Friday, March 10, 2017

A Reflection to mark Africa Day at Maynooth University Library

In a land flowing with Milk and Honey
Guest post by Philomena Obasi
I’m undertaking a course with Leixlip Further Education and Training Centre and as part of this I work one day per week in Maynooth University Library. On the 8th of March we celebrated Africa Day in the Library. The Maynooth Africa Society works with the Library to plan this annual event and to identify the best day in the university calendar for this. As part of Africa Day 2017, there was a visit to view the Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection in the Special Collections area of the Library. This held particular meaning for me as I grew up in Nigeria and was very aware of the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people as events unfolded.

Growing up in my lovely country, Nigeria, where we experience summer (compared to the Irish weather), 365 days in a year, was with great expectations. My youth was sabotaged by various incidents and events, when as a young focused lady, all my hopes were deflated liked a pricked balloon. 

I believed so much in our Heroes past and had a couple of them worthy of emulation. This increased my interest and passion for history as a subject in school. My father noticed I had great passion for politics and encouraged me by buying lots of newspapers. 

One of my heroes was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a symbol of environmental protection and human rights. I noticed a man, a leader, an activist, far away in Ogoni land, brewing up a very disturbing subject, pollution of his homeland. I was captivated by this and wanted to get to the end of the story and find out the best solution the then Nigerian Military Government would come out with. That was how I got engulfed in the story that ended up in shock and disbelief. That day he was hanged, I cried silently and painfully… for a man that never knew of my existence, a man I had hoped to meet someday to let him know he was an inspiration to me and many others, a man that was a source of hope to his people and environ, a husband, a father, a fellow Nigerian. 

All Ken Saro-Wiwa ever wanted was  an unpolluted environment free from surface water which contained/contains about 900 times acceptable levels of cancer-causing benzene, jobs for the young people and a fair share of oil profit generated from in Ogoni.

Ogoni is a land in Southern Nigeria, sitting on one of the world’s richest deposits of oil and gas where the major occupations of the locals are fishing and farming. These terrible pollution episodes were the effect of unstandardized oil extraction by Shell Oil Company, from this peaceful blessed land with abundant natural resources, enough for local consumption and export. Their oil reserve, which is meant to increase their affluence, instead, increased their poverty and disease. 

More than two decades later, even if the cause for their struggles has been vindicated, they are yet to be updated by significant changes they seriously yearned for. I believe Ogoni will get there someday. There have been spontaneous responses from various bodies like the United Nations, Commonwealth Nations and some World Leaders, all condemning the brutal killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine others. Maynooth University Library, Ireland, and Sister Majella McCarron (OLA), have been involved in preserving his legacy and also, through the Ken Saro-Wiwa Award, assisting a PhD student research the relationships between governments, the oil companies, the environment and people of African countries with oil reserves.
The importance of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s work and legacy is recognised by Maynooth University. A large range of resources relating to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Struggle are now freely available online and that resource was also launched on Africa Day. 

This only motivates us to stand up for what we know is wrong and put more effort into trying to make a change/difference no matter the consequences. We have been assured by this singular act that we will never go UNSUNG. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to participate in Africa Day 2017 and to view the archives of my fellow countryman Ken Saro-Wiwa

Thank you.
Philomena Obasi

No comments: