It’s been just over a month since I performed at a gig to raise awareness of the injustice done to Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists, by Shell Oil. I had already written a poem for a Tribute anthology called “Dance the Guns to Silence” with the poem, “Baba Wiwa’s Trees”, in 2006. When I was commissioned to write this poem, I learned much about this brave, smiling man Ken Saro-Wiwa and what he was fighting for. Writer, activist and Eco-warrior, he and 8 of his fellow Ogonis stood up, protested and mobilized their people into the international media arena exposing the Nigerian government and Royal Dutch Shell’s (Shell Oil) numerous abuses of Human Rights because the companies pipelines run through the homelands of peoples from the Niger Delta. In doing so, they also revealed a sinister part of the Nigerian governments and Shell oils relationship. For that, they were hung.
To write a poem this time round had more resonance for me because those who were fighting for justice were at the turning point in the campaign against Shell. This needed to be a poem for going into battle. I needed to be armed with as much information as possible. Resaerch, research, research. The desire to pay homage to The Ogoni 9 brought to my attention the issue of the power of Human Rights law and the eroding of it. It might sound slightly incredulous that Human Rights law is almost non-existant in the area of corporate business though most of corporate business profits (into the billions) from the toil of a poverty laden underclass and from the minerals they mine and refine from the One Source- Our Planet. When you live with the security of four solid walls, a full fridge and a flat screen TV in ‘peace time’ (ie not a world war) you don’t have to think about them. But organisations like Amnesty are fighting every day for the rights of us, “human beings”, not just to lives but to have BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS OF EXISTENCE. Sometimes we just have to sit with that concept for a minute – “There, but for the grace of God…” .
As corporate, criminal and governmental law is constantly changing to protect the money of a few wealthy individuals, the goal posts for human rights keep shifting. Human beings are actually in dire need for laws of protection. Not just remote indegious or aboriginal peoples whose homelands are threatened but ruthless corporate natural resource industries. Civil rights in the west are constantly under threat, being chipped away under our noses while celebrity gossip distracts us from the true issues of concern at hand.
The Ken vs Shell case raises the awareness to that fact – there is no law for Human Rights abuses by corporate businesses. So it has been fine for decades, for Shell oil to pay off the myopic Nigerian government and its military to “protect” their interests, even if it means everyday Nigerians are losing their lives due to gas flaring, crude oil poisoning the wells, rivers and water way, sickness due to breathing in methane gas. Peoples livelihoods are under ruined as crops are decimated and fresh water fish are dying in the rivers. Shell called on the Nigerian military to suppress any peaceful protest against the ravaging of the environment.
Also, civilians are injured every day as they siphon off oil from fractured pipelines because there is no electricity or other source of energy to power their homes. The situation is dire. Unemployment is as high as 86%, and the moral of the Delta people is so low.
After a long campaign to get Shell in to court Ben Amunwa from Platform’s Remember Saro-Wiwa campaign a verdict brought.
“After 13 years, the Ogoni plaintiffs whose loved ones were killed and injured in the military crackdowns that Shell facilitated in the 1990s, won an out of court settlement of $15.5 million. In every way, this sets a precedent for corporate accountability, and the universal application of human rights.” – a quote from Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa email newsletter.
Click to read Ken’s son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr reaction in The Guardian.
Check the www.remembersarowiwa.com campaign.
But this is only the beginning. Shell continues to contaminate the Niger Delta with poisonous crude oil and the the press with stories of it concern for environment and climate. With this case, the veil has been lifted.
For Images that inspired the poem click – Curse of the Blackgold
by Zena Edwards
Ken, there is a photo of a girl
12,13 slim wrists long neck
she walks wearing peach, blue flip flops
stepping with familiarity
over the slippery backs of 8 pipelines
she is at 5
holding an umbrella with a bright yellow shell on it
she seeks protection from a gentle rain falling from an African sky
behind her, between giant palm leaves
dragons roar, bellowing black billows, seething
belligerent belches of acridity in the sky
when I put my ear close to the glossy paper I can hear
her asthmatic breath
each clap of her plastic flip flop against her heel
makes a poem, applaud the poem in her step
it is the sound of everyday people who live between the pipelines, tapeworms
vampiring the placenta, excreting toxic
into the bloodstream of a nation
the rivers are graveyards, the wetlands thirsty for clean breath
the land is haemorraghing
miscarrying cocoyam and vegetable seed
Boys who have given up waiting for jobs to come
Idly eye her as she walks by
A generation numbed by the futility of existence
It is ironic that their most valuable asset is their Achilles heel
As the stagnancy of fervent youth
Dumps them in the hands of AK47 robber gangs
who howl in the night to the tune
Of their masters – myopic madmen in business
Grappling for a fist of flaccid dollars
Greed at the price of a village
But then again, everything has it’s price in this world
Like this girls poetry in her step, her lungs
A fair currency, fat with poisonous air
Her mothers sludge garden, her fathers chest
Face and shoulder, burned in the last accident
The truth is a jealous but patient thing
It brook no hazes of the facts or credibility gaps
There is only one fragrance it will lie with
Time, the scent of time moves from fresh to death, rot to humus fertilisation of new days
It is between the pages of a day in court
That a mystery will be solved
Why it takes twelve long years to walk the twisted violent gauntlet to justice
Why nine lives were thrown into a wound cut with knives of lies
How the spirits of the tortured and the murdered
Can be redeemed from the dispassionate mouth of brutal
And how with the wondrous alchemy of Nature, instead of bitter bile
Rising into the mouths of fishermen and farmers
work songs will rise over the trees
Will dance with the fish along the creeks
Will paint across a sky uninterrupted by fire and towers of black smoke
And how the poem of the girl with the blue flip flops can be fetched
From under the fattened rump of human disregard
(I applaud the poem in her step)
And raised to re-imagine the world
Why she close the umbrella with the yellow shell
And walk in the unpolluted gentle rain falling from an African sky
Written by Zena Edwards (copyright)