By Ehi Braimah
It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep appointments due to incessant delayed and cancelled flights by our local airlines. Delayed flights lead to scheduling difficulties and missed appointments for passengers. Do our airlines really care about their reputation? I doubt it.
From all indications, it would appear the airlines are doing us a favour because we do not have a choice in the matter. This perhaps explains why they are behaving badly. Delayed or cancelled flights come with their own costs and inconveniences to passengers. The airlines apologise which is the standard courtesy but it does not go far enough. Passengers who have paid for their tickets clearly deserve a better deal.
Creating the right customer experience is possible and the management of each airlineknows what to do in spite of the challenges in the industry. Passenger traffic has increased in recent times due to several factors that includeinsecurity on our roads.
Until last week, the Kaduna – Abuja train service was always a joyful ride. My friends and associates who use the service regularly attest to the wonderful experience for a ticket charge that is considered fair and reasonable.
A senior journalist and former editor of Daily Times, John Araka, told me in Abuja last week that he used the train service from Warri to Itakpe before heading to Abuja by road. Araka was full of praise for the train ride, describing the experience as “comfortable, convenient and affordable.”
“But the road trip from Itapke to Abuja was horrible and I feared for my safety,”Araka continued. “I’m flying back to Warri as I do not want to take the risk again.” Araka turned 70 years old on Sunday October 24, 2021. I’m also aware the Lagos – Ibadan train service is applauded by passengers.
With the terrorist attack on the train service from Kaduna to Abuja last week, I doubt whether passengers would be in a hurry to buy tickets on that service and feel comfortable. The attacktriggered apathy and trepidation. If the roads and the tracks are no longer safe, what should we do? Travellers have migrated to air travel which they consider to be the safest option at this time – that is for those who can afford the air fares.
The greatest beneficiaries of the “market shift” are the airlines. It is their luck as the spectre of insecurity of lives and property continues to loom large. Indeed, the airlines are quite busy lifting passengers to different parts of the country. On the several flights I have taken, I observed that most seats – whether in the business or economy classes – are usually taken up.
The attrition rate of our airlines is quite high. Where capitalisation of the business was not the problem, you could bet that mismanagement of available resources was responsible for the airlines that disappeared from the radar. Even the airlines that are still struggling to fly and the new ones joining them are not different – they are all behaving badly and passengers are left wondering what next to do.
After Nigeria Airways – what used to be one of the finest airlines in the world – ceased operations in 2003, Okada Airlines owned by Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, became the first choice for passengers. Then it also flew into bad weather and disappeared.
By the last count, there are over 60 defunct airlines in Nigeria – some of them operating cargo services only — and still counting but we can immediately call to mind the following: ADC, Sosoliso, EAS, Chanchangi, Bellview, Triax, Slok, Skypower Express, Space World, Nigerian Eagle, Nicon, Medview, Kabo, IRS, First Nation, Dasab, Capital, Associated, Albarka, Air Nigeria, Wings and so on.
Aero Contractors had a favourable rating for keeping to their flight schedules regularly which endeared the airline to its community of frequent flyers. When Arik Air launched its service with brand new planes, there was excitement in the air and a rush of adrenaline followed. I used Aero a few times but Arik Air was my favourite.
I became a frequent flyer of Arik Air on both local and regional routes that included trips to Ghana and South Africa, as well as a flight to New York. Arik Air was everywhere and it became the equivalent of our national carrier. Arik Air flew to many cities in Nigeria and you could plan business trips and holidays without too much hassle.
Unfortunately, these things don’t last for too long. Before we knew it, Aero and Arik Air became heavily indebted prompting the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to intervene to save both airlines.
Although they are still flying, Aero and Arik Air can no longer provide the customer experience that they were known for; they are living on past glory. Arik and Aero are both on life support and they need more oxygen to remain in business. Generally speaking, passengers complain and grumble over delayed and cancelled flights but it is evident customer experience does not mean anything and that is the tragedy of our airlines.
Virgin Nigeria, enabled by Sir Richard Branson, the British-born billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group which includes Virgin Atlantic, commenced operations in Nigeria in June 2005. Let me make a confession upfront: I’m a fan of the global Virgin brand and because I know that a great brand attracts commercial value, I was happy at the prospects of Virgin Nigeria and what it will do for our aviation industry.
With Virgin Nigeria operating out of the Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos as their base, the intention as I found out was to make Nigeria the regional hub of West Africa. Flying with Virgin Atlantic was always a great experience and I knew the Virgin brand power – it comes at a cost in the pricing template – would rub off on Virgin Nigeria. And it did.
