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Tumultous History of the Ogoni People

The Ogoni Youth Network (OYN) is comprised of a microcosmic blend of the 80,000 displaced Ogoni people from the southeastern part of Nigeria. Because the Ogoni people protested widespread unregulated oil drilling practices that resulted in dangerous exposure to petroleum toxins and the displacement of hundreds of citizens; we  were subjected to brutal violence and systematically exiled from their homeland. 

Ogoni individuals protesting unregulated drilling practices in Ogoniland

The circumstances leading to our displacement can be attributed to a 50+ years of unregulated oil drilling practices in Ogoniland,  unethical business negotiations by the SHELL Oil Company and the Nigerian government, and an overall disregard of basic human rights. Despite the fact that the Ogoni Oil reserves have accounted for a substantial amount of  of oil revenue in Nigeria; historically,  the people of Ogoni have had no political representation in the Nigerian government.  As a result, the Ogoni people led by the late Ken Saro Wiwa orchestrated peaceful protests against SHELL and the Nigerian government in the early 90’s that drew the attention of notable human rights organizations (Amnesty International & Friends of the Earth). In response to these peaceful demonstrations,  the then Nigerian military regime then under Gen. Sani Abacha, deployed its military upon the Ogoni people-who indiscriminately shot and killed many Ogoni people. With terror amounting (mass genocidal act),  the Ogonis  fled their villages to seek refuge in a neighboring countries as refugees. 

Ogoni demonstrators pay homage to the great leader Ken Saro-Wiwa who was assassinated by the Nigerian government for protesting unscrupulous oil drilling practices in Ogoniland.

Following the genocide of numerous Ogoni citizens, a small fraction of the people were smuggled into a refugee camp through the intervention of the UN. In this unsafe environment,  many of the refugees  succumbed to diseases that could have been prevented by basic health care and improved living conditions. Luckily, some were granted asylum in the  United States and Canada. 

In 2010 the Nigerian government invited the United Nations Environmental Programmed (UNEP) to assess petroleum releases in Ogoniland and their effects on forestry, agricultural land, fisheries and human health.  In the UNEP’s publication on their assessment, they concluded that frequent oil spills have damaged vast amounts of farmland, fisheries, and water supplies. They recommended 1 billion USD be invested in remediation applied to  of Ogoniland that have suffered extensive damage due to petroleum contamination.  Of particular concern to them was a community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, where families are drinking from wells that are contaminated with petroleum and benzene- a known carcinogen-at levels over 9000 times above World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.  This led to the petition for emergency drinking water in Ogale, Eleme and the implementation of an epidemiological study to investigate the human health effects of the community’s exposure to contaminated water. 

Photo showing the effects of oil drilling in Ogoniland

A pilot study conducted in 2013 by Boston University School of Public Health, and Rivers State University of Science in Technology to implement some of UNEP’s recommendations for Ogale found that individuals living in Ogale had increased odds of anemia, headaches, dizziness, rash, confusion, and other symptoms consistent with elevated exposure to petroleum. This study is evidence of the long lasting effects of unregulated drilling practices in Ogoniland, and demonstrates the necessity of extensive remediation efforts in Ogoniland.

 Although there are some Ogoni refugees that have been  resettled to the United States and Canada, unfortunately, there are many Ogoni people residing in Ogoniland that continue to be oppressed systematically. It is our hope that OYN can stand as a platform to liberate the Ogoni Youth and introduce them to initiatives that can secure a promising future for many Ogoni Youth.