On the 4th January 1993, some 300,000 Ogoni celebrated the Year of Indigenous Peoples by peacefully protesting against Shell’s activities and environmental destruction of Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.
It remains the largest demonstration against an oil company ever. “We have woken up to find our lands devastated by agents of death called oil companies.
Our atmosphere has been totally polluted, our lands degraded, our waters contaminated, our trees poisoned, so much so that our flora and fauna have virtually disappeared”, said an Ogoni leader to the crowd.
Ever since, 4th January has been known as Ogoni Day. To celebrate Ogoni Day this year, the day before the anniversary, on January 3, activists from “Artnotoil” put on an impromptu performance in the foyer of the London’s prestigious National Theatre prior to the matinee performance of the Shell-sponsored play “Oedipus”. As Artnotoil pointed out, it is through this kind of greenwashing sponsorship that Shell legitimises its often polluting and controversial business practices.
Ironically in the play, the people of Thebes look to Oedipus to lift a terrible curse from them and their city, just as the people of the Niger Delta want to lift the curse of oil. Much to the surprise of the guests, one of the activists, Mark Brown, started to sing the moving song “Shell sells suicide.”
The lyrics included the line:
“Monday 4th of January, nineteen ninety three,
Ken Saro-Wiwa said the people of the Delta must be free
Sunday 4th of January twenty oh-nine
it surely must be time
to stop Shell’s climate crimes”
Other activists handed out leaflets, including a glossy spoof that looked like the national theatre was inviting an open discussion about the morality of accepting oil company sponsorship. Soon however, as is the way with these kind of protests, they were evicted by the security. But then, as the people of the Delta would say, least in the UK, the security guards don’t use guns.