Initially, the airline was blessed with rapid expansion. Passengers were happy and they were ready to pay – even more – for the same experience they enjoyed when flying outside Nigeria.
But this airline of promise did not last the distance due to high-wired politics. Some “vested interests” wanted a pound of flesh from Virgin Nigeria but Sir Richard Branson refused. He opted to quit after constant “harassments” and he wrote about his experience in his book, “Screw it, Let’s do it”. Like Arik Air, Virgin Nigeria – which became known as Nigerian Eagle and then Air Nigeria – would have been the “perfect” national carrier. By the time Air Nigeria collapsed, there were 13 aircraft in its fleet. What a waste!
The vacuum created by Virgin Nigeria was filled by Air Peace which has shown great promise. Air Peace replaced Arik Air and Virgin Nigeria as my favourite local airline – and it has been so for more than five years.
But I have also suffered unpleasant consequences just like other passengers. Some of my friends and associates have also complained about Air Peace but I let them know that in spite of the numerous disappointments, Air Peace still has the advantage over other airlines and it can also be described as the national carrier we do not have. Air Peace airlifts more than 75% of the passenger traffic to different destinations locally and regionally but it appears this success has also become airline’s albatross.
Air Peace now has a bad reputation for not keeping to its flight schedules and my simple explanation is that the airline is biting more than it can chew. Last Saturday, Air Peace shifted a flight from Abuja to Lagos twice.
The passenger who complained to me is the editor of a national newspaper and he was forced to fly Ibom Air (he bought another ticket) to Lagos as he could not wait for the re-scheduled 9.50 pm flight. The editor, like many others, left Abuja after the All Nigeria Editors’ Conference ended.
I also headed back to Lagos last Saturday. My flight, originally scheduled for 11.05 am, was moved to 1.25 pm. The passengers waited patiently. There was no mention of this flight until 2.14 pm without any apology. We left Abuja at about 3.00 pm. Interestingly, Air Peace was one of the corporate sponsors of the Editors’ Conference.
In one of my trips to Benin City this year, Air Peace sent me a message cancelling my flight. I received the message on the same day – a few hours to the flight time. An Embraer 145 (Hopper) that was sent to Benin well past the scheduled flight time due to “operational reasons” could not airlift all the passengers.
I sent a text message to one of the senior management executives in Lagos but nothing good came out of it. While I was trying to figure out my next move, I received a text message from one of their staff apologising on behalf of the airline. I ended up spending another night at a hotel in Benin City at my own cost. I missed a crucial media engagement on the Sunday evening I could not arrive Lagos.
I have never flown Azman, Max Air, United Nigeria, Overland and Ibom Air. Hopefully, I get to fly them soon. I used to fly Dana Airlines before I switched to Air Peace but my friends speak well of the airline for its promptness and efficiency. I have also received good reports on Ibom Air; so on my next trips to Abuja and Uyo, Ibom Air will be my choice – to at least see things for myself.
The advantage Overland Airways has over other airlines is that it optimised its operations by airlifting passengers from the hinterlands to the cities. That’s a winning strategy for the airline.
Air Peace has so many aircraft – including brand new planes – in its fleet. None of the other airlines comes close in terms of fleet size but the operations of the airline are over stretched by flying to too many destinations. I’m sure Air Peace management may not have any need for agony aunts for their frustrated passengers each time they delay or cancel flights if they are able to optimise their operations for greater efficiency.
Airlines all over the world prioritise safety, convenience and comfort over every other consideration and it is the same thing here in Nigeria. NCAA provides that oversight responsibility. Most flight delays could be due to bad weather or unsatisfactory condition of the aircraft or security breaches.
An airline that is not fit to fly should not fly. This is understandable and it makes sense. However, more often than not, the delay or outright cancellation of local flights is always “due to operational reasons” or “due to late arrival of the operating aircraft”. It is just another irresponsible way of taking passengers for granted.
My advice to all the airlines is that they should under-promise and over-deliver. What this means is that they should aim at providing better services that are efficient and prompt. It is possible; so let them just do it!
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)
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An Unusual Traffic Jam On Sagamu-Lagos Expressway
By Ehi Braimah
It was a Sunday afternoon trip to Abeokuta. Ordinarily, Sundays are not very busy days and on a “normal” day, it takes about one hour and a few minutes to arrive Abeokuta from Lagos. Remi Bello, the District Governor of Rotary International District 9110, and his entourage hit the road last Sunday for his official visit to the Rotary Club of Obantoko in Abeokuta. As District Secretary, I was part of the team.
