Twenty years ago, the Nigerian state, then under military rule decided to silence the Ogoni people. The alleged offence committed by the Ogoni people was that they had the temerity to reject the degradation of their environment by Shell Petroleum Development Corporation and the Federal Government.
When the continuous intimidation and harassment of the leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, did not stop the agitation of the Ogoni people for equity and justice encapsulated in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the neo-colonial state decided to go for broke.
The callous state assassinated four prominent Ogoni leaders in gruesome circumstances. Before any inquiry was conducted into the incident the then state military administrator, Col. Paul Komo threatened that the MOSOP leaders would be held vicariously liable for the state sponsored assassination.
The threat was carried out as Ken Saro-wiwa, other MOSOP leaders were charged with conspiracy, and murder of the four Ogoni chiefs before a special military tribunal headed by Justice Ibrahim Auta, the current Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
At the mock trial of the MOSOP leaders, the sworn affidavits of witnesses who had been bribed by the Sani Abacha military junta to bear false testimony against the innocent defendants were rejected by the military court. Equally rejected was the video tape of the speech of Col Kumo in which he had threatened to hold the defendants responsible for the brutal murder of the Ogoni 4.
It was when all efforts to demonstrate that the murder of the Ogoni 4 was carried out by the Paul Okuntimo-led Joint Task Force State proved abortive that the defendants asked the legal defence team led by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) to withdraw from the trial.
Apart from preventing us from defending our clients, Chief Fawehinmi and I were physically assaulted in the premises of the tribunal. I was also detained at the dungeon of the State Security Service at Shangisha, Lagos State for three days for allegedly politicising the trial of the MOSOP leaders.
After our withdrawal from the trial, the lawyers imposed on the defendants also withdrew, as they were also frustrated from conducting the defence of the defendants. Not unexpectedly, the military tribunal convicted Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other MOSOP leaders and sentenced them to death.
The Commonwealth leaders who were then meeting in Australia resolved to appoint the late Dr. Nelson Mandela to lead a team of other Heads of State and Government to travel to appeal for clemency for the MOSOP leaders. In a desperate bid to present the Commonwealth with a fait accompli the Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, headed by the maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha hurriedly approved the secret execution of the convicted MOSOP leaders.
However, the execution of the death sentence was carried out in utter violation of Section 8 of the Civil Disturbances Decree No 2 of 1987 which provided that the record of proceedings of the military tribunal had to be transmitted to the Provisional Ruling Council which was the confirming authority at the material time.
It is also pertinent to note that the time for submitting a petition to the PRC for a review of the verdict of the military tribunal had not expired when the MOSOP leaders were killed. Hence, the then British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major rightly described the execution as “judicial murder”.
Although the federal military government murdered the Ogoni 4 and the Ogoni 9, the people of Ogoniland have since continued the struggle to end the ruthless exploitation of the people and the degradation of the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta.
In addition to the expulsion of Shell from Ogoni, the people compelled the federal government to secure the services of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, to investigate the pollution of the land. In spite of the reluctance of the government to compel Shell to contribute the $1 billion recommended for the remediation of Ogoniland by the UNEP, the Buhari administration has undertaken to implement the recommendations contained in the report.
Regrettably, the Niger Delta faction of the ruling class has hijacked the struggle for resource control initiated by the Ogoni People. Thus, in spite of the 13 per cent derivation, the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and the Amnesty Programme, poverty has been on ascendancy in the Niger Delta.
To arrest the disturbing phenomenon the Ogoni people should form an organic alliance with other oppressed and exploited people in the Niger Delta and elsewhere with a view to liberating the country from imperialism and its local agents and privies.
As we are gathered here today to remember the heroes of the Ogoni struggle, we should resolve to intensify the struggle for a country where equity and justice shall reign supreme. This is the only way to ensure that the spirits of the Ogoni martyrs live on forever.
Femi Falana (SAN) writes from Lagos.
This is the solidarity address at the 20th year anniversary remembrance of the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders.

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