The Ogoni Nine Execution

In 1995, something happened in Nigeria that left the whole world in shock; 9 men were executed by the then Nigerian military government! These men later came to be known as the “Ogoni 9”.

The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogonis in 1995 was a tragic event carried out by the infamous Abacha military government, which was at that time in power.

Ogoni was a small densely populated area located in present-day Rivers state, the eastern city of Portharcourt in the southeastern part of Nigeria. The indigenous people in this area were referred to as the Ogoni people. These indigenous people were traditionally known for livestock herding, fishing, and most importantly farming.  Before 1995, the people of Ogoni had constantly been victims of various forms of human rights violations, mostly because of their petroleum; hence, their oil was their curse.

ogoni land
Ogoni Flag
ogoni land

In 1958, the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company in collaboration with the British government found a commercially viable oil field on the Niger Delta and then began oil production.

Shell Logo

In 1958, the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company in collaboration with the British government struck oil in commercial quantities on the Niger Delta and then began oil production. The oil production from this region went on for such a long period of time that it led to the plunder of the region’s resources and degradation of the indigenous environment. The Ogoni land had an average of about 4 oil spills a week over a 15 year period which affected over 80% of their farmlands and their waterways. This, in turn, affected the growth of their farm products, fishing, and other economic related activities- their only sources of livelihood were being destroyed.  To make matters worse, despite the fact that oil production in Ogoni was yielding so much profit (it was recorded that more than £30 billion worth of oil was extracted from this region!); the Ogoni people saw little or no benefit from the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company and thus, it was only a matter of time before trouble started to brew.

Ogoni land
A contaminated area signpost
Ogoni land
Ogoni farmland

Left with little option, nine Ogboni men; Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooke, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuine, Saturday Dobee and Ken Saro-Wiwa- the leader of the group- in 1990 came together to form a group “Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)”. They were determined to fight for their environment and human rights, which the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company had mercilessly trampled.

ogoni land
ogoni nine
ogoni-9 Ken Saro Wiwa (middle)

The group developed a bill of right known as the ‘Ogoni Bill of Rights’ which demanded the increased autonomy for the Ogoni people, a fair share of proceeds from oil extraction and rehabilitation of the damage done to Ogoni land.

Unfortunately, rather than The Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company acting to reverse the damage they had done, they perceived the bill of rights as a direct threat to their oil production activities. To make matters worse, the Nigerian government under General Sani Abacha (which supported Shell’s activities in Ogoni land) began to see the MOSOP as a threat to Shells’ activities and vowed to stop them at all cost, even if it meant the lives of the Ogoni men- Nigerian citizens whom the government was meant to protect.

Following their bill of rights, MOSOP began to organize non-violent demonstrations against The Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company and the Federal Government of Nigeria. They spoke about the condition of their land, appealed to them to “fix” their land and of course amplified the bill of rights. Despite all their pleas and appeals however, the government turned deaf ears, as the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company and the Nigerian government failed to do anything. On the contrary, the government sent the military to frustrate the ‘rebellion’ of the MOSOP group.

ogoni land
Ogoni land
ogoni land
Polluted ogoni water way

Later in 1994, a gathering was organized, but Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other members of MASOP were barred from attending by the military. It was during this gathering that four prominent Ogoni chiefs were killed and the Ogoni 9 were framed. The military government arrested Ken Saro-Wiwa and his 8 comrades and charged them for “causing” the death of the chiefs despite the fact that they were not present at the scene. Realizing the ploy of the Abacha government and the injustice that was about to be meted on the Ogoni 9, the international community intervened. There were pleas from both the local and international community, world leaders and even the then US president Bill Clinton. But even this was not enough to assuage the malicious intent of the Abacha military government. Instead, the government decided to try the MOSOP group for the death of the four chiefs and created a 3-man tribunal. To make matters worse, the tribunal denied the Ogoni 9 access to counsel, a fair trial, and the opportunity to appeal their decision- Such injustice! But what could be expected from the government of a man (Abacha) whose death brought as much rejoicing and relief in Nigeria as when the country gained independence. During the course of the trial, the Ogoni 9 and their relatives were tortured and maltreated. The 9 were imprisoned for months, tried, declared guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Unfortunately, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other 8 paid the ultimate price for their activism on November 10, 1995. They were transported to Port Harcourt and there, they were all executed.

General Sani Abacha

Following the execution of the Ogoni 9, Nigeria was promptly kicked out of the Commonwealth of Nations (an organization made up of 52 countries that were part of the British Empire) for this inhumane act. In a display of lack of remorse, the Nigerian government established a special task force and mounted checkpoints across Ogoni to root out anyone suspected of being a member of MOSOP. Some members were arrested and detained and many of those that were arrested were never seen again.

In 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sued Shell for its complicity in human rights against the Ogoni people such as colluding with the Nigerian government to bring about the arrest and execution of the Ogoni 9. In June 2009, on the eve of the trial, the parties agreed to a settlement providing a total cost of $15.5 million to compensate the plaintiffs, establish a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people, and cover some of the legal costs and fees associated with the case.

A few years later, the Nigerian government invited the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), they conducted a study on Ogoni land and found out that the 50 years of oil exploration activities by Shell had caused a very high level of environmental degradation because of oil spills, oil flaring, and waste discharge. They also found out that their water was contaminated 900 times beyond acceptable limit of chemicals (benzene) that can cause cancer. UNEP established that it would take between 25-30 years to rehabilitate Ogoni land and would require an initial one billion dollars to begin the exercise.

ogoni land
unep officials in ogoni



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