The Ogoni Nine were a group of nine activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria who opposed the operating practices of the Royal Dutch Shell oil corporation in the Niger Delta region. The military government in Nigeria was threatened by their work and arrested them for murders of four Ogoni chiefs. Social activist and head of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro-Wiwa, alongside eight of his fellow leaders—Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine—were put on trial under the false pretext that the group had incited the murder of four Ogoni chiefs.

In 1990, in response to the continued violations against the Ogoni people by the oil industry and the Nigerian state, Ken Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). This movement consisted of over seven hundred thousand Ogoni people, all campaigning for social, economic, and environmental justice through nonviolent resistance and protest. Ogoniland, the name of the traditional homeland of the Ogoni people, was devastated by oil spills. These oil spills made the land uninhabitable in some areas, and unable to be farmed, a common livelihood of the Ogoni people.[1]

MOSOP published the Ogoni Bill of Rights,[2] which aimed to realize political and economic autonomy for the Ogoni people and protect Ogoniland from further environmental degradation. The bill called on international governments and development institutions to stand in solidarity with the Ogoni people and protect activists from political persecution by Nigeria's federal government.[3]

Ken Saro-Wiwa had previously been a critic of the Royal Dutch Shell oil corporation, and had been imprisoned for a year. According to Amnesty International, “in May of 1994, [the] Ogoni chiefs known to be opponents of MOSOP were murdered. Without presenting any evidence, the government blamed MOSOP and arrested..people, including Ken Saro-Wiwa and Barinem Kiobel. Kiobel…had a senior government position and had been critical of the military’s actions in Ogoniland.” [4] The trial was widely discredited, with critics worldwide speaking out against the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, who was then in power. Despite that, the Nine were found guilty, and on the morning of November 10 1995, they were executed by hanging.[5] They were buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery. Traditional Ogoni burial practices prohibited. According to Lazarus Baribiae Saale of the Niger Delta University, “wake-keep and all-important rites given to heroes in the Ogoni tradition were not allowed by the Military Government. Ogoni land during this period was militarized and those who wore black clothes were arrested for mourning these activists.”[6]

The executions provoked international condemnation and led to the increasing treatment of Nigeria as a pariah state until General Abacha's mysterious death in 1998.

At least two witnesses who testified that Saro-Wiwa was involved in the murders of the Ogoni elders later recanted, stating that they had been bribed with money and offers of jobs with Shell to give false testimony – in the presence of Shell's lawyer.[3]

Ken Saro Wiwa


Ken Saro-Wiwa was an influential teacher, government leader, writer, actor, and most famously an activist for the Ogoni people. During the Nigerian civil war he supported the federal government, and served as an Ogoni leader. He resigned from his governmental position when he felt that dictator Ibrahim Babangida was disingenuous about his work to restore Nigeria to a democracy.

Saro-Wiwa  served as one of the early members of the MOSOP, vice chairman of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). His work with the MOSOP began in 1990, primarily working on environmental protection for Ogoniland. He also helped write the Ogoni Bill of Rights, demanding protection and justice for the Ogoni people and their land. Ken Saro-Wiwa promoted peaceful protests, and he worked to find solutions through the MOSOP and UNPO in nonviolent ways.[7][8]

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and Lead-Up to Execution


The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was founded in 1990, as a non-governmental, non-political organization run by the Ogoni people. Their main goal was to promote democratic awareness in Nigeria, and to protect the environment of the Ogoni people. This was done through non-violent campaigns and protests. Additionally, the MOSOP wrote the Ogoni Bill of Rights, demanding changes be made within the Nigerian government for the self determination of the Ogoni people.

The MOSOP is known for protesting against the Royal Dutch Shell involvement in Nigeria and oil spills in Ogoniland. The group sought international cooperation, including from the United Nations (UN), led by Ken Saro-Wiwa. By 1992 the MOSOP was primarily working against the oil industry in Nigeria.

Starting in 1938, Royal Dutch Shell started relations with the Nigerian government, and the first oil was extracted in 1958. For several years after, the Nigerian government became closer with Shell, and in 1979 The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria was established. The first documented oil spill occurred in 1970 in Nigeria within the Boobanabe community.

Over the years, while Shell had been extracting oil in Nigeria, there were several spills that have yet to be cleaned up. This upset Nigerian citizens, who wanted their government to put pressures on Shell to clean up the spills. Specifically, the Ogoni people were concerned about the environmental degradation, and they created the MOSOP to put pressures on the government.

