I am yet to meet her. But it was sometime in the hot months of 1994 that I got to know about her – thanks to her son, Ken Saro-Wiwa. She lives in the Niger Delta – the largest river delta in Africa and the third largest in the world. You see, for years, she had been brutally raped, battered, scarred, and then beaten some more by the many hopeless men that continually used her, and to date, still use her.
Back then, in ’94, I was 12 years old and she was … goodness, does anybody really know? But suffice to say she was old — she’s been around for a long minute. And, never in her years as she suffered such pains as she did suffer and still suffers. She was a voluptuous woman, blessed with all the right curves and all the beauty heaven could give. Yes, she was the quintessential African woman. And as a consequence, strange men from strange lands journeyed from far and wide for a chance to kiss and suck on her succulent bosom.
Alas, her blessing was to be her curse, as these insatiable men cunningly took her virginity and subsequently took turns ravaging her fragile and precious body – reveling in the abundant pleasures they derived from digging their vile deep into her.
And so, in a matter of short years, her face became a pillow of scars, her body a bed of sores. The men daily took from her whatever they would, and left her to clean up their daily mess. The epitome of African beauty now looked like a street in a place called Hell.
Her children, once seemingly helpless at the plight of their mother, mustered the courage to form a Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and eventually drove Shell (SPDC), Chevron, BP, NNPC, (as most of these useless men were called), out of their mother’s house.
But the men never really did leave: they left their cancerous belongings behind.
Just like that, after years of abuse, Ogoniland only suffered some more abuse. The men had taken from her but never cared to pay, clothe, or even feed her. She became leaner, sicker, and weaker by the hour. The belongings the men left in her house, known as pipelines and oil installations, regularly leaked cancer into the little food, water, she and her children had left to survive. Her house becomes her sick bed. And her penniless children her sole caretaker.
But her children would not let her wither away easily, nor let themselves rot in an abominable existence; so they took their case to the streets – determined to be heard by any means necessary. And seemingly trapped in a corner by the pressure bore to bear, two of her rapists, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and the Nigerian government (NNPC) finally acquiesced to take her to see the doctor. The doctor, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), awed by the extent of her visible wounds, agreed to take a look at her, so far as these men paid the cost of her rape-kit.
Thus came this past week, when the doctor, at long last, released his report — the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.
Gosh! We knew she was ailing, but goodness is she so close to morbid! Ogoniland, according to the report, is now in dire need of the world’s largest oil clean-up.
On some parts of her body, the report found heavy contamination 40 years after an oil spill occurred. And when oil spills occur, fire often breaks out, burning her skin and leaving crusts over her body. As a result, she’s so poisoned that some of her children are drinking water contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization (WHO) guideline. And at times 1,000 times the Nigerian drinking water standard.
Her recovery will require an initial hospital bill of $1 billion for the first 5 years. But her treatment will take a period of 25 – 30 years before she can even regain any semblance of her old self, as the doctor says.
And now we wait. With her plan of care extensively detailed in the doctor’s report, including what recommendations should be effected and what emergent steps need to be taken, we wait. We wait to see if these cannibals have any remnant of a conscience left in their hearts to do the right thing.
Or should we just suppose, as they have always shown, that they have since bartered their souls to the devil for the black gold which Ogoniland secretes, and are thus doomed to rot in the fieriest place in hell.