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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: St. Louis Actions

Nigeria: St. Louis Actions
Date distributed (ymd): 970612
Document reposted by APIC

This article was distributed on several Nigeria-related listservs, including and shell-nigeria-action It is also being published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis MO). It is one example of the many local action networks developing in support of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria. For more information on the kind-list listserv (Kudirat Institute for Nigerian Demcoracy), send the message "info kind-list" to For more information on the shell-nigeria-action listserv, write to

For more information on activities in St. Louis, please contact the author.

By Chris King (e-mail:

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the June 12, 1993 elections in Nigeria, which were annulled by the military. The freely elected president of Nigeria, Moshood Abiola, languishes today in solitary detention; the military, headed by Gen. Sani Abacha, remains in power. Abiola's wife Kudirat was assassinated just over one year ago; the crime, which is widely suspected to have been directed by the government, remains unprosecuted. To remember these crimes, and to spark discussion of the Nigerian crisis, the St. Louis Support Committee for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has invited Hafsat Abiola to town this Saturday, June 14. She is the daughter of the imprisoned president and the director of the Kudirat Institute for Nigerian Democracy (KIND).

Nigeria and St. Louis grew unexpectedly close this past year. In February of 1996, a handful of Nigerian exiles from MOSOP arrived in our town, including Noble Obani-Nwibari, vice president of the movement. MOSOP is an environmental justice struggle that materialized in the oil-rich Niger Delta in 1993. Led by much-loved author Ken Saro-Wiwa, MOSOP organized the Ogoni people (who number only 500,000 in a nation of 120 million) to protest the Nigerian military government and Shell Oil, which has operated in Ogoni since 1958 and, according to a slew of independent reports, severely devestated the environment there. Saro-Wiwa also called for other minority groups from the Delta to organize and fight nonviolently alongside the Ogoni. The military, aided by Shell, responded with massacres and detentions, and finally executed Saro-Wiwa and eight other key activists on November 10, 1995. When those murders inspired no serious reprisals (like international sanctions on buying Nigerian oil, which accounts for 90% of the dictatorship's income), a manhunt was declared on other prominent MOSOP activists. In that climate, Obani-Nwibari and many others fled to a refugee camp in a neighboring country maintained by the United Nations. Through the UN's High Commission on Refugees, they received political asylum in the U.S. Ten Ogoni live here now.

Early in their exile, Obani-Nwibari met local activist Bill Ramsey, who runs the St. Louis Human Rights Action Service. Ramsey got MOSOP networked with the local branch of The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-based pacifist organization. The MOSOP cause, promoted through documentary videos and speaking engagements, quickly attracted activists from Amnesty International and other groups. A MOSOP support committee, headquartered in the AFSC office and coordinated by AFSC staffer Mira Tanna, took shape around monthly protests at local Shell stations. These protests attracted the attention of one of the world's most profitable corporations. Representatives of Shell-USA and even Shell-Nigeria have flown here to meet with members of the support committee (and used these meetings to falsely claim they are in dialogue with Obani-Nwibari, who did not attend the meetings). The support committee spearheaded a lobbying trip to our nation's capital, which was reported in the Nigerian press, inspiring excitement among activists who remain in-country. Local Ogoni people, with the help of studio engineer Adam Long, also record programming for Radio Kudirat, the clandestine Nigerian pro-democracy radio station. From his couch in south St. Louis, Obani-Nwibari talks once a week to Nigerians, delivering scathing condemnations of the government that keeps him exiled.

Ogonis who seek environmental justice, and all Nigerians who seek democracy, face an uphill struggle four years after the annulled elections. At Shell's annual meeting in London this May, a dissident group of shareholders pressed the corporation on its environmental record. According to the Times of London, the resolution "requested that a director be appointed to implement environmental policy; internal procedures to monitor policy; external review and audit of policies; regular reports to shareholders and a report on Nigeria." Over 10% of investors voted with them, not enough to carry the day.

