IN 1992, WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, my father wrote me a letter from Nigeria informing me that his campaign for environmental and human rights was intensifying and that the government could kill him. He hadn’t been incarcerated at that point; life seemed normal and I read his words with incredulity. Surely he was scaremongering, the way parents sometimes do. How could anyone contemplate their own violent demise so collectedly?
It is said that courage is defined not by the absence of fear but the ability to overcome it. My father knew the risks when he took on the Nigerian military government and Shell Oil. The fact that he could go to battle, eyes wide open, against such formidable opponents was a mark of his hardiness and ambition. We the Ogoni people were specks against the giant rockface of Nigeria’s military-industrial complex, and until the 1990s few outside the Niger Delta region knew who we were. Yet my father brought our environmental problems to the planet’s consciousness through persistence and a belief that justice will eventually prevail when pursued peacefully.
The letters he wrote to Sister Majella from his prison cell reveal a lack of self-pity. He focused on family, community and the struggle, making no distinction between his own fortunes and that of the Ogoni and Nigeria. Success at an individual level was meaningless to him unless shared by everyone.
His sacrifice is a lesson and inspiration to us all.