It was a beautiful Tuesday morning that we set out to visit Ogoni. The sky was clear and we were expectant and eager to see the land we have heard and read about. However, I doubt if any of us AAMIE Fellows envisaged what we saw in Ogoni.
Ogoni land is nothing short of what is described in T S Eliot’s “Waste Land”. Pollution continues to have adverse effects on the lives of Ogoni people. Black gold, as crude oil is also called, has been a curse in Ogoni. Oil spills have led to the collapse of businesses and the close down of schools. It has also brought diseases and death. When we arrived, I looked at the faces of Ogoni people and saw anguish and pain. In Goi, Bodo and Bori, people wear forlorn looks and seem to have resigned to fate. The will to hope, to dream and to aspire, snatched from them.
“Our land is despoiled and ruined,” said the High Chief of Goi Kingdom in Gokana Local Government, Eric Bariza Dooh. Ogoni waters are extremely polluted, the food contaminated, and the air putrid but despite this, Ogoni people still drink their water in its polluted form and eat their toxic food.
When asked if they are aware of the consequences of eating toxic crops and drinking contaminated water, Chief Eric Dooh said, “We are well aware of the consequences but what do you expect us to eat and drink? Our lives are at our finger tips. I know that I will die. We all await death and when it comes, we don’t even bother going to the hospital, we let it take us. So you may come here tomorrow and not meet me.” From Goi to Bodo, the narrative is the same. Our hearts raced when we were told that not less than five people die in Bodo every day.
According to Chief Saint Emma Pii, the Chairman of Host Community Network who is also a Chief in Bodo, about eight burials take place in Bodo every weekend. Obituaries of people in their early forties litter the walls of Ogoni. Earlier, I’d heard that life expectancy in Ogoni is forty-one. A popular aphorism says life begins at forty; if life expectancy in Ogoni is forty-one, does this mean that the lives of Ogoni people end when they begin?
In Ogale, a small town in Eleme Local Government Area, we met a man whose borehole has not pumped drinkable but diesel contaminated water since he sunk it in 2008. In what has become a Ogoni manner, the man also did not fail to talk about death. “No matter how I dissuade them from fetching the water, our people still fetch and drink this water for they have no other means to get water.”
Our Ogale man spoke with a heavy heart, “We will continue with the struggle even though we know that it might lead to death. But mind you even if we die, our children will carry on with the struggle. Don’t be surprised that a 2 year old child is aware of everything that has happened and everything that is happening. Help us tell the world what is going on in the world. Our lives are at stake; you may come here tomorrow and not meet us again.”
Ogoni people no longer fear death; they dare death. Why do they think and talk about dying this way? Why, like many of us don’t they cringe at the mention of death? Ogoni people have come to see death as an escape route from their hard knock life. They have come to welcome it as a saviour from the destruction caused by oil producing companies.