Dear Sr. M,
Greetings. I hope you are well. It’s taken some time since I sent you letters through Julia. I expect you will have received them. Somehow, I feel I’m going to hear from you in the next few days but since Claude Ake is travelling, I’m seizing the opportunity to brief you as to recent events.
I’m supposed to be in hospital—the military hospital here in Port Harcourt. The Tribunal made the ruling on the 28th. Then it transpired that the place was in a mess and had to be painted and equipped to receive me. The doctor in charge, Lt-Col Agada (he’s a Catholic) came to see me yesterday and confirmed that the room is ready. We are now waiting for Lt-Col Okuntimo to release me. I hope I can find rest there if nothing else for I’m mentally exhausted.
That apart, I’m in good spirits. My brother Owens has had a breakthrough in Lagos. He had an hour-long recorded conversation with the British High Commissioner who assured him Shell was on the side of the Ogoni. Thereafter, the High Commissioner arranged a 45-minute discussion for him with Brian Anderson. Brian said he did not trust me although he recognised that I had the full support of the Ogoni people. Then he asked what he could do for us. My brother asked him to get the Tribunal stopped. He said he couldn’t do that; that Abacha’s owing Shell a lot of money which he refuses to pay. Then my brother raised the matter of my being sent to hospital. He thought he could do that. The Managing Director of Mobil and the British Deputy High Commissioner were present in each half of the conversation. To cut a long story short, Brian gave Owens his office and home telephone numbers, thus signalling they could hold further discussions. I’ve since given Owens the go-ahead for further talks and asked him to ensure Mitee & I are out of this place since we are the only ones who can negotiate anything on behalf of the Ogoni people.
Shell have now gotten their decision, declared in their recent paper The Ogoni Issue widely publicised in Nigeria: that they will not return to Ogoni until & when the local community is in harmony with them. I hope that that gives the requisite signal to the Government—that they have to accede to the demands of the oil-bearing areas and not visit them with violence in order to silence them. Because silencing them does not mean that oil production can go on as usual. I hope also that other oil-bearing areas are listening. If they are, that should introduce a new situation into the Nigerian equation. That is if they can organize as the Ogoni have done to demand their rights in a peaceful manner.
At the local level, there are moves towards reconciliation as everyone seems tired of the problem. When Dr Agada (Lt-Col) came to see me yesterday, he asked if I do pray. He said I should have more faith in God than in the legal. He has access to both the Military Administrator and the Chairman of the Tribunal and both did not seem to be seeing their way through the Tribunal. The Mil. Administrator thought he had been acting to save his administration which we were threatening. But then he had found no peace this year. He appeared to be wanting some face-saving way out, more so as his tenure seems to be coming to an end. I advised that Lt-Col Agada get Mr. Mitee to speak to the Chairman of the Tribunal and the Military Administrator so a way out can be devised. Whether anything comes of that remains to be seen. But if I get into the military hospital, I’ll be seeing Dr Agada quite a lot and may be able to nudge him on.
In Ogoni itself, the vulture chiefs seem to be wanting a resolution of the problem. They’ve made overtures to us and some of our men are beginning to speak to them. Even the prosecution witnesses want to be paid to alter their testimony same as they were paid to bear false witness. Ledum Mitee is handling that.
I doubt that my being allowed to go to the hospital owes itself to Shell. Before that, we had made all arrangements ourselves with the doctor from the Teaching Hospital who was sent to examine me. Whatever the case, I’m sure that the pressure from abroad is biting. With the Goldman Prize, a lot of publicity has been generated in America. The Human Rights Watch Africa Report was very damning and Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of HRWA [Human Rights Watch Africa] did write an open letter to Abacha asking him to allow me medical care, disband the Tribunal and set all the Ogonis now held free. I expect that the British QC, Mr Birnbaum who watched the trial for a week will have made a report to the British Law Society. The British High Commissioner has said that his report could influence the British Govt. And he left us in no doubt that he did not think the trial fair.
My son has been in Canada and I understand he had some airtime on CNN during his recent trip to America to receive my prize. It’s been good for him. I heard him on Voice of America and he sounded quite good.
All in all, the outlook seems hopeful. The suffering in Ogoni is quite depressing. The goon soldiers are still around and are still extorting money from people. And at the national level, the economy is in a big mess. Abacha is still playing tough and stupidly so. The people cannot dislodge him; only foreign pressure will do that. I’m hoping that the TransAfrica initiative from the US bears fruit. In any case, we live in expectation of the collapse of the govt. one of these days.
I must stop here until I hear from you again. My warmest wishes.
- Michael Birnbaum, a British lawyer appointed to the Queen’s Counsel in 1992. ↵