In the early 90s there were numerous protests and in 1993, Shell suspended production in Ogoniland for a short period of time. On January 4, 1993, 300,000 people protested peacefully against oil production in Ogoniland. During MOSOP’s 1993 protest, an Ogoni leader explained, “We have woken up to find our lands devastated by agents of death called oil companies. Our atmosphere has been totally polluted, our lands degraded, our waters contaminated, our trees poisoned, so much so that our flora and fauna have virtually disappeared”. This day is now recognized as Ogoni Day. [9]

In April of 1993, MOSOP leader Ken Saro-Wiwa had already been arrested twice, and the MOSOP protests were becoming violent as Shell called in government troops to put people to rest. The MOSOP continued to face increasing violence, primarily from the military during 1993 and 1994. In May of 1994, four Ogoni chiefs were murdered, and the government took to arresting dozens of MOSOP members, including the Ogoni Nine. [10][11]

Later that same year, Shell requested military support in order to build a pipeline through Ogoniland. The MOSOP continued to protest Shell’s business in Nigeria and oppose their work. Since the execution of the Ogoni Nine, throughout the early 2000s, there have been numerous spills and extraction-related fires throughout Nigeria.[12][13][14]

Ogoni Bill of Rights


The Ogoni Bill of Rights was presented to the Nigerian government and the people of Nigeria in October 1990. It was also intended for the international community to read and understand. The bill was written by the MOSOP, with direct work by Ken Saro-Wiwa. In August of 1990 the Chiefs and Ogoni people met to sign the bill of rights, claiming their independence from the British, while also recognizing loyalty to Nigeria. Additionally, the bill called for political control by Ogoni people over Ogoniland. One important aspect was to have Ogoni people control economic resources on their land, protect their own environment from further degradation, and include direct representation of Ogoni people in Nigerian government. The bill included that these rights should have been turned over to the Ogoni people after British rule ceased 30 years ago, but according to Ken Saro Wiwa these rights “have been misused and abused, turning Nigeria into a hell on earth for the Ogoni and similar ethnic minorities.”

According to MOSOP’s first president, Dr. Garrick B Leton the Ogoni people were experiencing a genocide, “by multi-national oil companies under the supervision of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is that of a distinct ethnic minority in Nigeria who feel so suffocated by existing political, economic and social conditions in Nigeria that they have no choice but to cry out to the international community for salvation.” He explained further that 100 billion dollars of oil has been exported from Ogoniland, but all the Ogoni people saw was “no pipe-borne water, no electricity, very few roads, ill-equipped schools and hospitals and no industry whatsoever.” Environmental degradation was also an essential topic in the bill, including how streams and rivers are polluted, gas flares burn constantly, and various issues with acid rain and oil spills. This in turn forced the Ogoni people to outsource and buy food, instead of farming it themselves like they once did.

The bill includes a list of 20 rights presented to the government and Nigerian people, as well as an addendum and a call to action for the international community.[15]



The Nigerian government arrested the Ogoni Nine, blaming the for the murders of four Ogoni Chiefs. Starting on May 21, 1994 four Ogoni Chiefs were murdered, Albert Badey, Edward Kobani, Samuel Orage and Theophilus Orage, were killed in Gokana. R. Boele, Ogoni. Ken Saro-Wiwa and the rest of the nine were arrested, although Saro-Wiwa was not anywhere near the murder scene at the time. Amnesty International issued a statement that Saro-Wiwa's arrest was "part of the continuing suppression by the Nigerian authorities of the Ogoni people's campaign against the oil companies". Over the next several months Ogoni people were arrested, tortured, beaten, and villages destroyed and looted. Ken Saro-Wiwa was subjected to a three day interrogation, by state intelligence on June 28, 1994. Finally, a court hearing was scheduled on June 28, at the High Court in Port Harcourt, however the defendants were prohibited from attending, and the hearing did not take place. On July 11 a second court hearing was scheduled, and again Saro-Wiwa and his fellow defendants were not allowed to attend. On July 18th, a third hearing was scheduled but canceled soon after.

