Letter: Saro-Wiwa: beware tribalism; boycott Shell

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The Independent Online
From Mr John Igbino

Sir: Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants were not hanged because of who they were, or for what they believed in, or for murder, or for their fight against Shell; they were hanged for playing confrontational and divisive tribal politics ("World fury as Nigeria sends writer to gallows", 11 November).

There is a precedent in the history of Nigeria for the decision to hang Saro-Wiwa and his associates. Those Nigerians old enough will remember Isaac Adaka Boro. Like Saro-Wiwa, Boro's politics were centred on his tribe in the village of Yenegoa; like Saro-Wiwa, Boro's early fights were with the oil companies and, like Saro-Wiwa, Boro's politics were confrontational and developed into armed rebellion. In the ensuing battle to suppress the rebellion, many innocent Nigerians were killed. The present government does not want a repeat of the Yenegoa episode, especially in the same part of the country.

Nigeria is a country of minorities, with nearly 250 tribes, and we are trying to build a nation based on the equality of all the constituent tribes. The task of building a cohesive nation is not helped if we have a divisive tribal leader telling the rest of the country that they live because there is oil on his tribal land. The remaining 249 tribes in Nigeria resent this, especially as Ogoniland produces no more than a quarter of our total oil output.

In their condemnation the media and politicians have allowed emotion and indignation to blur their assessments. They have failed to visualise a Nigeria in which the leaders of 250 tribes start to assert their tribal rights and begin to settle old scores.

Such a scenario evokes the image of Rwanda; of Africans butchering themselves, with the West playing the sympathetic angel of mercy, sending relief and emergency supplies.

Nigerians are wise and thoughtful people. They know the problems tribalism poses to the survival of their country and they have used that knowledge to define the kind of country they want to live in. They want a tolerant country in which the rights of one tribe are carefully balanced and weighed against those of the others.

Yours faithfully,

John Igbino

London, SW4

11 November