President of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof. Benjamin Okaba
According to a report by The PUNCH, the Ijaw National Congress has called on the Federal Government to apologise to the people of Ogoni Kingdom, Ijaw nation, and the entire Niger Delta for the alleged wrongful killing of Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight others in November 1995.
The President of the INC, Prof Benjamin Okaba, made the call in a statement on Saturday in Yenagoa while reacting to the proposed state pardon for the slain activist and writer by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Buhari had said the Federal Government would consider granting state pardon to Saro-Wiwa to close the “Ogoni 9 saga” when leaders from Ogoniland paid him a visit in Abuja on Friday.
Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen were executed on November 10, 1995, on the orders of a special military tribunal set up by the regime of the late General Sani Abacha.
They were sentenced to death by hanging by the tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of some Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government rally during the height of Saro-Wiwa’s non-violent campaigns against environmental and resource control injustice.
Their execution became known as the “Ogoni 9 saga,” an incident that attracted sanctions on Nigeria by the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the international community.
Okaba, in the statement titled, ‘The Ijaws, Ogonis and the Niger Delta demand apology, not pardon – INC President,’ described the proposal as laughable and falling short of addressing the people’s right to self-determination and resource control.
He insisted that the government ought to apologise to the people for the way Saro-Wiwa and others were reportedly killed “as a result of their peaceful campaigns against economic exploration, environmental despoliation and gross abuse of the people’s fundamental human and resource rights.”
The INC chief said, “We wonder what crime Ken Saro-Wiwa and others committed that warrants state pardon. Secondly, even if he was allowed the defence, was he given the right of appeal? What are the positive aftermaths of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s agitation? Would there have been the UNEP Report on Ogoni clean-up if Ken Saro-Wiwa and others did not draw the attention of the state and the international community to various human and environmental infractions meted out to the people?
“Now that the Federal Government has suddenly realised its wrongs and equally expressed willingness to seek reconciliation and national integration, we urge them to courageously go the whole hog as follows: bring to book all persons, including the presiding judge and other officers that were directly and indirectly involved in the unfortunate incident (murder of the Ogoni 9).
“Justice should also be extended to the innocent Ogoni youth and other Niger Deltans who were unlawfully massacred by state operatives for merely displaying green leaves in condemnation of the ghastly act.”
Okaba noted that the last few words of Saro-Wiwa, ‘You can kill the messenger, but not the message’, remained very apt as Ogoniland, Ijaw nation and the entire Niger Delta continued to suffer injustices, inequalities and rape of their freedom and right to control their God-given resources.
Similarly, a former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, said the presidential move did not elicit excitement as a similar promise had been made by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who had said some national monuments would be named after the Ogoni 13, not just Ken Saro-Wiwa alone, but did not fulfill his promise until he left office.
“I’m too old now or from my experiences, I’m not always excited about government pronouncements, especially at courtesy calls. From what I have read, it says they will consider a pardon. I remember during the Obasanjo administration, in one of his broadcasts on October 1, he had said the government had agreed to immortalise the names of the Ogoni 13 by naming certain national monuments after them,” he said.
But the Pan Niger Delta Forum has urged the President to ensure that the pardon was granted before the end of his administration.
PANDEF’s National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said, “The Ogoni leaders, I understand, made the quest and it’s something that the government should do and we will welcome it if he (Buhari) does it before the end of this regime.”