In Ogoni, protesting Shell still guarantees suffering at the hands of the military funded by their petrodollars. When the Nigerian magazine TELL (June 2nd 1997 edition) ran photographs of Ogoni people protesting Shell, the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, which occupies Ogoni, launched a man-hunt for those pictured. A number of activists have already been arrested, among them Eddy Nwikomah, who was "tortured to a state of coma before he was taken to the Bori detention centre," according to a MOSOP press release.

On the larger pro-democracy front, June 12 is expected to be a symbolic day for protestors. The electronic news service Nigeria Today reports that The Inspector General of Police has ordered a round the clock security alert in six southern states, which "have been mapped out for extra police monitoring to check protests that may be organised by human rights and pro-democracy groups." The military is no doubt responding in part to a new coalition, announced in May, of 22 national pro-democracy organizations. This coalition has been applauded by Nigerian Nobel prize laureate Wole Soyinka, another exile recently charged of treason, which carries the death sentence. The military has announced a transition-to-democracy program, which has been ridiculed by every pro-democracy group. Abacha clearly intends to run for president as a civilian. A forum of elders from the North of Nigeria, home to the Hausa majority ethnic group which dominates the military, has urged Abacha to delay the transition to the year 2000 (it is currently scheduled for October, 1998) "in order to ensure true reconciliation."

This quote alludes to the military's efforts towards "national reconciliation," which has also been the subject of ridicule in pro-democracy camps. Not surprisingly, since the activism of the Ogoni still keeps Shell from operating fully in their rich oil fields, Ogoni was the first area of the nation set to be reconciled. Obani-Nwibari has broadcast against this on Radio Kudirat, saying the first people who should be reconciled are the Yoruba, Abiola's ethnic group, and they should be reconciled by releasing the man and recognizing his presidency.

Here in the U.S., oil sanctions are deemed the principal means of pressure against the dictatorship, given their almost-total reliance on petrodollars. Securing oil sanctions was the St. Louis-MOSOP delegation's purpose for lobbying Washington. Hafsat Abiola's organization KIND has recently alerted activists to the appeal Congressman William Jefferson made to the Congressional Black Caucus against oil sanctions; he called them "not only unimaginative, but wrong-headed as a framework to increase U.S. policy effectiveness in Nigeria." Abiola replied to him, "It would help if the Congressman would define his measure of policy effectiveness. Was the past accommodating policy, in place from the 1970s till 1993, effective? During these two decades, the U.S. had a great deal of influence in Nigeria, in terms of the extent of economic interaction, military exchange programs and diplomatic intercourse. What were the results? Buttressing of politically corrupt governments that plunged Nigeria from a middle-income ranking country to its current position as fourteenth poorest in the world; failure by the civilian democratic government to secure the liberties provided for by the constitution; and the more destabilizing record of military incursions into the seat of political power (between 1970 and 1993, Nigeria witnessed six successful military coups and several other failed attempts!)."

"The presence of military in Nigeria has caused our people untold suffering," Obani-Nwibari says. "The fair and free election of Moshood Abiola on June 12, 1993 was seen by the people of Nigeria as a way forward, a first step. The people in power in that country now are thieves and killers. The world should stop communicating with Nigeria economically and politically until all the military people go back to their barracks. They were not trained to rule, and noone invited them."

Note for St. Louis residents: Hafsat Abiola will speak on Saturday, June 14, at Washington University's West Campus Conference Center (7425 Forsyth in Clayton). The program begins at 5:30 pm with a Nigerian dinner. Tickets for the dinner are $10 and should be reserved by calling 862-5773. Hafsat Abiola will speak at 7 pm (those who do not come for the dinner may attend the speech free of charge). A panel of Nigerian experts will respond to her talk: Noble Obani-Nwibari, vice-president of MOSOP; Wahab Dosunmu, former Minister of Housing and the Environment in Nigeria; and Marcel Esubi, president of the Nigerian Cultural Association of St. Louis. On the same day, supporters of MOSOP will be picketing a Shell station from noon - 2 pm at the intersection of Hampton and I-44.

For more information, call 862-5773.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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