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We were living close to gas flare sites that were burning at an average of 1,200 degrees with the release of carbon and sulphur contents into the atmosphere. We were mainly drinking rainwater which was always contaminated by carbon and sulphur. Unknowingly we were drinking acid rain water.
Gas flare is the multinational oil companies’s system of burning the associated gasses from crude oil extraction. It is usually cheaper for them to burn it, but in developed countries the same oil companies gather these gasses (these are used as cooking gasses at our homes in Europe). Since there is no local market value for such gasses it ends up being cheaper to burn them.
Ironically, we celebrated gas flare because they became a source of light for us at night and our mothers would use the heat from such a location to dry our food for eventual consumption. We didn’t know that slowly and gradually we were killing our lungs and kidneys resulting in various diseases such as bronchitis, lung and skin cancer, premature births and reduction of life expectancy.
There was also the pollution of our rivers and land from oil spills, resulting from corrosion of oil pipelines belonging to the oil companies. There was hardly any sabotage of oil pipelines by locals at the time. All the major oil spills resulted from lack of pipeline maintenance. Some pipelines in the Niger Delta had been laying above ground for more than 40 years without being replaced. Under the tropical environment, they undergo oxidation which leads to corrosion and then leakages.
Gradually we started losing our aquatic and terrestrial species to oil spills. The farms could no longer produce enough nutrients for our crops and the fishes in the rivers either died or swam farther into the sea. The government cared very little and the multinational companies kept on polluting the environment with impunity.
The Nigerian government passed a law to ban gas flare in 1979, with some exceptions, and in 1984 a court ruled to put an end to gas flare. This ruling has never been obeyed by the oil companies even when the government and multinational oil companies agreed to end gas flare in Nigeria by 2008. The oil companies still flare gasses until this day, making Nigeria the second most gas flared country in the world after Russia.
In the early ‘90s Mr. Ken Saro Wiwa started the organisation MOSOP (Survival of the Ogoni People) movement against Shell in his hometown of Ogoni in the River State of Nigeria. Ogoni is a small community with around 20,000 barrels of crude oil production. Ogoni is a vital community to Shell because pipelines from other flow stations run through this community to the Bonny Export terminal.
He lead the Ogoni in a peaceful march protest against Shell during the satanic rule of Late Gen. Sanni Abacha. The protest forced Shell to halt their production in Ogoni land and the military immediately send the army to take over Ogoni land and orchestrated a divide and rule system that led to the killing of four Ogoni Chiefs by their own youths.
The leadership of MOSOP led by Ken Saro Wiwa were arrested and tried in a kangaroo court set up by the military government. Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni citizens were sentenced to death by hanging without due process. On November 10, 1995 Ken Saro Wiwa and the eight Ogoni martyrs were executed by hanging despite of outcry for their release from the population.
It was a dark day in the history of environmental struggle in the Niger Delta and once again a peaceful voice for the people was silenced forever. I remember sitting in my room that night crying and asking why God would allow this to happen. I knew then that if Ken Saro Wiwa can be killed by Abacha without recourse of the consequences, then Abacha can kill anybody. He eventually masterminded the killing of so many innocent Nigerians who stood against his path to rule the country.
My last son Dylan Ofehe was born the 10the of November 2008, the same day Ken Saro Wiwa was executed. So every year when I celebrate my son’s birthday with my family it’s also a reminder of the day my mentor Ken Saro Wiwa was executed.
With the clampdown on students still going on in our campus and the arrest of Ken Saro Wiwa, I told my mother that I must leave Nigeria for my own safety. I had been in all the major demonstrations on campus against the annulment of the June 12th election and privy to the student union decisions on when to strike again, I would’ve been a target for the military. If I was arrested my parents were too poor to pay my release bribe and that would mean torture and eventual killing.
I had to flee my country, but how? Next blog I’ll tell you of my journey to Europe and how the odds worked in my favor at the end.