After months in prison, a three member Tribunal was set on November 4, 1994. It included a military officer, and on the November 21 the three members were sworn in. The Attorney General stated that the tribunal would commence on January 16, enforcing a trial date before there was evidence to show that these men were guilty in any form. On the 16 of January the Tribunal was postponed. On January 28 the Ogoni Nine were charged with a holding charge of the murder of the Ogoni chiefs, after 8 months in jail. An additional 18 other Ogoni members who were held in jail for a year were charged with murder as well. In June of 1995 the Tribunal commenced. Eventually Ken Saro-Wiwa’s lawyers pulled out of the Tribunal due to the false allegations, bribery of key prosecuting witnesses, and its flawed nature. On October 30 1995, Saro-Wiwa and the eight other men were officially charged with the murder, and sentenced to death. Worldwide people protested this sentencing, and in response the military deployed an additional 5,000 troops to Ogoniland. Finally, on November 10, 1995 the nine were hung in Port Harcourt. An observer of the Tribunal said that it was "not merely wrong, illogical or perverse. It is downright dishonest .. I believe that the Tribunal first decided on its verdict and then sought for arguments to justify them".[16]



Currently the nine men reside in the Port Harcourt Cemetery, in southeastern Nigeria. The MOSOP still meets and works towards further protection and resilience of the Ogoni people. They continue to fight for their rights and land, by stopping Shell from drilling on their land and working with the international community on environmental lawsuits. Since 1993, there has been no continued drilling in Ogoniland; however, the land remains decimated, and underground pipelines continue to leak. This has furthered environmental degradation of the area. While Shell has not cleaned it up, they paid 55 million pounds in reparations in 2014 for two oil spills that occurred in 2008. Across Ogoniland, gas flares and acid rain have stopped, but the vegetation and lands continue to be polluted. Ogoni Day continues to be celebrated on January 4 each year, marking the 30-year anniversary in 2023.[17]

See also



  1. ^ Isumonah, V. Adefemi (August 2004). "The Making of the Ogoni Ethnic Group". Africa. 74 (3): 433–453. doi:10.3366/afr.2004.74.3.433. ISSN 1750-0184.
  2. ^ Today, remembering the Ogoni Bill of Rights,, Nov 10, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Remembering Nigeria’s Ogoni 9, Murdered for Their Organizing Against Shell. Jacobin, 11 Nov. 13 2021.
  4. ^ "Nigeria: Shell complicit in the arbitrary executions of Ogoni Nine as writ served in Dutch court". Amnesty International. 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  5. ^ "No Justice For Widows of Executed Nigerian Ogoni 9 at Hague Court". All Africa. 24 March 2022. Retrieved 2 May 2024.
  6. ^ Saale, Lazarus Baribiae (2017-09-15). "Burial rites for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine: implications for modern society". AFRREV IJAH: An International Journal of Arts and Humanities. 6 (3): 33–40. doi:10.4314/ijah.v6i3.3. ISSN 2227-5452.
  7. ^ Nigeria, Guardian (2019-11-10). "Ken Saro-Wiwa: A foremost environmentalist". The Guardian Nigeria News - Nigeria and World News. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  8. ^ Saint, Ekpali. "Timeline: Half a century of oil spills in Nigeria's Ogoniland". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  9. ^ "The Ogoni Struggle". Platform. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  10. ^ Osaghae, Eghosa E. (1995). "The Ogoni Uprising: Oil Politics, Minority Agitation and the Future of the Nigerian State". African Affairs. 94 (376): 325–344. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a098833. ISSN 0001-9909. JSTOR 723402.
  11. ^ "Nigeria: Shell complicit in the arbitrary executions of Ogoni Nine as writ served in Dutch court". Amnesty International. 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  12. ^ "Timeline- Shell in Nigeria". Reuters. 16 January 2024.
  13. ^ Laville, Sandra (2024-02-28). "Shell must clean up pollution before it leaves Niger delta, report says". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  14. ^ Tijani, Mayowa (10 November 2014). "Remembering Ken Saro Wiwa, 19 years after". The Cable.
  15. ^ Ogoni Bill of Rights. Port Harcourt Nigeria: Saros International Publishers (published June 1992). December 1991.
  16. ^ Kretzmann, Rowell (1997). All for Shell. Lowenstein Nigeria Project. Yale Law School.
  17. ^ "Thirty Years Later: The Resilience of the Ogoni". Corporate Accountability Lab. 2023-05-11. Retrieved 2024-05-02.