Earlier this week, Nnimmo Bassey – the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) delivered his welcome address at the Sustainability Academy (Home School III) in which Firoze Manji of ThoughtWorks was the chief instigator.
Here are our favorite parts of the address:
When Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote that silence was tantamount to treason he knew what he was saying. When he declared in the dock that We All Stand Before History, he was as prescient as any prophet could be. Today we see clearly that keeping silent in the face of ecological destruction is treason. Keeping silent while the environment and the people die is not just being callous but is plain treason. He knew the vision of the Ogonis and had no doubts about his mission. He endured personal insults, attacks and pains. He took all that because he desired to see a democratic Nigerian nation where no group or individual is marginalised and where everyone lives in dignity in a environment that is safe and supportive of livelihoods. In the Pantheon of great African and global leaders and although he was not a president of a nation he sits well alongside great visionary African leaders.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a man of many dreams. He was murdered, but as is universally accepted, even if you kill the messenger, you cannot kill the dream. Today we are gathered here to interrogate the turmoil in Africa and seek to find out what the roots are and whether there is are common factors connecting them. We want to ask the questions: when, where and why did the rain begin to drench us. How could storm clouds gather and yet we say there would be no rain?
One of the regrets of Ken Saro-Wiwa was that he and the Ogoni leaders in the struggle in the early 1990s had not invested enough time in training up cadres and upcoming leaders. He stated this in a number of ways in the communications he was able to smuggle out of prison. He read this in the very last letter he wrote while in detention and which is included in Silence Would Be Treason – The Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a book we are proud to present to you today in this historic Ogoni capital city, Bori. Permit me to quote him on this:
One source of worry is what will happen to our struggle when Ledum and I are put away. We had not had enough time to train the cadres or put alternative leaderships in place. And putting members of the Steering Committee on the police wanted list has deprived us of a lot of hands. I have been able to direct things and even contribute to the publicity war from detention. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do so from prison. We have no funds, not even a bank account. Everything had hinged so much upon my resources that my absence will cause a lot of problems. We’ll have to get around that somehow.
More snippets of the speech:
On the UNEP Report on Ogoni:
On 4 August 2014 it will be three years since the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued its damning report on the state of the Ogoni environment. The report uncovered that the Ogoni environment has been so damaged that rather than support lives and livelihoods, it was killing the Ogoni people. The UNEP report confirmed the alarming fact that all the water bodies in Ogoni are polluted with hydrocarbons and a variety of deadly elements including carcinogens. The pollution is so deep that it would require twenty-five years of work to decontaminate the waters so that people can safely drink and use the resources found in them. The report also revealed that the land in Ogoni is polluted to a depth of five metres in several places and would require five years to clean up before the waters can be cleaned.
Ken Saro-Wiwa declared that what was happening in Ogoni was an ecological war. That may have appeared as a very strong way to describe the situation, but you and I agree that he has been vindicated. That war is not over. It will not be over until our children can safely swim again in our rivers and creeks. It will not be over until our people can fish, collect crabs, periwinkles and other seafood and eat them with assurance of nourishment and not death by instalment. The ecological war will not be over until our farmers can plant and harvest yams and cassavas that are safe to eat and are not covered in hydrocarbon pollutants. The ecological war in still on! It must stop!
On African Uprisings:
The same can be said of the polluting extractive activities in other parts
of Nigeria and indeed Africa. The tin mines of Plateau State were
abandoned without decommissioning. The environment remains toxic and over
1100 sinkholes there continue to pose grave danger to man and beasts. The
environment of the coalmines of Enugu and Kogi States begs for
restoration. The same is the situation with the gold mines of Obuasi,
Ghana, the coal mines of Witbank in South Africa and the diamond mines of
Kono in Sierra Leone, to mention a few.
Many of the conflicts in Africa do not happen because we are bloodthirsty
tribal peoples that are always at conflict with ourselves. No. Many are
proxy wars fought on the behalf of agents of resource expropriation and
transnational resource thieves. Outright wars and terror across the
continent are fought so that arms merchants can ply their bloody trade
while our peoples wave weapons produced by merchants of death who laugh
all the way to the bank while we abduct young girls, kill children in
their sleep, burn down villages and soak in the blood of our children,
mothers and fathers.
This publication was first delivered as part of the speech: Welcome Words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director HOMEF, at Sustainability Academy #03 held in Bori, Ogoni on 22 May 2014.