The District Governor is required to visit every club in our District comprising Lagos and Ogun States with 131 Rotary clubs – and still counting. Nigeria has four Districts with the following numerical identities: 9110, 9125, 9141 and 9142. In the whole of Africa which forms Zone 22, there are 17 Districts. But in District 9150 which hosted the 3rd All Africa Rotary Institute in Cameroon from August 24-28, 2021, there are 10 countries!
You can see that Nigeria is blessed in so many ways and it shows in Rotary. Nigeria alone has four Districts out of the 17 Districts in Africa due to our numerical advantage. As we continue to drive membership growth of Rotary in Nigeria, more Districts will be created.
By 4.50 pm, it was time to head back to Lagos. My driver suggested we should avoid the Sagamu-Lagos Expressway because of the long line of cars we saw when we were inbound Abeokuta. I discussed this option with our District Governor who was in his own car and we agreed to use the Expressway through the Sagamu interchange back to Lagos. It turned out to be a costly mistake.
There was chaos on the Expressway that was completely enveloped by darkness. There were no street lights. Apparently, the federal government had announced traffic diversion on that route effective that same Sunday for six days to enable Julius Berger, one of the contractors working on the project, to lay asphalt between Arepo and Warewa, a distance of one and half kilometres. But most people were unaware of the announcement.
The federal government is keen to complete the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project by next year, because it was a promise made by the Buhari administration. There was clearly the need to increase the pace of work but it has come with the hefty price of sitting for long hours in the traffic.
No one could rule out the threat of hit-and-grab criminals who operate in slow moving traffic, harassing innocent people for cash, mobile phones and other valuables.
The effect of the diversion was pain, anger, frustration and lamentation by motorists and commuters. The drivers were impatient but it was understandable. From private cars to commercial vehicles and heavy duty trucks, it was a struggle for every available space, sometimes only in inches. About six lanes were formed with a lot of “James Bond” driving on full display in a desperate bid to out-maneuver each other.
I travelled with the District media officer Elizabeth and photographer Afeez and we sat patiently for seven hours in the horrendous traffic jam to get to Lagos. Most of the time, traffic was at a standstill. When movement resumed, it was at snail speed.
The more I remembered the suggestion by my driver to beat the traffic, the more I felt guilty. Instead of seven hours, the journey would have lasted less than two hours if we had passed through Ijebu-Ode.
We were stuck in Mowe for one hour. I asked Afeez to step out of the car at around 6.30 pm to take shots of the bumper-to-bumper traffic scene. At this time, we were not even sure when we would arrive Lagos.
Emotions began to run high due to the fact that no one could be in control of the situation. Even if a chopper was available, there was no place for it to land in the pitch dark neighbourhood.
On the sidewalk, commuters who disembarked from commercial vehicles trekked long distances: men, women and children opted to find their way home from the nasty traffic experience that would be etched on their minds forever.
But it appears we are forgetting something. Everyone was heading to Lagos — the city, like New York, that never sleeps and bursting at the seams — for different reasons. Lagos has its attractions which includes high enterprise growth, sprawling real estate and access to opportunities. Lagos is home to everyone.
Vehicles that ran out of petrol and could no longer continue also became part of the problem and added to the back story. Others broke down from rising engine temperatures while some drove against the traffic, making life even more difficult for other motorists.
The entire stretch on the Expressway from Mowe, Ibafo, Magboro all the way down to Longbridge and the surrounding communities are major conurbations of Ogun State extending into Lagos. There are so many people who live in Mowe, Magboro and Arepo axis but work in Lagos. On a daily basis, they commute to and from these communities.
The population density in Lagos is perhaps one of the highest in Africa and the rising cost of a decent accommodation has resulted in developers building low income estates in the area. It is evident the residents are used to traffic jams on the highway but what happened last Sunday must have shocked them, too.
Motorists and commuters were helpless and traffic enforcement officers were missing in action. They were clearly overwhelmed with the unbearable traffic gridlock and they were not around for duty.
But the good thing was that miscreants who usually rob in traffic could not carry out their nefarious activities on that day. The explanation is simple: since the vehicles were largely at a standstill, the occupants of all the vehicles on the road were capable of forming a “formidable army” to repel any attack. It would have been a game of numbers.
Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, there were no violent incidents in spite of the anxious moments until we arrived at Ojodu-Berger a few minutes to midnight. Even at this late hour, there were several vehicles dropping off passengers at the bus terminal.
