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A Journey to Ireland

Patrick Naagbanton - FrontLine Human Rights Defender from Nigeria

I have a particular interest in any news or story about the land and people of Ireland, whether the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. I always have a longing to undertake an expedition to the place. The former is located in the northwestern Europe, with its headquarters at Dublin, while the latter edges on the southern and western axles of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom (UK) with its capital at Belfast. The two countries (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) are just one people and one country. That today they are separated from one another is a colonial creation and tragedy. I grew up to love the Irish people and its land based on a story my mother and maternal uncle told me about the circumstances of my birth in one far-off Ogoni village in the southernmost part of Nigeria. The story had it that it was Irish nurses of the Catholic Church who took care of me when I was born. They provided free medicine for my mother, bathed me regularly and even when I left the health centre, they were still visiting my mother in her home to ensure that I was fine. They said the Irish nurses (about 4 of them) did that for several months after my birth, a remarkable act of compassion and human kindness from my Irish sisters.

Anytime I tell my mother that I want to travel abroad, she would ask me whether I will travel to Ireland and see those nurses. She is also in love with Irish people and their country. When somebody does well to me either directly or indirectly I find it difficult to forget it. That is my story with Irish people. Sometimes last year, I got an email from Front Line, the Dublin-based Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, to attend the 5th Dublin platform for Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). I was extremely happy. I told my mother and she said I should extend her regards to the nurses who helped her. I laughed hysterically, and explained to her that Ireland is a country and not like a village like the one she lives and can not recognize everybody. Who knows whether the nurses are still alive.

I was in jubilant mood on that icy tuesday afternoon, February 9, 2010 as I walked into Aer Lingus, that colourful Irish aircraft at Heathrow airport in London, the capital of the UK, to commence my voyage to the Irish country. After the ritual associated with air travels of checking in, the air craft zoomed off into the windy womb of the sky. We wondered there for about 50 minutes until we arrived at that admirable Dublin airport, the busiest airport in Ireland. The airport snakes in and out into the compact city of Dublin.

I was over the moon to be in Ireland, the “Island of saints and scholars” whose nurses helped my mother to sustain my life in the distant Ogoni village then. A country that produces the likes of Majella Mc Carron, the Catholic sister, scholar and activist whose solidarity promoted the Ogoni non-violent struggle globally. I met 70-year-old Sister Majella in Ireland recently whose people had also mobilized and organized great resistance, because of the violence meted out to the poor villagers of Rossport of the Eris peninsular in the northwest of Ireland by Royal Dutch Shell over a high pressure gas pipeline it wants to lay through Rossport. (See my piece, “The Silence of The Irish Farmers”, The Port Harcourt Telegraph, August 31, 2005). “The Rossport victims call themselves the Bogoni as they live on a bog and not on a delta”. Sister Majella who spent over 17 years in Nigeria and learnt about the Ogoni struggle and people, got inspired by it. She has been keeping the memory of Saro-Wiwa and the struggle alive in her Bogoni country.

Another extraordinary thing about Ireland is that, it is the home of literature and literary giants and critics. A country that produces amongst other great writers like Jonathan Swift (30, November, 1667 – October 19, 1745), that celebrated poet, satirist, essayist who wrote that famous satire, Gulliver’s Travels (1726). The book is about tales of the dwarfs and giants in a secluded part of the world. I visited the Saint Patrick Cathedral where swift was buried while in that fine-looking Irish country. Indeed, Ken Saro-Wiwa, the hanged Nigerian poet, satirist, writer - activist and essayist was greatly influenced by the swiftian satires. Ireland is also the home of William Butler Yeasts (June 13 1865 – January 28, 1939), the great poet, Nobel Prize winner for literature and one of the leaders of the Irish renaissance. The Irish literary renaissance also called Celtic renaissance of the late 19th and 20th century re-awakened the folklore, legends and traditions of the Irish people through the work of literature in their agitation for self-government.
Saro-wiwa also received arousal from that renaissance. Chinua Achebe, the celebrated Nigerian novelist, essayist and author of that shaping novel, “Things Fall Apart” (1958), took the title of his book from Yeast’s poem, The Second Coming. “- - -Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world; the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere- - -”. Ireland has produced four Nobel Prize Winners for literature. Apart from Yeasts, George Barnard Shaw (1856 - 1950), the journalist and playwright also won the coveted prize for literature for his works dealing with social problems of his time. His historical play, Arms and The Man (1894) satirizes the futility of war and those who promote it. It is based on the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885. Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989) and Seamus Heaney (1939 - -?), These Irish playwrights, poets and journalists also won the Nobel Prize for literature at different times from the Swedish Academy. Apart from the above, Ireland has produced a great number of literary figures whose works have influenced scholarship, criticisms and renaissance globally.

According to Front Line, “A Human Rights defender (HRD) is any individual who works on behalf of their fellow citizens to uphold any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN on 10th December 1948. The Dublin platform for Human Rights Defenders has previously been held in January 2002, September 2003, October 2005 and November 2007; each time bringing together over 100 human rights defenders at risks from over 70 countries” Front line is a great organization doing great work. Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) needs to be protected. Putting one’s life on the line for others is one of the most dangerous things I will not recommend for any one precious to me. One could be killed, imprisoned, threatened and deprived of available opportunities because one stands up to speak or write bravely against unpopular, repressive and vicious regimes and their perfidious acts. On December 9, 2008, the international secretariat of the London-based human rights movement, Amnesty International (AI) voted me as a Human Rights Defender (HRD). Also Jose Luis Urbamo from the Latin America country of Venezuela, Somchai Hamlaor or from the Thailand, Svetlana Gannushkina, a female professor of Mathematics from Russia and Ahmed Seif El-Islam, an Egyptian lawyer were also voted as defenders in that year by AI.
The Frontline forum brought together Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) from different countries and professions across Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, to discuss the hazards, share experiences and strategies on how to protect these endangered people called HRDs. At the forum when my colleagues from other parts of the globe told the sorrowful tales of tragedies that has befallen them and other departed defenders, I was awash with empathy and my doggedness to fight on, in spite of the risks got re-ignited.

The world is becoming more dangerous for defenders like us than ever. But, if we don’t stand up to do it, who will? “For even in death, there may be triumph, even in living there may be loss, and failure. Living in compromise is a disastrous life, particularly when what you are fighting for is fundamental” – These are the immortal words of Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi (April 22, 1938 – September 5, 2009), the notable Nigerian human rights defender, lawyer, writer and publisher.

Above is the main principle that underlines the assemblage of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) brought together by the Front Line, my dear Ireland! I shall come again!                   

Naagbanton writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State Capital, Nigeria


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