, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and another meeting in London. There or not, my words will ring through all the places. If I can’t make it, I intend to ask my son to represent me. But somehow, I’m hopeful that I’ll be there. If I’m not, then it is in Ogoni interest that I should not be. God’s will.
As the days go by, I get the more convinced that the cause will win. I remember your encouraging me in the early days of our meeting, saying how because I had a certain independence of means, I might well be the only activist capable of giving Shell a run for their money. When I think how far we’ve gone on very thin resources, I have cause to be grateful to God. And no matter what Shell does or says, they’ve been in rough waters since July 1992 when I advised the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva. I am grateful to all those of you who have rallied round the Ogoni cause—UNPO, Greenpeace, International Pen, etc. And there must be better news on the way. I should mention the Bodyshop, of course. You probably know that they nominated me and MOSOP for the RLA Award. I have sent an appeal to President Carter asking him to intervene and resolve the conflict. Someone of his reputation would make quite a difference. My cousin in America has been quoted as saying the MOSOP (USA) would sue Shell. Exxon had to pay 5 billion USD for the oil spill from one tanker in Alaska. By the time we’ve created sufficient awareness internationally, it should be possible for us to find assistance should we wish to sue.
Sr., I don’t know if my wish is father to the next thought. But somehow, there is hardly a thing which I have undertaken which has not been successful. I see the hand of God in it all, and am grateful to Him all the time. My preparation for this struggle was a long one and it was made simple by the fact that I did not know that the Divine Hand was preparing me all the time. It is only now when I look back and begin to put the pieces together that I can see the progression from Administrator for Bonny, Commissioner in Rivers State, businessman (of some success), television producer, publisher, writer to activist as preparation for a task that would have been daunting if I had, for one moment, stopped to think or analyse its implications. And believe you me, I did not ever plan any of these things. They just happened to me. Only the decision to be a businessman after I had been sacked from the Rivers State Cabinet in March of 1973 was, consciously taken—but I didn’t have much of an alternative!
Yes, God has been very good to me. I’ve lived a charmed life. Consider that my 90 year old father and 73 year old mother go to court each day my case comes up; that you suddenly turned up to do the work among the diplomats & others in Lagos which we could not have done; that the Ogoni people have been so entirely supportive and have borne the pain of the struggle without complaint, that my brother Owens is right there always—he even had the wisdom of leaving Port Harcourt in time; that I have family members like Barika and Komene (whom I trained through secondary school, by the way) and other relatives who are extremely loyal and hard working, and you will agree with me that the finger of God is in it. And the struggle was really quite inevitable. The Ogoni would have perished otherwise. Even if they were to perish now (and it’s not possible), it would not have been without a fight! Oh, how proud the Ogoni people now feel! And not without justification. The RLA Award, I’m afraid, has even won them the envy of their neighbours and other Nigerians. A bad thing, but we’ll get over it in due course.
We need your prayers, and your endeavours and I keep praying that you remain in good health to work for us! And find some other fulfilment. God bless you.
I am ashamed to say that I do not know the full details of the 3 projects being funded by the EU. I did see, by chance, a fax from Trócaire to the Bishop and that’s how I knew about ECHO [European Community Humanitarian Aid Office]. What are the others? Please do not worry that you are being shunted aside after all that you have done. God uses us in his way and it may well be that your assignment was to bring the projects about. I dare hope that many more projects and other assistance will be forthcoming. I hope that we can work for these other ones. After all, the Ogoni need a million projects. That is why I have not been worried about who is handling it or not. The important thing is that help should get down. You did warn me, anyway, about the politics of aid. What I wonder is, does the Diocese have the expertise to handle it all? My brother and Ben probably do not realize that MOSOP was not to be touched with a barge pole. Legitimizing the organization, given the enmity of Shell and the Nigerian Government was always going to be a problem. We do not even have a bank account! And they have to realize that we will have to fight for a long time. Why worry about these early pains? We will now begin to assemble the atrocities as required by Amnesty International. But to what purpose? Just to keep the statistics?
I will write the Ecumenical Committee for Corporate Responsibility as you advised—through you. I have some ideas which they may find useful.