It turned out to be a huge relief for vehicles that were running low on petrol to drive into filling stations that were still open to top up. For example, the Total Filling Station at Ojota was still open for business at about midnight.
For those who had appointments to keep, the logjam was a huge disappointment. I was also looking forward to arriving Lagos early enough to see the Super Sunday English premier league game between hosts Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. I missed it but I monitored the match online.
For the next few days, construction works will continue on the highway and the slow moving traffic and the inconvenience will not go away.
Overall, it was a frustrating experience, affecting one’s capacity to think straight apart from being drained physically. Medical practitioners tell us not to sit for too long so that blood flow in our veins is not restrained, but on that day, we sat for seven hours nonstop. The driver stepped out a few times and the photographer once.
But you cannot make an omelet without breaking an egg. Can you?
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)
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NIJ @ 50 Celebration At Its Best
By Qasim Akinreti, Ph.D
50 years is remarkable in the life of anyone, organisation or even a Nation. Instructively, the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, NIJ, – Center of Excellence for media training in Africa is celebrating.
At inception in 1963, three Journalismtraining centers focusing mainlyon the training of Journalists and professionals (on the job) in the field of Journalism were established in Lagos, Kenya and Tanzania with the support of the International Press Institute, IPI, The Poynter Institute of Media Studies, St Petersburg Florida, US provided manpower support to the School, Dr Boye Ola (one of Nigeria’s Photo Journalists top notches) was there.
Lekan Otunfodurin and myself , were Poynter Alumni too. Today, both us are part time lecturers at NIJ.
NIJ, vision was clear, to be the leading and foremost Mass Communication and Journalism training Institution in Africa; “the Centre of Communication Excellence.
Expectedly, the mission was apt, an Institution dedicated to mass communication and journalism training and retraining through the use of all round curriculum and state of the art equipment in an environment conducive to critical thinking, learning, sound character, professionalism, ethical standard, research and productive.
The school started with a Director, an expatriate. Chief Dayo Duyile ended the era, obviously the longest serving head of the institution. He I was a student during his administration from 1992 to 1993 as Post Graduate Student. My classmates include : LadanSalihu former DG NBC, Mrs Sherifat Ahmed, Director FRCN , Abuja National Station, Osa Director- Publisher and Lawyer, Tunde Ajibike , Director in the Ministry of Information Oyo state and DotunAdenijo, former Registrar , NIJ , among others.
Dr Elizabeth Ikem, arguably the first Ph. D holder to run the affairs of the school, brought panache and change the nomenclature of NIJ from just a training School to a Monotechnic. She broadened the recruitment drive for professionals and academics. In 2009, he sought permission from Voice of Nigeria Executive Director News, Mr. Okey Nwachukwu for my part time service to teach Online Journalism/ Multimedia /New Media. Dr Savage was instrumental to this offer after my presentation on Online Journalism at the post graduate class of Professor Ralph Akinfeleye in the University if Lagos Mass Communication Department.
Now, NIJ students after Higher National Diploma Certificate programme are entitled to go for the National Youth Service programme, NYSC. Mr.GbemigaOgunleye, Journalist and Lawyer added more value to the products and services of the school. The rebranding project of NIJ started with him. Beaming with years of professional experience in the print and broadcast media from Punch to TVC, he set a towering standard which, GbengaAdefaye, former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE and currently Managing Editor / Editor In Chief Vanguard Newspapers has surpassed.
Gbemiga Ogunleye, brought a remarkable private sector initiative to the school, corporate organisations were brought with their assistance and technical support. Access Bank came with a brand-new generating set, the classrooms were fitted with Air-conditioners and Projectors for teaching. Just like Dr Elizabeth Ikem, GbemigaOgunleye was an administrator and a teacher in the school. He brought the National Communications Commission, NCC, and the US Embassy Public Affairs to install Computers, audio gadgets and Internet facilities.
Adefaye era is unique in all respects, he concluded the Radio Studio project- PEN RADIO. GbengaAdefaye secured the broadcast licencefrom the NBC. The Radio station is Online, real time presently. Now my darling Uncle, is looking for a Radio Transmitter. He is currently talking to the international development partners ad media NGOs. and continued the rebranding process, an initiative started by Ogunleye. The Code of Ethics of the founding organisations of NIJ are first impression that indeed you are in a Journalism School. You must be guided by the ethics of the profession.The NGE, NUJ, NIPR, APCON were conspicuously hanged on the wall on the staircase. The school also has a functional website. The website was first built by Dr Elizabeth Ikem, with my inputs as Adjunct faculty – New Media. We trained NIJ students to update the website.
