Taking a cue from Ken: Can The Social Disobedience Of Today’s Youth Propel Action?

By Andrej Sagaidak

The UK’s climate movement has been rejuvenated in recent months by several grassroots campaigns and activists. For instance, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish activist who initiated the school strike for climate movement that formed in November 2018 and surged globally. Likewise, Daze Aghaji is a 19-year-old Londoner who addresses the impact of civil disobedience and the need for breaking open the political system for the next generation to deal with climate change impacts.

Aghaji is one of the nine Extinction Rebellion activists who are standing as independents under the Climate and Ecological Emergency Independent (CEEI) banner. However, the movements against mogul corporations about the damage they cause to the environment is not a new feature. The tragic story of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s movement in Nigeria in the early 1990s is one to be remembered.

Source: aquadoc

Ken Saro-Wiwa, was an internationally renowned writer and activist and was the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Saro-Wiwa was one of the nine activists who were actively leading protests against the Shell company in early 1990s. In particular, the activists tried to expose Shell’s pipeline leaks that wrecked the environment of Ogoniland, Nigeria, to such an extent that livelihoods of this community were destroyed. Shell was the single most important company in Nigeria at that time. Between 1976 and 1991, 2,976 incidents of oil spills from around 2.1 million barrels had occurred in Ogoniland. This quantity amounted to 40% of all the worldwide oil spills by Shell, concentrated over an area of a little over 1,000 kilometres.

The Anglo-Dutch petroleum company egged the Nigerian state to crack down violently on members of the Ogoni community and activists who were protesting the ecological destruction of their homeland by its pipelines and factories. In March 1995 Shell executives had a meeting with representatives of the Nigerian military in London, at which they agreed to meet “from time to time” to share information. The same year, the company and its subsidiary colluded with the Nigerian government to bring about the arrest and execution of the nine Ogoni MOSOP activists. The “Ogoni 9” were hanged on November 10, 1995 after a trial based on fabricated charges.

The Nigerian military’s campaign to silence the Ogoni people’s protests against Shell’s pollution led to widespread and serious human rights violations, many of which also amounted to criminal offenses. Despite a raft of evidence linking Shell with the government’s actions, no company executive has ever been made to answer for the involvement.

More than two decades later, a hearing against the Shell petroleum company began on February 12, 2019, at The Hague, Netherlands, where it stands accused of systematic human rights violations in Nigeria. Shell has been charged with being complicit in acts of mass killings, rapes and torching of villages on the oil fields of Ogoniland.

Climate change ranks among the most serious problems facing the world today. Greta Thunberg and Daze Aghaji represent the younger generation that is set to ignite, hopefully, a renewed sense of hope and inspiration for the global community to pursue egalitarian solutions.

Andrej Sagaidak
National Institute for African Studies