Did the court grant Shell the injunction they have requested on The Drilling Fields? I’d like to know.
As far as I am concerned, Shell should lose its mining lease in Ogoni. They may be pretending that they do not want to return to Ogoni. The fact is that they have 500 million barrels of oil on secondary drilling at K. Dere; they only last year awarded a 550 million USD contract to some organization to design the gas collection throughout Ogoni and the K. Dere field was to help in the natural gas plant at Bonny. No, Shell are merely hoping that the government will succeed in “pacifying” the Ogoni and then they will move in proudly and calmly to continue to steal. They are in for a fight they will never forget. Luckily, I’m no longer alone. Several Ogoni youth are now learning the ropes, and if only they could get further exposure, they would be able to continue the struggle even in my absence.
I’m happy that the question is being raised in the Irish parliament. The more air it receives, the better.
I did hear the BBC broadcast. The lady travelled in the delta with Oronto Douglas who helped Nick Ashton-Jones prepare his report. Oronto is a lawyer and committed to the Niger Delta—his home is one of the six places studied.
I’m sorry that I did not get to see you when you came to Port Harcourt.
I had hoped I might, even though I know how impossible it was. But we’ll certainly meet again, and I hope it’s soon.
I’m not going into partisan politics. What I meant is that I would be taking a wider role in the nation’s affairs—expanding the Ogoni struggle to other parts of the delta and beyond. I could never be a part of whatever Abacha is planning for the future. What I want to see, and what I will always argue for is ERECTISM — ethnic autonomy, resource and environmental control. If this comes to pass, then Ogoni will be free and it is to them that I wish to dedicate the rest of my life. And I hope that that can be an example to other ethnic groups. The translation of my dreams into reality. Nothing to do with partisan politics.
I don’t know if this letter will get to you before you leave for Dublin. Whatever the case, take good care of yourself and may God bless you.
P.S. The programme for Sweden is as follows:
December 5. London. A meeting possibly in the Houses of Parliament.
December 6. Travel to Stockholm. Informal Reception for Recipients and RLA representatives.
December 7. Press Conference.
December 9. Award Ceremony, Swedish Parliament.
December 10. Seminar?
Thereafter, possibility of meeting European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Video presentation of recipients to be organised by Robin Sharp [London address provided]—Film materials, video, photos or posters to the above-named.
Terry Ndee might be requested to contact Greenpeace for photos and I wonder if The Drilling Fields will be useful.
- The author is referring to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations. ↵
- Saro-Wiwa was Commissioner for Education and later Commissioner for Information and Home Affairs in the Rivers State Cabinet between 1968 and 1973. After the Civil War (1967-70), he became increasingly vocal in opposing the appropriation and misuse of the state’s petrodollars by the nation’s military elite under General Yakubu Gowon. This resulted in his expulsion from government in 1973. ↵
- A member of Saro-Wiwa’s extended family who was in Rome undertaking a course on research and documentation when Saro-Wiwa’s arrest took place. He did not return to Nigeria. McCarron helped him to acquire a scholarship to undertake an MA programme in Dublin jointly at University College Dublin and Kimmage Centre for Development Studies. ↵
- 132 A village in the Gokana district, Ogoniland. ↵
- The September attacks on Ogoni people and their property by members of the Nigerian armed forces were raised in the Irish parliament [Dáil Éireann] on 18/10/94. The then Tánaiste [Deputy Prime Minister] and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dick Spring stated that he had supported a proposal, made by EU representatives in Lagos, for a fact-finding mission to be sent to Ogoniland to assess the situation. The crisis in Ogoni was discussed on numerous occasions from then until 1998, when it appears more intermittently in the parliamentary records. For more details, see <http://www.oireachtas-debates.gov.ie/>. ↵
- A leading Nigerian attorney and human rights lawyer who was among the team of lawyers representing Saro-Wiwa during his trial. He is co-founder of Environmental Rights Action and of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, co-author with Nick Ashton-Jones of The Human Eco-Systems of the Niger Delta (1998), a handbook of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and co-author with Ike Okonta of Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil in the Niger Delta (New York: Sierra Club Books, 2001). ↵
- An Ogoni member of MOSOP who was based in London. ↵