Assuredly, each Provost, as well as full time and part time teachers are committed to the vision and mission statements. Industry experts are at the school to integrate theory into practice for the students. Courses available at the school are print journalism, broadcast journalism, and public relations and advertising (PRAD). There are also special programmes on writing skills, Editing, Photo Journalism and Film productions.
Today, NIJ boosts of mediaIndustry starsin the public and private spheres. Mrs AbikeDabiri, Erewa, NTA (Diaspora Commission), Iyabo Wale – Eri, NTA, MrsSherifat Ahmed, Radio Nigeria Abuja National Station,GbengaOnayiga, FRCN, Mrs Mary Atolagbe, Dr Qasim Akinreti of Voice of Nigeria, John Momoh, Ini Thompson of Channels TV, MrsOlufunkeFadugba,BiolaAberuagba of Ray Power FM, IyaboOgunjuyigbe, Anike Ola Salako,KafayatAdeolaOrisile, Qasim Funmilayo, FunmiOmoboriowo, – Radio Lagos/ EkoFM, JubrilFolami, AminatElegusi,BusolaKukoyi,LTV. Karimat Salami, SaronIjasan, Jeremiah Uzor, Producer Inside Lagos, TVC.DeboOsundun, News Agency of Nigeria,
In the print media, these names tower above others, Dr Olusanya Awosan, Public relations, Publisher Nigerian Essence and former Special Assistant on Public Relations to President Jonathan, Mrs Dupe Gbadebo,former editor daily times , Dapo Olorunyomi, of Premium Times Online, Bolaji Adebiyi, Managing Editor This Day Newspapers and Vice President West Nigerian Guild of Editors , Lanre Arogundade, International Press Center, IPC, Otunba Tajudeen Abbas,Publisher Ekoblog.com, and late Ben Alaya of Sports Day Newspapers and Former Media Officer Super Eagles , complete the circles among other notables.
The public service, security agencies, music celebrities, Nollywood industry and the corporateworld are full of NIJ graduates. Sina Thorpe, Lanre Bajulaye, Dupe Ileyemi, Frank Ajayi, Mrs Ronke Famakinwa, Funmi Olabisi, Mr. Ganiyu Banuso, and Kayode Sutton, among others are senior public officials in Lagos state ministry of Information and Strategy . Korede Bello, the young talented artiste and musician of “Godwin Song” Yeni Kuti, of Felebration fame, the Nollywood Star. Njoku Ebeonu are gladiators in their own space.
Those who ventured into other professions especiallyacademic, such as Professor Ayandiji Daniel Aina, former Vice Chancellor, Caleb University and Dr Saeed Timehin of LASU, are giants and role models. A full compendium of NIJ Alumni is in the offing as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. Surely all graduates will be accommodated and appreciated accordingly.
In the midst of celebrations are myriads of challenges facing the school, poor funding from the current owners of the school- Nigerian Press Organisation, NPO. Only Nigeria Guild of Editors has shown the passion to pay subvention to the school. NIJ is financially struggling with paltry school fees.. The Jakande building need expansion, the classrooms are inadequate, lecturers do not have well deserve office for research and comfort. Since all satellite campuses have been closed , the pressure on man campus in Lagos is enormous.There should be hostel facilities for teeming students outside Lagos.The off campus system is not too ideal for students.
Most disturbing is the discrimination of PGDcertificate for only Professional Masters Programme against an Academic Masters in Nigerian Universities . This phenomenon must be addressed by the academic board of the school, with a petition to the National Board of Technical Education ,NBTE and the National Universities Commission,NUC.. In foreign universities, PGD certificate is accepted. Ghana and Kenya Journalism Institutes have attained a full Degree University , a special media institution status. NIJ cannot be different.It should be a specialized media university.
The alumni association of the NIJ will need to upscale their engagements with the school towards sustainable contributions to the development of the institution. I am absolutely convinced that the graduates have what it takes to turn around the fortune of NIJ.
There is also the question of take over if the school by the federal government as a specialized university. On the score, the NPO and alumni should engage the proponent of this idea from the National assembly and government circles. Is the proposed takeover in public good and public interest?.
Be that as it may, we must roll out drums for celebration, come November 29th and 30th,2021, tomark the 6th convocation. In the words of Mr.GbengaAdefaye, current provost “This edition is a unique one as it is coming at a time when we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the institution.”four set of 2017 and 2021 graduates across disciplines are expected to receive certificates and awards.Two of my students in the post graduates class,JemmyEkunkubor of Vanguard Newspapers ,former official of the NUJ Lagos Council and Aniwura are slated to receive best student prizes. I am exceedingly proud of them.
