The evil at the heart of Nigeria

Executed Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa's final interview epitomised his 20-year campaign
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The Independent Online
Nigeria consists of 300 different peoples who were put together by the British. Although the country is a federation, ever since the military came into power its people have tried to turn this federation into a unitary system. Under this system, the major ethnic groups have cheated the smaller groups because 94per cent of the GNP of Nigeria is oil, and the oil lies pre-eminently in the Niger delta which is inhabited by the small groups. Ogoni country produces oil and has produced oil since 1958, but the Ogoni people have nothing to show for it.

I want justice for the Ogoni people. I want self-determination for the Ogoni people. I want autonomy for the Ogoni people. This means that Ogoni political affairs will be run by Ogoni people. Ogoni economic resources will be used for the development of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni people will pay whatever they have to the federal government. They have responsibilities to keep the federation going.

Over the past 33 years, the Ogoni country has been completely destroyed by the search for oil. If they have their own government, their own administration, they will be able to settle those laws and regulations that will control the rampaging oil companies. Oil blow-outs, spillages, oil slick and general pollution accompany the search for oil.

In most cases the oil companies have an obligation to ensure that these things do not happen. Unfortunately, they have not done these things in Nigeria. Oil companies have flared gas in Nigeria for the past 33 years causing acid rain. This is an area of very heavy rainfall. Acid rain then gets back into the soil, and what used to be the bread basket of the delta has now become totally infertile. This is the worst case of pollution I have seen in any part of the world where people have prospected for oil.

In Britain, Shell produces oil, but you look at the adverts - they are talking of keeping the valleys neat and clean so that human beings will not know that anything is going on there. In Ogoni, Shell pipelines are there for everyone to see. Because the government in Nigeria is colonial, as far as the ethnic minorities such as the Ogoni are concerned, the interests of Shell and of those who are running Nigeria at this time, mix. I accuse Shell of racism because they are doing in Ogoni what they dare not do in Europe or America, where they also prospect for oil.

I am trying to mobilise opinion, particularly in the West, among shareholders of Shell, among the governments, the people of Europe, of Britain, of Germany, of France, of Italy - all those who prospect for oil, whose companies prospect for oil in Nigeria, to realise that they are ruining the environment and dehumanising the people. I believe that if the people knew what has been happening, they would do something about it and stop this robbery and murder that is going on in broad daylight at the end of the 20th century.

All the oil that is produced in Nigeria is bought by America and the West and Japan. If they insisted, "Look, we are not going to buy this oil unless you ensure that the environment is protected, unless you ensure that rents and royalties are paid to the landlords - to the owners of the oil", it would be a different story altogether.

The profits from oil come to Britain because they sell the equipment. It is their technology that is keeping Nigerian oil going. It is, in fact, Western credit that is keeping Nigeria alive, so they have a moral responsibility to intervene in this situation. I have asked publicly that Nigeria be expelled from the United Nations because of its oppressive ways, because it has oppressed just too many Nigerians. The military governments of Nigeria have sat on other Nigerians in a way that is just as evil and as bad as what was done in South Africa.

In this country writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence - you know the angst of the individual - but for a Nigerian writer in my position you can't go into that. Literature has to be combative. You cannot have art for art's sake. This art must do something to transform the lives of a community, of a nation. And for that reason, literature has a different purpose altogether in that sort of society, completely different from here. And, you know, a writer doesn't earn money in Nigeria because although you have 100 million people, most of them cannot read and write here, so literature has a different purpose. So here I am - I have written 22 books, I have produced 150 episodes of one television programme, which everyone enjoys, but I am poor. It is of no interest to me. What is of interest to me is that my art should be able to alter the lives of a large number of people, of a whole community, of the entire country, so that my literature has to be entirely different. The stories that I tell must have a different sort of purpose from the artist in the Western world and it is not now an ego trip, you know, it is politics, it is economics, it's everything, you know, and art, in that instance becomes so meaningful both to the artist and to the consumers of that art, because you do not just depend on them to read your books, you even have to live their life that they can emulate. The artist in that society has a different role and, to my mind, a much more worthy role than the artist in the West.

When you are asking for the rights of the people, you cannot begin to wonder whether you are going to be killed or sent to jail or whatever. Right is right and it must be fought for. I have been at it for 20 years, and at this age, at this point in my life there's really nothing to fear. I think we have seen a lot of dictators collapse in the past and these ones are going to collapse as well.

I believe that the British government, that the American government, the governments of the EC - all those who buy Nigerian oil - including the Japanese, and others, are encouraging genocide in Ogoni. I think that the entire international community should come forward to disavow this process of genocide. The UN views genocide as very serious crime. The fact that the ethnic majority in Nigeria colludes in genocide does not excuse it. I appeal to the entire international community to come to the help of Ogoni now, because if nothing is done, the Ogoni people are going to be extinct in no more than 10 years.

These extracts from an interview with Ken Saro-Wiwa, the last conducted before he was executed will be shown tonight on `Without Walls: The Hanged Man - Nigeria's Shame' at 9.30pm on Channel 4.