Dr. Barinem Kiobel was one of the nine Ogonis gruesomely murdered alongside Ken Saro Wiwa on November 10, 1995 by the late General Sanni Abacha regarded by Wole Soyinka as a born sadist.
Ken Saro Wiwa’s high profile, especially having died as an international writer of great acclaim and then one of the most decorated Nigerian writers of all time, have often dwarfed the profiles of some of the men who died with him. Personally, it only came to my notice few days ago, that Dr. Barinem Kiobel for instance, one of the men who were murdered in the Abacha show of shame was more educated than Ken Saro Wiwa himself. Yet, it was the passion these men attached to the dream of challenging the status quo of injustice that had pervaded their land for decades that held them bound, defining each’s aspirations to another, irrespective of their qualifications, even with death staring them face to face.
It’s been twenty years after November 10, 1995— two decades that have made us see Ogoni and indeed the Niger-Delta deteriorate beyond our imagination. Yet within this 20 years also, we’ve witnessed what I’ll call “the boom phase of the struggle”, a period when more money has been made from oil in one stretch of time than any other period and we had one of our own also becoming the President of Nigeria; the Niger-Delta producing more indigenous billionaires and amazingly transforming into one of the most deprived and impoverished regions in Nigeria at the same time, arguably.
Yet, it is the fact that we have continued to rely on oral tradition in the Niger-Delta to back our claim to the oil history in Nigeria even in the 21st century that is more brain turning. In murdering Dr. Barinem Kiobel on November 10, 1995, Nigeria murdered its very own history also. In 1994, Dr. Barinem Kiobel had carried on the task of making sure that Nigeria had its first National Oil Museum in Oloibiri as a sacrosanct responsibly, serving then as the Commissioner of Commerce, Industry and Tourism with the now Bayelsa State still being part of Rivers State. In consultation with Melford Okilo, who was then Nigeria’s Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Dr. Kiobel had developed a road map for the museum and successfully pushed it to its implementation stage before the devil took hold of Abacha’s left over sanity.
Nigeria has not been able to push this agenda through up till now. A 2012 34.9bn Federal Government contract awarded for the project has only been a scam so far. As at September 2012, about three of the seven firms which the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) claimed had “passed the Due Process” for the project were alleged to belong to one person. Three firms earlier considered fit for the contracts by the BPP had been removed from the list in very controversial circumstances. It is one very dirty of a deal Buhari must look at with urgency.
In all, it is Dr. Kiobel’s vision into this future that stirs this new discourse. The fact that he had envisioned this 21 years ago. And the fact that Nigeria comfortably murdered the urgent possibility of this dream in murdering Dr. Kiobel on November 10, 1995 and yet would remain unperturbed of what remains of Oloibiri—the very first place where oil—what fires the embers of its society was found in 1958, that effuses splashes of thoughts three months before another November 10.
This culture of neglect has assumed a royal status in our country. More painful is the fact that a six years under President as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria did not put the usual platitudes of the typical Nigerian power game behind to treat the essence of a national oil museum as a priority, considering how significant such a monument would have been to the Niger-Delta.
However, as loud as the pains could be, the hopes may not be that severely dashed after all. With the Buhari administration now showing positive signs on Ogoni and continuing with the already nerve calming initiatives of the past regimes on the Niger-Delta, we could as well hope, that he also remembers to give Nigeria its first national oil museum which inevitably would be in the Niger-Delta and indeed, Oloibiri, just as Dr. Kiobel had hoped.