Qasim Akinreti, Ph.D, is an NIJ Alumni 1992- 1993 Set, Deputy Director Digital Media Voice of Nigeria and Former Chairman Nigeria Union Of Journalists, NUJ, Lagos State Council.
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Who Deserves Pardon: Saro-Wiwa Or Buhari?
By Festus Adedayo
At No 9, Rumuibekwe Road in Port Harcourt on November 10, 1995, the devil sat in a corner, having a saturnalia. No one could see him. He wore dark goggles, donning the uniform of a five-star Army General, wrapped up in a huge celebratory mood. His arch-enemy, Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists had just been hanged at the Port Harcourt Prison.
Inside No 9, Rumuibekwe, family members sat on the hood of parked disused cars, weeping profusely, others holding their heads in anguish. By that instant the most recently widowed woman in the world, Hauwa Saro-Wiwa, was inconsolable. Reporters at the Ogoni Special Civil Disturbances Tribunal reported that, since her husband was charged before the tribunal which leapt on its two hind legs like a kangaroo that it was, perhaps sensing a ghoulish foreboding, Hauwa came in to the Rivers House of Assembly Complex venue of the tribunal to observe the proceedings looking gaunt, pale and lean.
On that morning when the devil’s infernal reign was announced, Hauwa, in the company of wives of the then about to be executed Ogoni activists, had taken breakfast to Ken and his convicted compatriots at the Bori Camp Army Settlement where they were detained. The events that transpired must have given Hauwa inkling that the day might be the last for her husband. Not only did the heavily armed security personnel deny the Ogoni wives the opportunity of seeing their husbands, they returned the food after taking them to Ken and the others because, according to them, Ken refused it since he couldn’t confirm where it came from. Like a soliloquy, Harry Saro-Wiwa, Ken’s younger brother who was also at Rumuibekwe Road that afternoon, told journalists, amid wailings, that “the devil has triumphed.”
As prophetic as Harry’s statement was on the afternoon of that November 10, 1995, he should have known that this was just the devil’s dress rehearsal and its eventual triumph would come years later. If Harry ever thought the execution of the Ogoni activists just ordered by military despot, Sani Abacha, marked the triumph of the devil over the Ogoni people’s advocacy, he should have waited for what would happen 26 years later. For the devil, its final triumph came like a thief in the night. Just a few hours to the 26thanniversary of the horrendous hanging of Saro-Wiwa and eight others, the triumph came with pomp and ceremony.
When it came, the hanged activists shook restlessly in their graves. President Muhammadu Buhari recently played host to some Ogoni leaders who had come to pay him a courtesy call at the Aso Rock Villa. Receiving them, Buhari in his address, said that, “In spite of the grievous circumstances, the federal government will consider the request for the grant of pardon to finally close the Ogoni saga.” By that statement, Buhari erected the gallows preparatory to the second and final hanging of Saro-Wiwa. So, the question is: who deserves pardon between this man and that man judicially murdered 26 years ago? Then, the devil threw an orgy like one who had won tombola. It was almost the same way the devil danced in triumph when he vanquished the biblical couple of the early Christian Church, Ananias and Sapphira. Pardon for who and by who?
The trajectory of what led to the hanging of Saro-Wiwa by Abacha is in the public domain and should not dare detain us here. Suffice to say that, since 1958 when Shell Oil Company began drilling on Ogoni land in what was to translate Nigeria into a petro-state economy, the sorrows and tears of this oil-rich people began. Dissatisfied by the effluents, combustible gas flares and the degradation of their land as a result of the exploration which rendered farmlands covered by oil spillage blow-out, rendering them unsuitable for farming, in 1970, the first petition against the operations of Shell, which was then operating a joint venture with the British Petroleum, was made by Ogoni chiefs who took their petition to the Military Governor, lamenting that Shell was “seriously threatening the well-being, and even the very lives” of the people. As if confirming the content of their petition, that same 1970, a huge blowout that spanned three weeks, occurred on the Bomu oilfield in Ogoni land which caused untoward hardship, outrage and widespread pollution.
