It gives me great pleasure to return to Ogoniland. Coming to Rivers State any day is a home coming for me in many respects. I still have very fond memories of the wonderful reception I received when I visited you in the early days of our administration. Although I have not had an official tour of Ogoniland, I can see very clearly from the changed landscape that a lot has taken place in the intervening years of our last visit. I therefore wish to congratulate your very dynamic Governor for the attention he has paid to the development of the State in general and the attention that he has paid to Ogoniland. I know that with peace and stability, there are better days ahead for the Ogoni people.
Since my coming to power, the achievement of peace has been our priority. We inherited a country that was comatose in many respects: citizens were in trauma, our national infrastructure had all but collapsed, our economy was in tatters and we were a pariah state. The unfortunate and tragic events in Ogoniland were at the heart of our isolation as a people. So, I personally share your pain and understand what you have gone through as a people and a community. Ogoniland and the Ogoni people became the metaphor for defining the tragedy of governance in our country. Then as now, I believed that healing the wounds of the past was fundamental to reclaiming our normalcy. That is why I made the setting up of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission; Oputa Panel was one of the first initiatives undertaken by our administration. My decision to appoint Fr Matthew Hassan Kukah as the Facilitator of this process was a deliberate effort in following through with the spirit of Oputa Panel.
I am aware of the fact that there have been many earlier efforts to bring closure to the problems of Ogoniland. Unfortunately, they have all been unsuccessful. However, from the reports I have received from your Governor, Fr Kukah has managed to make a head way in facilitating this process. While I commend his efforts so far, I know that none of this would have been possible were it not for the support and cooperation of your Governor in particular and the good people of Ogoniland who have decided that it is time for us to turn a new page in our history. I commend you for this and hope that you will stay the course until we bring this process successfully to its final destination. And end to this problem will open a new chapter in the lives of the Ogoni people who have been held hostage by the tragedies of the past.
We are gathered here today to lay the foundation for a genuine reconciliation in Ogoniland. We prayerfully hope that this will bring an end to any lingering bitterness among the Ogonis as a people. It is only after we have achieved this that a united Ogoni can take its rightful place among the people of Rivers State in particular and Nigeria in general. Thus, the events of today are significant for many reasons.
First of all, in the last ten or so years, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, has tried to pay tribute to those sons of Ogoni who lost their lives between 1993 and 1995. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been able to accommodate the emotions of the other families who suffered the losses of their loved ones. I am aware of the fact that a lot has been done especially during Oputa Panel to bring harmony among the families. I also know that during the public sittings of Oputa Panel, both the families of the Ogoni 4 and Ogoni 9 decided to blend all their emotions and speak together of Ogoni 13. This melting of emotions was a significant event. First and foremost, it helped to show the Ogonis as being united in their pain and suffering for the loss of their most gallant sons. Secondly, it helped to elevate the cause to a level that is beyond the individual families and the community.
Today, we have gathered to give full and practical demonstration of this melting and crystallisation of our emotions for these sons of ours. For, no longer are we remembering these men here as sons of Ogoniland, we are remembering them as gallants sons of Nigeria. By laying this foundation stone, I bear witness to your collective decision to seal your unity. By laying this foundation stone, you are calling on our fellow citizens in particular and the rest of the world to witness the fact that you have put your bitterness behind you and are now turning a new page. I salute the courage of the widows and children of those whom we honour here today. I pay homage to the courage of these women who, in spite of their sorrows have had to face the difficulties of raising their children as single parents. I salute the courage of your children who have, without bitterness, held on to the plough. I am glad to let you know that Nigeria will journey with you all the way.
My dear friends, it is important to note that reconciliation is not an event. It is a process. We are often told to forgive and forget, I believe that we can forgive but we cannot forget our loved ones or even the events and circumstances of death. But, given that most of us here are Christians, we can only take solace in the promises of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. First, that after death, there is a Resurrection and secondly, that there is a reason for everything that happens. My prayer therefore is that those in whose memory we gather here are at peace with God. We also pray that the goals and ideals for which they lived may be a reality in our lives.
Before I end, let me turn my attention to other matters of state. I the last few years, our country has been caught up in a convulsion of violence. This violence has been widespread and has occurred in different communities for different reasons. However, the Niger-Delta has become a metaphor for an ugly face of this violence. I feel saddened by the fact that the youth, the future of our nation have become the vanguards of violence. I am not unaware of the pain, uncertainty, frustration and feelings of hopelessness that our Youth face. The story is the same everywhere. Our experiences with seeking to bring Peace to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan has helped me to realise that indeed, we need to work hard to rescue our youth from violence, crime and war. Many of the youth who are now in rehabilitation from war, realise much to their regret, that they have wasted their lives in succumbing to the temptation of taking up arms.
Since coming to power, our administration has placed the rehabilitation of the Niger-Delta on the front burner. We have committed a lot of resources to addressing these problems. I am not unaware of the fact that a lot still remains to be done. But, as the Chinese say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We cannot transform the Niger-Delta in one day. But we have started and we have no plans to turn back. However, we cannot develop in an atmosphere of intimidation, insecurity and blackmail. Unfortunately, in all zones of violence, the first victims are the local people. Therefore, it is your own brothers, sisters and parents who remain in harms way. Violence cannot achieve anything in our society and this is because it has never achieved anything anywhere. As the Holy Book says, those who take up the sword, die by the sword. I therefore renew my appeal especially to the Youth of the Niger-Delta: Embrace peace, say no to violence!
