Twenty years ago human rights activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni men were hanged in Nigeria for peacefully campaigning against oil companies who had polluted their environment.
Last night poets, musicians and activists came together at Rich Mix in Shoreditch to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the executions and raise awareness of the Ogoni people’s continuing plight.
Kinsi Abdulleh, from Numbi, an arts organization for diaspora communities and co-organiser of the event said: “To execute people, who have a love for their people, for their environment and for the world, I think is shameful.”
The event was intended to show solidarity with the Ogoni people, who threatened this week to protest the Nigerian custom’s decision to detain an artwork commemorating the anniversary.
A steel bus sculpture, created by London-based Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp 10 years ago in memory of the Ogoni nine was being sent to Nigeria for the 20th anniversary. Despite receiving the sculpture in September, it wasn’t released in time for the anniversary.
Last night, UK campaign group Platform claimed the hold up was politically motivated as the present head of customs was on the Ken Saro-Wiwa execution panel twenty years ago.
Sokari Douglas Camp could not attend the event but told EastLondonLines: “I made the bus in good faith as an educational tool and to raise awareness of the plight of the Ogoni people. It’s a deep shame that the bus has been seized and that it can’t be seen by the people in Nigeria.”
The execution of the Ogoni nine sparked international outrage and led to the four-year expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth, yet a recent Amnesty International report suggests Ogoniland is still suffering from the damage caused by Shell and other oil companies.
The report – published to coincide with the anniversary – accused Shell of “inadequate cleanup measures” and “systematic flaws” which seriously impact the human rights of affected communities.
Last night poets and activists spoke passionately about these ongoing environmental issues. Poet and musician Zena Edwards described fields “miscarrying” their seeds and Young Poet Laureate for London Selina Nwulu spoke of mouths “coated in oil” whose “drops make liquid nooses around our necks” in her poem ‘Home is a Hostile Lover’.
There was also dancing, laughter and lighthearted pleas to swap Vaseline for Shea butter. Fatuma Khaireh, another member of Numbi, told us: “It’s a fun night but it’s about communicating a wider issue: social justice.”
Camp said: “I urge that the “Living Memorial” to Ken and the other eight Ogoni men is released so that this gift from allies in the UK can create a space to reimagine the future of Nigeria. This is a call for freedom of expression to both honour the people who have fought for justice in Ogoniland and the people struggling for justice today.”
By Kyra Hanson