The Iko people, Ogoni neighbours, were to feel the brunt two years after. In defiance, they protested at the head office of Shell which promptly invited the notorious Mobile Police nicknamed Kill and Go, resulting in the destruction of 40 houses while 350 people became homeless. That year, Ken and his brothers formed a non-violent action group named the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and Ken was made president and Ledun Mitee his vice. On August 4, 1990, Ogoni elders signed what they called the Ogoni Bill of Rights that sought “political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people, control and use of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, adequate and direct representation as of right for Ogoni people in all Nigerian national institutions and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation.”
A year after the Ogoni Bill of Rights was signed, it was amended in August 1991, authorizing and empowering MOSOP to seek international assistance for the plight of the Ogoni people and make an appeal to the international community. Saro-Wiwa thus began engagements with multilateral organizations, United Nations, US, Europe and other groups all over the world to sensitize them about the evil being perpetrated by Shell, in cahoots with the Nigerian military government.
Saro-Wiwa, renowned author and playwright, with books like On a darkling plane, Soza Boy and Four Farcical Plays which he adapted to the highly successful television series called Basil and Company, now abandoned all these to concentrate on his people’s advocacy. In July 1992, at Geneva, he addressed the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples where he said, inter-alia: “I speak on behalf of the Ogoni people. You will forgive me if I am somewhat emotional about this matter. I am Ogoni … Petroleum was discovered in Ogoni in 1958 and since then an estimated 100 billion dollars worth of oil and gas has been carted away from Ogoniland. In return for this the Ogoni people have received nothing.”
The Nigerian military elite was riled at Saro-Wiwa’s diffidence. Reputed to be one of them, being friends with many of the big-epaulette soldiers like Abacha himself, it was obvious that Saro-Wiwa was intent on liquidating them and upturning their pots of soup, perhaps committing an intra-elite harakiri. The denouement came on January 4, 1993, when Saro-Wiwa got the Ogoni to celebrate the Year of Indigenous Peoples. This he did by getting 300,000 Ogoni people to peacefully protest against the environmental destruction of Ogoniland by Shell. It frightened Shell departments in London, got the Nigerian government scampering hither thither and was said to remain, till date, the largest demonstration against any oil company. Excited at the turn-out, as if predicting his own death, Saro-Wiwa said if he died then, he was an accomplished man.
Upon seizing the reins of power, Abacha did two things that was to be the pall of Saro-Wiwa. One was the appointment of Lt. Col Dauda Musa Komo as Military Administrator of Rivers State and, Major Paul Okuntimo, an Okun-Yoruba from Kogi State, as Commander, Internal Security, in Rivers State. Okuntimo later became an Army Brigadier-General, rising to become adviser to Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello. Both superintended over the torture, arson and killing of Ogoni and the liquidation of Saro-Wiwa in 1995. Okuntimo died recently in Ibadan of cancer. In all these, there were coordinated evidence that showed that Shell was sponsoring the Kill and Go policemen as evidenced byWillbros, a contractor working for it, which owned up to calling government troops to violently fire back in response to demonstrations by the Ogoni and paying Major Okuntimo and ‘his boys “field allowances”.
It will seem that the assignment was to deliver Saro-Wiwa’s head on a platter. Then came the Abacha Constitutional Conference which the Ogoni agreed that Ken should attend as their representative to voice their plight. Ken however did not submit the form until its submission expired. At a rally in Gokana Local Government which he called to address the people, he was forcefully prevented from mounting the podium and escorted to his car by Mobile Policemen. While entering his car, he was alleged to have told the surging crowd that he had heard that “the vultures” who stopped him from going to the Confab were meeting somewhere and all should be done to fish them out and dealt with.
Before then, Okuntimo was reported to have sent a “restricted” memo to Komo, the Military Administrator, stating that Ogoni was making “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.” In the memo, Okuntimo recommended “Wasting operations during MOSOP and other gatherings making constant military presence justifiable.” On May 21, 1994, exactly nine days after this memo, in Gokana, a mob seized Ogoni elders suspected to be anvils of Shell and the Nigerian government who were taking mercantilist interest in Shell’s continuous exploration and who antagonized MOSOP. In the process, Chief Edward Kobani, Mr. Albert Badey, Chief Samuel Orage and Mr. Samuel Orage were cruelly murdered, thus opening the way for an excuse by government to justify a military operation.
