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Ogoni people

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Title: Ogoni people  
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Subject: Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Abkhazia, Nigeria, Energy in Nigeria, Military coups in Nigeria
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Ogoni people


Ogoni Flag designed by Tombari Kobani
Total population
500,000 (2008)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Khana, Gokhana, Eleme, Tae
traditional beliefs, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Ibibio, Urhobo, Ijaw, Efik, Ejagham, Annang

The Ogoni Kingdom (also known as the Ogonis) are one of the many indigenous peoples in the region of southeast Nigeria. They share common oil-related environmental problems with the Ijaw people of Niger Delta, but Ogonis are not listed in the list of people historically belonging to Niger Delta. They number about 1 million people and live in a 404-square-mile (1,050 km2) homeland which they also refer to as Ogoni, or Ogoniland.

The Ogoni rose to international attention after a massive public protest campaign against Shell Oil, led by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).


The territory is located in Rivers State on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, east of the city of Port Harcourt. It extends across the Local Government Areas (LGAs) Khana, Gokhana, Eleme [Eleme people] and Tae. Traditionally, Ogoniland is divided into the six kingdoms of Babbe, Gokana, Ken-Khana, Nyo-Khana, [ [Eleme, Rivers]] and Tai.

The Ogoni speak the related, mutually intelligible languages of Khana, Gokana, Tae (Tẹẹ), Eleme, and Ban Ogoi[2] part of the linguistic diversity of the Niger Delta.


According to oral tradition, the Ogoni people migrated from ancient Ghana down to the Atlantic coast eventually making their way over to the eastern Niger Delta. Linguistic calculations done by Kay Williams place the Ogoni in the Niger Delta since before 15 BC, making them one of the oldest settlers in the eastern Niger Delta region. Radiocarbon dating taken from sites around Ogoniland and the neighboring communities oral traditions also support this claim.[3] Traditionally, the Ogoni are agricultural, also known for livestock herding, fishing, salt and palm oil cultivation and trade.

Like many peoples on the Guinea coast, the Ogoni have an internal political structure subject to community by community arrangement, including appointment of chiefs and community development bodies, some recognized by government and others not. They survived the period of the slave trade in relative isolation, and did not lose any of their members to enslavement. After Nigeria was colonized by the British in 1885, British soldiers arrived in Ogoni by 1901. Major resistance to their presence continued through 1914.

The Ogoni were integrated into a succession of economic systems at a pace that was extremely rapid and exacted a great toll from them. At the turn of the twentieth century, “the world to them did not extend beyond the next three or four villages,” but that soon changed. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the late president of MOSOP, described the transition this way: “if you then think that within the space of seventy years they were struck by the combined forces of modernity, colonialism, the money economy, indigenous colonialism and then the Nigerian Civil War, and that they had to adjust to these forces without adequate preparation or direction, you will appreciate the bafflement of the Ogoni people and the subsequent confusion engendered in the society.”[4]

Human rights violations

The Ogoni people have been victims of human right violations for many years. In 1956, four years before Nigerian Independence, Royal Dutch/Shell in collaboration with the British government found a commercially viable oil field on the Niger Delta and began oil production in 1958. In a 15-year period from 1976 to 1991 there were reportedly 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell company worldwide.[5] In an assessment of over 200 locations in Ogoniland done by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), they found that the 50 years of oil production in the region extended deeper than some may have predicted. Because of oil spills, oil flaring, and waste discharge, the once alluvial soil of the Niger Delta is no longer viable for agricultural use and attributes to widespread land degradation. Furthermore, in many areas that seemed to be unaffected, groundwater tested to have high levels of hydrocarbons or were contaminated with benzene, a carcinogen, at 900 levels above WHO guilelines.[6] UNEP estimated that it could take up to 30 years to rehabilitate Ogoniland to its full potential and that the first five years of rehabilitation would require funding of about US$1 billion. In 2012, the current Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources, Deizani Alison-Madueke, announced the establishment of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, which intends to follow the UNEP report suggestions of Ogoniland to prevent further degradation.[7]

In 1990 under the leadership of activist and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) planned to take action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the oil companies. In October 1990, MOSOP presented The Ogoni Bill of Rights, to the government. The Bill hoped to gain political and economic autonomy for the Ogoni people, leaving them in control of the natural resources of Ogoniland and to protect against further land degradation.[8]

In 1993, following protests that were designed to stop contractors from laying a new pipeline for Shell, the Mobile Police raided the area to quell the unrest. In the chaos that followed, it has been alleged that 27 villages were raided, resulting in the death of 2,000 Ogoni people and displacement of 80,000.[9][10][11][12]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ethnologue Report for Ogoni
  3. ^ Kpone-Tonwe, Sonpie (1997). "Property Reckoning and Methods of Accumulating Wealth among the Ogoni of the Eastern Niger Delta". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. 1 67: 130–158.  
  4. ^ Quotes from Ken Saro-Wiwa, "Letter to Ogoni Youth."
  5. ^ Crayford, Steven (1 April 1996). Africa Today. 2 42 (Conflict and Conflict Resolution in Africa): 183–197 . 
  6. ^ "UNEP Ogoniland Oil Assessment Reveals Extent of Environmental Contamination and Threats to Human Health". UNEP News Center. August 4, 2011. 
  7. ^ "UNEP Welcomes Nigerian Governments Green Light for Ogoniland Oil Clean-Up". UNEP News Center. August 1, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Ogoni Bill of Rights". Saros International Publishers. 
  9. ^ David Kupfer, "Worldwide Shell boycott", The Progressive, 1996
  10. ^ PBS documentary, The New Americans: The Ogoni Refugees
  11. ^ Ken Saro-Wiwa, "Genocide in Nigeria: The Ogoni Tragedy"
  12. ^ Bogumil Terminski, Oil-Induced Displacement and Resettlement: Social Problem and Human Rights Issue


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  • Hyman, L.M. 1982. The representation of nasality in Gokana. In: The structure of phonological representations. ed. H. van der Hulst & Norval Smith. 111-130. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Hyman, L.M. 1983. Are there syllables in Gokana? In: Current issues in African linguistics, 2. Kaye et al. 171-179. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Ikoro, S.M. 1989. Segmental phonology and lexicon of Proto-Keggoid. University of Port Harcourt: M.A. thesis.
  • Ikoro, S.M. 1996. The Kana language. Leiden: CNWS.
  • Jeffreys, M.D.W. 1947. Ogoni Pottery. Man, 47: 81-83.
  • Piagbo, B.S. 1981. A comparison of the sounds of English and Kana. B.A. project, University of Port Harcourt.
  • Thomas, N.W. 1914. Specimens of languages from Southern Nigeria. London: Harrison & Sons.
  • Vopnu, S.K. 1991. Phonological Processes and Syllable Structures in Gokana. M.A. Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Port Harcourt.
  • Vọbnu, S.K. 2001. Origin and languages of Ogoni people. Boori, KHALGA: Ogoni Languages and Bible Center.
  • Williamson, K. 1985. How to become a Kwa language. In Linguistics and Philosophy. Essays in Honor of Ruben S. Wells. eds. A. Makkai and A. Melby. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 42. Benjamins, Amsterdam.
  • Wolff, H. 1959. Niger Delta languages I: classification. Anthropological Linguistics, 1(8):32-35.
  • Wolff, H. 1964. Synopsis of the Ogoni languages. Journal of African languages, 3:38-51.
  • Zua, B.A. 1987. The noun phrase in Gokana. B.A. project, University of Port Harcourt.

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