- August 17, 2015
- Posted by: Website Admin
- Category: People in History, Uncategorized
There is really nothing in this world too good or too ugly to be true. At least, the life and times of this hero head Ken Saro-Wiwa is a typical example. That he did great good to his Ogoni brethren is true. That the odiousness of his end by execution still holds a great deal of Nigerians spellbound as to whether, once upon a time, Nigeria truly had a mortal messiah is also unarguably true.
Quite frankly, Nigeria has birthed many mortal messiahs. It is awfully sad, however, that they are constantly being silenced, rapidly crawling towards extinction and swiftly fading away with the wind.
The life and death of Kenule Saro-Wiwa reflected the massive changes that transformed his native country of Nigeria in the last half of the twentieth century. Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa, popularly known as “Ken Saro-Wiwa” was born 10th October 1941 into a ruling tribal family in the Delta region of Nigeria. He lived till 10th November 1995 when he died by execution. Saro-Wiwa was among the first graduates of the newly independent nation’s University of Ibadan in 1965. He was a prolific Nigerian writer, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose homeland, Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s, and which has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. Initially as spokesperson, and then as president, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoni by the operations of the multinational petroleum industry, especially the Royal Dutch Shell company.
He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce environmental regulations on the foreign petroleum companies operating in the area.
At the peak of his non-violent campaign, he was tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting, and hanged in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years. As this week’s edition traverses the lanes of the gleesome/gruesome memory of the great Ken Saro-Wiwa, it’s only natural to bask in a rush of uncontrollable nostalgia. And frankly, it is highly encouraged.
What the Nigeria of today needs is to rid itself of the pool of pretenders constantly gnawing away its strides for growth and greatness. What Nigeria needs are men with hearts like lions. We need a thousand more Ken Saro-Wiwa to steer us to those heights of satisfactory and stable nation solidarity. Ken Saro-Wiwa forever thrives in the hearts of genuine Nigerians. Great icon, People in History salutes you heartily.
Ken was born in Bori. A son of Ogoni chieftain Jim Wiwa in the Niger Delta. He walked at seven months after birth, and his parents doted on him because he was, for the first seven years of his life, their only child. He spent his childhood in an Anglican home and eventually proved himself to be an excellent student; at the age of thirteen Saro-Wiwa won a scholarship to Government College in Umuahia also where Chinua Achebe and Elechi Amadi studied.
He was a model pupil and adored the English way of life., and on completion obtained another scholarship to study English at the University of Ibadan. He briefly became a teaching assistant at the University of Lagos.
However, he soon took up a government post as the federal administrator for the port city of Bonny in the Niger Delta, an oil terminal, and a key source of the country’s growing wealth from its energy reserves. During the Nigerian Civil War, he was a strong supporter of the federal cause against the Biafrans. His best known novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, tells the story of a naive village boy recruited to the army during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, and intimates the political corruption and patronage in Nigeria’s military regime of the time. Saro-Wiwa’s war diaries, On a Darkling Plain, document his experience during the war. He was also a successful businessman and television producer. His satirical television series, Basi & Company, was wildly popular, with an estimated audience of 30 million.
In the early 1970s Saro-Wiwa served as the Regional Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State Cabinet, but was dismissed in 1973 because of his support for Ogoni autonomy. In the late 1970s, he established a number of successful business ventures in retail and real estate, and during the 1980s concentrated primarily on his writing, journalism and television production.
His intellectual work was interrupted in 1987 when he re-entered the political scene, appointed by the newly installed dictator Ibrahim Babangida to aid the country’s transition to democracy.
But Saro-Wiwa soon resigned because he felt Babangida’s supposed plans for a return to democracy were disingenuous. Saro-Wiwa’s sentiments were proven correct in the coming years, as Babangida failed to relinquish power.
In 1993, Babangida annulled Nigeria’s general elections that would have transferred power to a civilian government, sparking mass civil unrest and eventually forcing him to step down, at least officially, that same year
In 1990, Saro-Wiwa began devoting most of his time to human rights and environmental causes, particularly in Ogoni land. He was one of the earliest members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which advocated for the rights of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni Bill of Rights, written by MOSOP, set out the movement’s demands, including increased autonomy for the Ogoni people, a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands. In particular, MOSOP struggled against the degradation of Ogoni lands by Royal Dutch Shell.
In 1992, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for several months, without trial, by the Nigerian military government.
Saro-Wiwa was Vice Chair in the General Assembly of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization – UNPO from 1993 to 1995. UNPO is an international, nonviolent, and democratic organisation (of which MOSOP is a member). Its members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognised or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them.
In January 1993, MOSOP organised peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people – more than half of the Ogoni population – through four Ogoni urban centres, drawing international attention to their people’s plight. The same year the Nigerian government occupied the region militarily.
On November 10 2014, it was nineteen years ago that Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer, was murdered alongside eight of his compatriots. During the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, they were sentenced to death. The regime had hoped to end opposition in the Niger Delta that way. Instead, violence escalated. Peace has only recently begun to look viable, and increasingly authorities are acting according to ideas Saro-Wiwa spelled out 20 years ago.
