Ogoni people

The Ogoni people are one of the many indigenous peoples in the Niger Delta region of southeast Nigeria. They number about a half million people and live in a 404-square mile 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, Gokana, Tai, and Eleme. Traditionally, Ogoniland is divided into the six kingdoms of Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Ken-Khana, Nyo-Khana, and Tai. Unlike many other Nigerian minorities, the Ogoni have no myth of their common origin around which to rally to be used as a cause for unification.

The Ogoni speak the related, but not mutually intelligible languages of Khana, Gokana, Tai (Tẹẹ), Baan and Eleme, part of the linguistic diversity of the Niger Delta. The spelling 'Khana' is common, but incorrect, Suanu Ikoro's 1996 grammar shows. The Ogoni languages are usually considered to be part of the Cross River group of Benue-Congo, although the evidence for such a grouping remains tenuous. They constitute a very cohesive group, with common lexemes often shared between all five lects. This suggests that the break-up of the group is relatively recent, perhaps roughly coincident with early European contact, although there is no direct documentation for such an event. It is striking, however, that they are lexically and morphologically very distinct from their alleged nearest relatives, the Central Delta languages. This rather suggests that the ancestral language was isolated for a long period of time and underwent an expansion some centuries ago.


Like many peoples on the Guinea coast, the Ogoni have an internal political structure led by chiefs. They survived the period of the slave trade in relative isolation, losing few if 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 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.”

The National Union of Ogoni Students ("NUOS International") USA

The National Union of Ogoni Students (NUOS International) USA is an independent, non-profit organisation that functions as the students unit of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). NUOS strives to enhance and enrich the quality of life through Educational, Charitable, Socio-cultural, Scientific and Environmental purposes for all indigenous students. NUOS provides Research, Advocacy, and Enlightens minority / indigenous students and the public on the plight and educational barriers that face indigenous and minority students. NUOS USA sent a petition to U.S. President George W Bush in July 2006 seeking his intervention in relation to the actions of the Nigerian government and the activities of Shell in Nigeria.

Human Rights Violation

The Ogoni people have been victims of human right violations over the years. In 1990, Mobile Police Men (MPF) shot down protesters against Shell in the village of Umuechem, killing 80 people and destroying 495 homes. In 1993, following protests that were designed to stop contractors from laying a new pipeline for Shell, the MOF 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.



Brosnahan, L.F. 1967. A word list of the Gokana dialect of Ogoni. Journal of West African Languages, 143-52.

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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