A sculpture created as a memorial to Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists has been denied entry to Nigeria, where it had been sent as a gift to mark the 20th anniversary of their execution by the military government.
Customs officials impounded Sokari Douglas Camp’s sculpture, in the form of a steel bus, when it arrived at Lagos port on 8 September, on grounds of its “political value”. Leaflets and reports sent by courier to commemorate Saro-Wiwa’s life and death were also seized.
Col. Hamid Ali (rtd), who was handpicked by the Abacha regime as a member of the kangaroo tribunal that sentenced renowned environmentalist and minority rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa to death by hanging, was on Thursday, August 27, 2015 named by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Subsequent efforts by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Social Action and other pressure groups have failed to secure the work’s release and a memorial vigil in Bori-Ogoni may have to go ahead without it.
Celestine AkpoBari, national coordinator for the Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria, has spent the past two months working to secure the release of the sculpture, called The Bus – Living Memorial, from a secure area of Lagos port and remains determined to get it to Ogoniland, nine hours’ drive from Lagos, next week.
“I have been fortunate to see the bus in London but it will be so exciting to see it in Nigeria, I don’t know if I might faint,” he told the Guardian. “It will give so much happiness and strength and every Ogoni will want to come home and see it. We are still looking forward to hearing the good news, we need the bus because it is the symbol of our struggle now that Ken is not with us. We will use the presence of the bus to begin another era of our campaign for justice.”
The Bus was commissioned following a competition to mark the 10th anniversary of the executions andfirst exhibited outside the Guardian’s London offices in 2006. The artist described her work as a “spectacle” and symbol of the importance of transport to environmental debate.
It was given to the Ogoni people by UK campaign group Platform, to show solidarity with continuing efforts to get oil giant Shell to repair damage caused by spills in Ogoniland over many years.
Saro-Wiwa’s hanging on 10 November 1995 sparked international outrage and led to the country’s suspension from the Commonwealth for four years, until the military handed control back to a civilian government in 1999. In 2009 Shell agreed to pay $15.5m (£9.6m) to settle a claim brought by relatives of the Ogoni nine, after it was accused of having collaborated in the violation of their human rights.
The Bus spent four days at the bottom of the Thames in August, after it was dropped while being loaded on to a ship at the Port of Tilbury in Kent, and was repaired before leaving the UK for Lagos on 19 August. The plan was for it to make several stops in Nigeria en route to its final destination in Ogoniland.
Reacting to the cold-blooded murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni indigenes, Col. Ali said he had no regrets over his role in the judicial process that led to Saro Wiwa’s execution.