Ogoni Nine hanged as indifferent West failed to respond

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The Independent Online

"Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow. We must keep on striving to make the world a better place for all of mankind - each one contributing his bit, in his or her own way." So wrote Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer and environmental activist for the Ogoni people, from a cell six months before he and eight others were executed on 10 November 1995.

"Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow. We must keep on striving to make the world a better place for all of mankind - each one contributing his bit, in his or her own way." So wrote Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer and environmental activist for the Ogoni people, from a cell six months before he and eight others were executed on 10 November 1995.

The world responded with outrage against the military government in Nigeria that had for years been oppressing its people under the leadership of General Sani Abacha. But world leaders failed to take decisive action to force political reform. It was another four years before democracy returned to Nigeria.

The oil companies against which the Ogoni protested for causing environmental damage also escaped relatively unscathed. Chief among them was the Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell, Nigeria's biggest oil producer.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were arrested after four former leaders of their Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People were murdered in May 1994. In a case widely reported to be a legal farce, they were found guilty of the murders by military tribunal and sentenced to death in October 1995.

The Ogoni Nine were hanged while Commonwealth heads of government were meeting in New Zealand, the day after the former South African president Nelson Mandela appealed for a stay of execution. Mr Mandela's subsequent campaign for Nigeria's expulsion and sanctions against the country was not supported: instead Nigeria was suspended, warned that it would be expelled within two years unless it made progress on human rights and democracy, and a Ministerial Action Group was set up to investigate further. Two years later, the Commonwealth had yet to come up with a plan of action.

The UN passed a mildly condemnatory resolution in December 1995, and another in April 1996 calling for immediate steps towards democracy, rights to be guaranteed and a UN probe into human rights.

Many countries pulled their ambassadors out of Nigeria and initiated "soft" sanctions, such as bans on arms sales. Among them were Britain and the United States.

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