A week ahead of the 20th anniversary of the hanging of environmental activist and author Ken Saro-Wiwa, tensions are rising in the oil-rich Ogoni region after Nigerian customs blocked entry of a memorial sculpture made in his honour.
The memorial, a bus, made in remembrance of Saro Wiwa and eight other environmental activists sentenced to death by military tribunal in 1995, was denied entry after arriving in Nigeria from London. Flyers made in commemoration of Saro-Wiwa’s execution on Nov. 10, 1995 were also seized by Nigeria’s State Security Service. The customs authorities claimed the sculpture was seized due to its ‘political value’.
Two Ogoni groups have reportedly threatened to shut down oil production in the region if the Nigerian government failed to release the memorial bus allegedly impounded by customs since September.
The bus, created by London-based Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp, has the words of Saro-Wiwa inscribed: ‘I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni’. The names of Saro-Wiwa and the other eight Ogoni men executed by the Sani Abacha military dictatorship are also inscribed on the bus.
Douglas-Camp said the bus was made “in good faith as an educational tool and to raise awareness of the plight of the Ogoni people” and also called for “freedom of expression to both honor the people who have fought for justice in Ogoniland and the people struggling for justice today.” The bus was created nine years ago and has been on display in the United Kingdom.
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, co-founded by Saro-Wiwa in 1990, planned to have the bus in Ogoniland next week on the 20th anniversary of the founder’s death and despite claims that requests have been made to secure the release of the memorial, it remains impounded by customs as Quartz went to press.
Ogoniland has had a strained relationship with the Nigerian government as well as oil firms operating in the area for several decades due to the impact of oil drilling and pollution in the area.
Last week, advocacy group Amnesty International accused oil giant Shell of failing to clean up oil spills that continue to destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians particularly in Ogoniland.
In 2009, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million in settlement of a legal action for its role in the execution of the Ogoni activists in what was one of the largest payouts by a multinational company charged with the violation of human rights.