Passage of Omar Bongo
By Sun News Publishing
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
At last, justice is on the way for the late Ken Saro Wiwa and
eight other Ogoni leaders who were executed by the regime of the
late General Sani Abacha on November 10, 1995, over controversial
murder charges. Multinational oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, recently
announced it has agreed to pay $15.5 to the families of the executed
men and some other Ogoni people in settlement of a suit brought
against it, its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development
Company (SPDC) and the former head of its Nigerian operation, Mr.
Shell had been charged with complicity in the execution, extra-judicial
killings, torture and other human rights abuses of Ogoni leaders,
including Saro Wiwa, in the 1990s, in a court in New York, United
States of America.
SPDC Managing Director, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, said Shell will make
the payment on humanitarian grounds, in recognition of the fact
that the plaintiffs and other Ogonis suffered from the tragic events,
even though Shell had nothing to do with the violence that took
place, and was well prepared to defend itself against the allegations.
He added that the payment is for the benefit of Ogoni people, to
help reconciliation and peace, and the return of normalcy to Ogoni
The $15.5 million settlement will provide funding for a trust fund
to be known as the Kiisi Trust for Ogoni people. It will also provide
compassionate payment to the plaintiffs and the estates they represent,
including part of their legal costs and fees.
Shell’s decision to settle allegations of complicity in the
torture, extra-judicial killing and execution of Ogoni activists
with an out-of-court payment, even while maintaining its innocence,
is a good gesture. The decision has effectively brought the bravely
fought, 13-year battle for compensation for the plaintiffs to an
While no amount of money can compensate for lives that were lost
in the sad circumstances of the period, the settlement can, at least,
go some way in easing the pains of the tragedy and provide some
respite for the plaintiffs and other Ogoni victims.
It is good that Shell is willing to compensate the plaintiffs and
other Ogoni people. The payment, undoubtedly, is an admission that
some wrong had been done to the people, and that they deserve some
succour. The gesture from Shell is therefore welcome and commendable.
It is one that should be emulated by other oil companies whose operations
have also been characterised by degradation of their operating environment
and violations of human rights.
The example from Shell should teach them to be alive to their responsibility
to the environment and their host communities. It should also send
a clear message that companies are liable for any environmental
or human rights infractions that arise in the course of their operations,
either now or in the future. We hope that this development will
herald a change for the better in the attitude of Shell and other
companies to their host communities. The government should be in
the forefront of the battle to make corporate organisations deal
equitably with their host communities, and safeguard their operating
The settlement should also open up opportunities for others whose
rights might have been violated by Shell or any other company in
the country to seek for justice.
Now that settlement is to be made for the trauma visited on the
Ogoni people, especially the execution of the leaders who have since
become known as the Ogoni 9, a lot of care should be taken in the
disbursement of the funds.
Since the payment is on humanitarian grounds, it will be expedient
to ensure that the compensation reaches every family that has lost
loved ones and suffered one injury or the other in the Ogoni struggle.
We are happy to note that $8.5m or 55 per cent of the sum has been
earmarked for the Kiisi Trust Fund, while the ten plaintiffs will
get $700,000 each for their families. The trust fund should be properly
managed to ensure that the objectives of reconciliation, peace and
progress of the community could be achieved.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, the son of one of the executed
leaders, Mr. Ken Saro Wiwa, Jr., has promised that the fund will
be used for educational endowments, skills and agricultural development,
women’s programmes, literacy and small enterprise support.
This plan should be strictly implemented.
The Shell payout should be judiciously used to help the Ogoni put
the painful incident behind them and move on with their lives.
Gabonese President and Africa’s longest serving leader,
Omar Bongo, passed on recently, aged 73. He died in a Spanish hospital
of a heart-related ailment after ruling the oil-rich country for
42 years. He was born on December 30, 1935 as Albert Bernard Bongo
to a peasant farming family in the Bateke region of South East Gabon.
Though, the deceased lost his father at the age of seven that did
not deter his rise to prominence.
According to his official website: “He didn’t come into
the world on a hospital bed, and he didn’t have a cot or a
nanny.” The diminutive Bongo wore raised platform shoes to
augment his height.
He went to school in Brazzaville in Congo before enlisting in the
French Air Force, and his journey to power started with early romance
with the colonial military. It was from there that he rose to become
the first black man to serve in the Force in Chad.
Bongo’s future political career was enhanced after he won
the admiration and trust of the father of Gabon’s independence,
the then President Leon M’Ba. It was this relationship that
later led to his being appointed director in the president’s
office in 1962 at the age of 27. He became the president of Gabon
in 1967 following the death of M’Ba. In 1973, he changed his
name to El Hadji Omar Bongo when he converted to Islam. Later, he
added his father’s African traditional name and became Omar
With his towering stature on Gabon’s political stage, he ruled
over a one-party state for 26 years. Critics of his administration
had argued that his stay in power was not because of popularity.
They alleged that several of his political opponents were killed
during the 1970s. For instance, the mysterious death of the opposition
leader, Joseph Redjambe, in 1990 sparked riots that rocked the regime
Later, he introduced multi-party elections in 1993 and Gabon held
a presidential poll, which he won. However, the poll was marred
by allegations of massive rigging.
Despite the shortcomings, Bongo was able to build a powerful dynasty,
which benefited from the development of offshore oil production
and became so wealthy. The international anti-corruption watchdog,
Transparency International, reported that he had created an economy
where personal properties are indistinguishable from those of the
state. With the opposition virtually in coma, Bongo had appropriated
most of the state’s wealth without qualms. There is no doubt
that what he lacked in stature, he achieved in infamy.
As the longest serving despot in Africa, he turned Gabon into a
mini state of France in order to guarantee his stranglehold on power.
During his lifetime, Bongo symbolised the state and upped nepotism
to the heights. While his son was in charge of the Defence Ministry,
the daughter was in charge of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. He had
the nation’s university, hospital and stadium named after
There is no doubt that Bongo’s death has brought to an end
one of the most inglorious regimes in the continent. The political
future of Gabon appears hazy and gloomy as his son is rumoured to
be positioning himself to assume power. This affront will not augur
well for peace and stability, which the tiny African country needs
Bongo’s legacies are not edifying. He virtually killed democracy
in his country. No matter the relative peace and stability, which
his reign witnessed in Gabon in the past 42 years, it is never democratic
or fair for one man to rule his country for that long. His death
is a warning to all despots still parading themselves in Africa
as God-sent that history would, indeed, not smile on them should
they resist democratic culture and ideals. They should understand
that the era of dictatorship, whether benevolent or otherwise, is
gone for good, and hasten to return their countries to the path
We commiserate with the Gabonese authorities and members of the
Bongo family at this moment of national mourning and grief. We urge
the new leadership to work tirelessly and return the country to
a democratically elected government as soon as possible.