In the News

“How Ken Saro-Wiwa, Co-Martyrs Are Rebuilding Ogoniland from the Dead”

Business Day

January 30, 2022

  • $5m Kiisi Fund opens development scheme with focus on human capital.
  • BB Fakae, other highly trusted citizens put in charge.

Oniland is witnessing quiet revolution outside the ever-controversial schemes such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or the clean up exercise, but from the activities of its sons that died as martyrs led by Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The then late head of state, Sanni Abacha, may have hanged Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni-9 in 1994 but the worldwide troubles from it did not allow the king to sleep. At the end, the martyrs have won huge enablement that have made them to launch a development fund that is now creating a silent revolution especially in human capital development and other physical infrastructure projects.

The $5m or N2bn seed capital came from $15.5m which families of Saro-Wiwa and the others won in New York in 2009. They used the fund to create a Foundation that is strictly managed along international standards in order to keep delivering value in the area to all Ogoni.

The scheme is managed by an environmentalist, lawyer, former lawmaker, and recently the secretary to Imo State government, Uche Onyeagucha, who hails from Obinze, Owerri West. A true Port Harcourt boy, he worked with Oronto Douglas and Ken Saro-Wiwa to bring justice to Ogoniland on the vast environmental devastation and injustice done to the area. He suffered several detentions in his career of fighting against military dictatorship. He served as legal adviser to the Ijaw Youth Council and founder-member of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, as well as founder, Right to Know, among others. He is chairman of the Foundation.

Now, the Foundation has a Governance/Programme Subcommittee overseen by one of Africa’s most celebrated and trusted education transformers and an international researcher of repute, BB Fakae, who revived the Bori Polytechnic and was later drafted for eight years to rescue the then traumatised and degenerated Rivers State University of Science and Technology, now Rivers State University.

Fakae hails from Kbangha in Nyokhana district of Khana LGA, Rivers State. He was a Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholar and lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), before transferring his service to his home state starting at the RSUST. He is on record to have transformed the Bori Poly to a strong institution in Rivers State before taking the RSUST to the best state-owned university in Nigeria with earth-shaking legacies such as 1000 computer centre, online examinations, total automation of admission, results, payments, and hostel allocations and student identification.

Other board members include tested men and women such as Chet Tchozewski (President of the RTC Impact Fund), Deezia Hannah Karikpo, Lebatam B. Ndegwe (PhD), a public health sector/toxic exposure expert who is now the project director. It looks like who are put in charge of the foundation is as crucial as the fund itself because of the high propensity for fraud, waste and mismanagement in Nigeria’s national life.

Now, Kiisi has been sponsoring development projects in Ogoni made up of four local council areas of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme through some accredited civil society organisations (CSOs). They later changed their model and rather created a foundation to directly execute various programmes and projects especially in human capital development and health.

Background of the fund

Ogoni land is now known globally for struggle over environmental disasters. Studies show that in 15 years 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 percent of the total oil spills in Shell worldwide.

The struggle of Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists eventually led to the cessation of oil production activities in the area in 1993, but widespread environmental damage was already done.

According to a handbook, one of the first philanthropic actions of the plaintiffs of the 2009 Wiwa vs. Shell lawsuit was the creation of the Kiisi Trust Fund with $5 million out of the $15.5 million out-of-court settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

At the time of the settlement, the Ogoni plaintiffs stated that the Kiisi Trust “should stand as one legacy of the labours of our heroes past.” This incredibly generous and selfless act by the plaintiffs was intended to be used by the Kiisi Trust Fund to support programmes in education, health, community development, and other benefits for the Ogoni people and their communities, including educational endowments, skills development, agricultural development, women’s programs, small enterprise support, and adult literacy.

In 2016, according to records made available to BusinessDay-Sunday, the Trustees of the Kiisi Trust, in a competitive bidding process, hired TrustAfrica to oversee the management of the fund as a donor-advised-fund manager on behalf of the Trustees of the Kiisi Trust in Nigeria. The funds of the Kiisi Trust are kept in separate bank accounts from TrustAfrica’s bank accounts, with most of the funds held in an investment portfolio with a reputable international investment firm, where it is generating additional income for the Kiisi Trust.

The Trust operates as a community foundation that advances the original aims and intentions of the plaintiffs of the Wiwa vs. Shell lawsuit.

. . .

Ogoni future under Kiisi

If this pace of human capital transformation and other physical infrastructure development projects continue undisturbed, the future of Ogoniland would look different, according to some board members.

The management of the Fund was also made stronger by bringing in the likes of Fakae and Ndgwe. The board said a more aggressive fundraising strategy will also be implemented with the aim to at least double the initial endowment to the Trust, allowing it to deepen its support to institutions in the Ogoni area. Perhaps, in the near future, mega organisations such as the HYPREP, NDDC, oil majors, Ecological fund, may find Kiisi worthy for donations to ensure credible application and project execution. That is what a good name and strong brand may do to the Trust if the managers keep building up the reputation capital. “This is coupled with an investment strategy that is low risk, investing in US bonds and conservative markets globally. “Success to the Trust is an empowered Ogoniland with strong institutions mandated to provide different values. “An underlying thread amongst all the components and aspirations is the need to change mindsets from an entitled one to an empowered and accountable one.”

Conclusion

In life and in death, Saro-Wiwa and his co-martyrs have lived on and have continued to make positive impacts on the Ogoni landscape and on the people the playwright so loved. If other development agencies copy the Kiisi formula, Ogoni may become a national model and pacesetter.

The complete article can be viewed here.