Here, I wish to commend the Ogoni people for choosing the path of non violence in the pursuit of your rights in negotiating with the Nigerian State. Right from the beginning, I am aware of the fact that your leaders always preached non violence. I encourage you to keep on this path. What we are doing here is the beginning of a new dawn in Ogoniland. I call on you to remain an example for others to follow and we shall prove to you that Peace can be rewarded.
I am aware of the great efforts that your Governor has made in the last few years to integrate your community into the affairs of the Government of Rivers State. You are adequately represented in the State Executive Council and in the bureaucracy. Similarly, I know that he has also made great efforts towards the provision of infrastructure from Electrification to Roads and Water. I assure you that we can only build on these great efforts. However, for that to happen, we need to create an atmosphere of peace in Ogoniland.
At the heart of the difficulties in Ogoniland has been the issue of the relationship of the Ogonis with Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC. We cannot talk about peace in Ogoniland without dealing with the issues of the relationship between the Ogoni people and SPDC. I am aware of the difficulties that you have had with SPDC. Indeed, they have become proverbial. Your environment has been the first casualty. I am aware of the fact that today, Ogoni Farmlands, Rivers, Crops, Sacred Lands, Homes are in various stages of disrepair. Along with this is the fact that the SPDC wells are similarly in various stages of disrepair. Our next challenge in response to what the Ogonis have cried out for is the clean up and restoration of Ogoniland so that normalcy can return. I have been told by His Excellency that two weeks ago, Fr Kukah forwarded to him, a formal blueprint for the clean up exercise in Ogoniland. I am also informed that Shell has agreed to bear the total cost of the clean up exercise and that an international Body with the required competence will be commissioned to do the work. I am also informed that the choice of the organisation to undertake the work will be the responsibility of the Ogoni people, the Government of Rivers State and the Facilitator of the process. I urge you to go over the request and let the exercise commence immediately so that we can restore normalcy to our communities. I am sure that you all appreciate the fact that once this is over, we can then all lay a broad based programme for the emergence of a new Ogoniland. Together, we can then take our challenge to the next level.
Finally, in response to an application submitted by Fr Kukah to the Office of the Attorney General, requesting for pardon for your sons, I wish happily inform you that the process is being put in motion to ensure that this takes place. Let me hope and pray that sooner than later, we can put all this behind us. Once again, let me on your behalf thank His Excellency your Governor and thank Fr Kukah for the work that they have achieved together. Long Live the Ogoni People, Long Live Rivers State, Long Live Nigeria. Thank you and God bless you all.
Ogoni Nine To Get Presidential Pardon
By Odudu Okpongete, Senior Correspondent, PH
President Olusegun Obasanjo has declared that the presidential pardon for Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni environmental rights activists executed by the Gen. Sani Abacha government on November 10, 1995, will soon be granted.
The president said the process of the pardon was already going on and would soon be concluded.
The step, is believed to be one of the ways of facilitating reconciliation and quick resumption of oil production by Shell in Ogoniland.
President Obasanjo who spoke on Saturday at the laying of the foundation stone of the Ogoni Memorial Monument in Bori, Khana local government of Rivers State, for the Ogoni 13 who died in the cause of the Ogoni struggle, said the Attorney General of the Federation was processing the request.
The Ogoni 9, including the late minority rights activist, Mr. Ken Saro-wiwa were judicially executed by the Abacha junta in 1995 but since the beginning of the reconciliation process, the Ogonis have consistently requested for their state pardon so as to quash their conviction as criminals.
The Ogoni 9 were executed over their alleged complicity in the death of the Ogoni 4 including Chief Edward Kobani, Chief Albert Badet, Tomson Orage, Sam Orage
Acknowledging that the travails of the Ogoni had become a metaphor for defining the tragedy of governance in the country, the president however said time had come for the Ogoni to mobilise towards achieving reconciliation so as to secure the future.
He described the death of the Ogoni 13 as a loss, not only to Ogoni, but also to the whole of the country.
He said the action was principally responsible for the pariah status which the country experienced before his government came into office in 1999.
"We are remembering them not as garlands of Ogoni but as sons of Nigeria," Presisdent Obasanjo said, and paid homage to the families of the Ogoni 13.
He said they should put the bitterness of the past behind them and come together to rebuild the area.
He described the event as very significant considering that the ceremony marked the first time the families of the Ogoni martyrs would come together to celebrate their fallen heroes.
He said the appointment of Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah as facilitator of the Ogoni peace process was deliberate to enable him follow up from what was left behind in the course of his work as member of the Oputa panel.
The president expressed hope that the Ogoni would ensure that reconciliation was achieved in the area.
The president, however, warned that the federal government would not be intimidated by what it called the brigandage and criminality in the Niger Delta, remarking that the region could not develop in an atmosphere of violence.
In his speech at the ceremony, Rev. Fr. Kukah said the Ogoni problems could not be resolved by a magic wand.
He said the wounds inflicted as a result of the crises was deep.
"I believe that this is one of those problems which require more prayer and fasting than human action," he said.
Kukah who described the reconciliation process as very difficult however, noted that the memorial which featured the families of the Ogoni 13 would usher in genuine peace from which the process could be anchored.
Earlier, Chief Barinua Wifa who presented an address on behalf of the Ogoni called on the president to prevail on the National Assembly to create Ogoni State and remarked that his presence in Ogoni would send a message to others in the Niger Delta to embrace the non-violent approach to the struggle.
Chief Wifa however told the president that in the absence of any significant change in Ogoni, it was difficult to persuade other ethnic groups agitating for justice in the region to eschew violence.
Mr. Ken Saro-wiwa Jnr, son of the slain activist and Mr. Kenneth Kobani, Commissioner of Finance in the state who spoke on behalf of the bereaved families said the event marked the beginning of true reconciliation in Ogoniland.