The second day, Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and many other Ogoni leaders were arrested in connection with the killings. General Abacha then constituted the Tribunal which had Justice Ibrahim Auta as Chairman. Apart from Wiwa and Mitee, other Ogoni leaders brought before the tribunal were a former Commissioner for Commerce and Tourism, Dr. Barinen Kiobel; Mr. John Kpuinen and Baribian Bere. While Gani Fawehinmi acted as defence counsel, Joseeph Dauda (SAN) stood for the prosecution. Fawehinmi had to withdraw at some point when he found out that the state’s hands were heavily visible for the prosecution. For instance, a major evidence in his grip, a tape of a press conference held by Dauda Komo and an Alhaji Kobani, was pronounced unrecyclable by the tribunal. From then, Saro-Wiwa refused to cooperate with the tribunal and his imposed counsel, Michael Kamebigba. Mittee defended self.
Finding Saro-Wiwa and the others guilty, Auta, in a 3-hour judgement, said the murder of the Ogoni four had the accused Ogoni leaders’ hands in it. He sad their offence which contravened the Civil Disturbances Decree of 1987 and punishable by S 316 of the Criminal Code. He thus found the accused guilty and to be hanged by their necks. One Victoria Vokwe had given evidence that Saro-Wiwa told her that there would be a revolution in Ogoni land and heads would roll. As Auta rose, Hauwa wept uncontrollably, her shoulder on Political Scientist, Claude Ake’s shoulders. Ake, who was also inside the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex venue of the tribunal, wore a visage of crimson.
The world still believed that Abacha had a modicum of humanity left in him and would not kill Saro-Wiwa. Prof Wole Soyinka and Wiwa Junior, son of Saro-Wiwa, however moved to Auckland, Newzealand, to convince the gathering Heads of State of the Commonwealth to persuade Abacha to commute the sentences. On November 5, 1995, Bola Ige, in his Uncle Bola’s Column, wrote defending the Ogoni convicts, which he entitled. Saro-Wiwa will live.
On Thursday, November 8, 1995, the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) confirmed Auta’s sentence. Announced by the GOC, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Victor Malu, the PRC said there was no room for clemency. On Saturday, November 10, barely 48 hours after the PRC confirmation, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni elders, among whom were Saturday Dordee, Nordu Eawo, Felix Nuate, Paul Levula, David Gbokoo, Baribor Bera, Barinen Kobel were hanged at exactly 11.30am. About two hours before then, the prison and other adjoining roads were cordoned off by heavy MOPOL as the hanging was going on. By 2pm, their bodies, taken in a Port Harcourt City truck, were driven out of the prison premises to the cemetery and by 3.15pm, the burial was concluded. There was unconfirmed rumour that their bodies were spattered with acid to speed up the process of decomposition.
Other reactions followed like the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth and harsh reactions by leaders of the world. The UN General Assembly condemned it and President Clinton responded by recalling U.S. Ambassador Walter Carrington for consultations and banned the sale and repair of military goods and services to Nigeria. For British Prime Minister, John Major, it was a “judicial murder.”
Several declassified information pointed at the fact that Saro-Wiwa was murdered by the Nigerian state. He was a sore in their throats and if he and his MOSOP continued, they would put “sand-sand” in the “gari” of the Nigerian military elite who profited from the environmental sorrows of the Ogoni people. With his education, international connection and reach, Saro-Wiwa was fast penetrating the sacred groove of international attention. He had to die.
Apparently anticipating Nigeria’s wickedness, The Guardian, in 1992, had asked him what epitaph he would want written on his grave. The man whom Nigeria was so unfair to that it denied him the usual six feet of the earth, he told the reporter. In death, Abacha reportedly even ordered that acid be poured on Saro-Wiwa, so as to shrink the space of the earth he occupied.
At the time Saro-Wiwa was hanged, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, as he then was, was the de-facto Prime Minister of Nigeria as he served as the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) Chairman. He controlled the levers of the economy and levers of the operations of government. Throughout the period, there was no word from Buhari for the Ogoni leader nor in favour of their being spared to live. Indeed, Saro-Wiwa had to die for the interest of the military elite which Buhari protected, to be sustained. One can thus logically agree that, ipso facto, Buhari was part of the hangmen who finished off the rights activists and his compatriots.
Having said this, it will be safe to conclude that Buhari’s recent claim of considering the offer of clemency to Saro-Wiwa “as part of this administration’s bid to lay the foundation for genuine reconciliation and bring closure to the issues of Ogoni land” was a post-humus re-conviction and re-murdering of Saro Wiwa and his men by the Nigerian state that he represents.
“What type of country is this?” was Saro-Wiwa’s last word on record, a hypothetical question that he sought answer to without success, until the hangman wrenched life out of him. Twenty six years after, the echo of that morbid question still thunders across Nigeria. We all still ask ourselves what type of country this is.
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