Update onThe Bus: The Living Memorial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9 The Bus Platform

Update onThe Bus: The Living Memorial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9

Here is the latest on the campaign to pressurise Nigeria Customs release the Living Memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9 known as the Bus. Customs seized the Bus in 2015 and has refused to release it despite the huge efforts and directives described below.
The guest blog is written by Celestine AkpoBari, National Coordinator for Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria.  Celestine has been at the forefront of pushing for the memorial’s release, and we honour his labour and this testimony. 

“On the 8th of September 2015, Nigeria Customs seized a sculpted art Bus, presented as a gift to the Ogoni people. This Bus which is a “Living Memorial” to Ken Saro-Wiwa was donated by Platform  – friends and colleagues in the United Kingdom – and made by British-Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp.

The memorial is a sculpture of a bus made in remembrance of the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni environmental rights activists who were sentenced and killed by a military tribunal in November 1995. The Bus calls attention to the environmental degradation and economic deprivation in which the Ogoni people live, despite being naturally blessed with enormous deposits of crude oil.

 

The people of Ogoniland continue to fight for remediation and restoration of their lands and compensation after the devastation caused by oil multinationals led by sHELL.

After being on display at various places in the United Kingdom for 9 years, at the request of Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria and a few other Civil Society groups, the Bus was shipped from Tilbury Port outside London to Nigeria via Lagos Port. On arrival in Lagos, it was impounded by Custom officials who claimed that it had ‘political value’ which is capable of threatening national peace in Nigeria. They said this was due to Saro-Wiwa’s words which are inscribed on the side: ‘I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni’.

The Bus also displays the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner, and the names of the other eight Ogoni men on sculptural barrels, currently stowed inside the Bus for transportation purposes.

Since 2015, every attempt to get the Bus released to the Ogoni people has proved abortive. No further reason has been given for the continued seizure of the gift to the Ogoni people.

Similarly, a box of flyers and reports that would have been used to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, sent by friends Platform in the United Kingdom through DHL, was also seized for no justifiable reason by the State Security Service. To date the box has not been returned. The current Comptroller General of the Nigeria Custom Service, Colonel Hammed Ali, was the only military member of the kangaroo tribunal set up by former Nigeria dictator Sanni Abachi. This tribunal eventually sentenced Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogonis to death by hanging in 1995.

The current aggression expressed by the seizure of the Bus – the property of the Ogoni people – clearly seems an attempt to continue the repression which began over 20 years ago. It seems a clear effort to ensure that the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eventual murder is blotted out for ever.

 

PETITION AND HEARING AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Stripped of options but determined to seek justice, we were compelled irresistibly to petition the Public Complaints Committee of the Federal House of Representatives on the 11th November 2015 and hearing commenced on the 19th November 2015. After several sittings, the case came to a close on 16 March 2016.

During the House plenary session on Tuesday, 19th July 2016, approval was given to the committee report which directed Nigeria Customs to release the confiscated Memorial Bus to the Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria unconditionally.

Still, Col Hammed Ali failed to obey this simple directive from the National Assembly in Nigeria.

LITIGATION

On 21 March 2017, a pre-action notice was served on Nigeria Customs and when they failed to respond, a suit against them was formally filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, Nigeria, on the 20 April 2017 with first and second hearing on 2 May 2017 and 12 June 2017 respectively. Since filing, the court has sat over ten times on this matter, and on the 29 November 2017, the Court awarded a fine of twenty thousand Naira {N20,000} against the Customs for actions that tend to delay the wheel of justice. The next hearing is slated for 30 May 2018.

CONCLUSION

Although it has not been easy for Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria to prosecute this matter and have the burden of flying from our base in Port Harcourt and accommodating lawyers in Lagos, we are hopeful that the Bus will surely return to us. This is one struggle we must pursue to a successful conclusion.

We appreciate Comrades at Platform {Sarah Shoraka, Jane Trowell, James Marriott etc}, our friend Rev Nnimmo Bassey and others we may not know for their continuous support and concern. We look forward to a day when we shall all escort and celebrate the historic Bus into Ogoni land.

THANK YOU.”

CELESTINE AKPOBARI
NATIONAL COORDINATOR, OGONI SOLIDARITY FORUM-NIGERIA

Platform statement: The overwhelming influence of Shell on the economy, government, and civil society in Nigeria is behind the refusal to release the Bus. If Shell were committed to honouring its responsibilities in Nigeria, they would pressurised Customs to release the Bus, and speed up the clean-up process. Releasing the Bus is a powerful symbol. It would be a sign of truth, reconciliation, and above all justice. However, the Bus continues to do its work, even while incarcerated. 

You can watch part of a discussion on the Bus, held on 1st May 2018, at the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, London. Featuring Sokari Douglas Camp, Jane Trowell (Platform), David A Bailey (curator), Gerald Houghton (October Gallery), plus from the floor Lazarus Tamana (President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Europe).

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