Besides being a successful writer, Saro-Wiwa was active in politics. He criticised the Federal Government for exploiting the oil resources of his tribe’s traditional homeland in Rivers State. He was a founding member of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the author of the Ogoni Bill of Rights and the primary opposition leader in the early 1990s.
The Ogoni are an ethnic group living in Rivers State, an area with huge oil and gas resources. About 900 million barrels of oil have been mined there, mainly by the multinational Shell, since 1958. Despite the oil wealth, the people of the Niger-Delta are extremely poor and have to cope with environmental pollution and illiteracy. In view of the downsides of multinational oil companies’ activities, Saro-Wiwa drew attention to environmental violation and people’s victimisation. An activist at heart, he took more proactive steps like organising protest marches.
He stated that “the writer must be actively involved in shaping his present and future”. So, in January 1993, Saro-Wiwa gathered 300,000 members of the Ogoni people to march peacefully, demanding a share in oil revenues and some form of political autonomy.
Saro-Wiwa paid a high price for his activism. He was detained on several occasions. He was arrested in May 1994 for alleged incitement to murder. A harrowing and lengthy trial followed. In the end, he was sentenced to death and hanged alongside eight other activists on 10th November 1995. His case drew international attention to the cause of the Ogoni people, though the solidarity campaign was not strong enough to prevent the execution of the “Ogoni Nine”.
It is nineteen long years ago that Saro-Wiwa was killed. But his ideas remain very much alive. The flame of activism lit by the martyr has defied every effort to douse it. In his last speech at the tribunal Saro-Wiwa said: “We all stand before history. My colleagues and I are not the only ones on trial. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will come. The lessons learned here may prove useful for there is no doubt that the ecological war the company has waged in the Delta, also against the Ogoni, will be questioned and punished sooner than later. In my innocence and in my utter conviction, I call upon the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights.”
Contrary to this plea, violence has not really abated in the Delta region, with various rebel groups fighting the government and, increasingly, one another. Oil production has dropped, and the country’s political leaders finally understood that they could not afford to stay aloof.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo began to make an effort to recognise the activists’ legacy by financing a unity hall in memory of the fallen heroes. The government of former President Umar Musa Yar’Adua made more progress. An amnesty programme for suspected militants in the region was set in motion, and in April of 2014, Yar’Adua approved the immediate start of a technical study of all locations affected by oil spillage in Ogoni land as a necessary prelude to the clean up.
The then government of Yar’Adua drafted plans to spend 10% of oil revenues on infrastructure and other services in the Delta Region. After years of strife, peace seemed possible once more in Ogoni.
Elijah Okougho believed that Saro-Wiwa will remain “celebrated in eternity”. He pointed out that before his death, there was no armed struggle in the Delta: “Saro-Wiwa was an intellectual and a man of peace. He did neither take up arms nor encourage people to armed struggle.” It hugely seems that what turned protestors into militants, in this view, was the execution of the novelist and activist.
Bamidele Aturu, a constitutional lawyer and a human right activist, sees Saro-Wiwa in a similar light: Saro-Wiwa made his contribution to the development of his region by drawing attention to the plights of his people, the utter degradation and environmental pollution. His strides aroused the governments after his existence to act according to his ideas in terms of developing the region till this day.
Development “is not just building infrastructure”. In Saro-Wiwa’s eyes, the development of human capital mattered more: “And that was enshrined in the Ogoni Bill of Rights. Saro-Wiwa’s family sued Shell in the USA. The oil giant agreed to pay $ 15.5 million in an out-of-court settlement, even though the spokesperson of Shell stated that the company did not acknowledge any guilt, but was prepared to contribute to a process of reconciliation.
He was eventually charged with murder and hanged along with eight others in the seacoast town of Port Harcourt, 45 miles down the road, no doubts, but his legacies have proven insurmountable.
Saro-Wiwa’s hanging brought about worldwide condemnation. It was all about the mixture of power and oil – which has long resonated here – and a common peoples movement, which was new.
Shell agreed to give 3 percent of its profits to the Ogonis. But, in a government long operated by ruthless military regimes, the said 3 percent barely reached the people. The Ogonis remained desperately poor. To raise awareness of its plight, MOSOP brought in Ken Saro-Wiwa. A popular writer and intellectual, Saro-Wiwa brought a certain cachet to the organization.
Publishing pungent essays about environmental damage and the Ogoni people, Saro-Wiwa quickly raised MOSOP’s profile. He summoned experts in the destruction of the rainforest to Ogoni land. The rainforest experts had a new cause: Ogoniland. Saro-Wiwa began to call for demonstrations at oil pumping sites. He began to ask for the same environmental standards that exist in the West. There was something else that seemed to gall the military: He began to question the way Shell and the Nigerian military operate,”
As it stood, the military had long made money from shady oil deals. Ken wanted the status quo to stop.” Steve Kretzmann, an oil analyst for Greenpeace, said Shell operated in Ogoniland “without any sense of social justice and environmental concern.” When MOSOP youths damaged its oil equipment and its flow stations were disrupted, Shell sought help. The military staged night time raids on Ogoni villages. There were reports of rapes and mass killings. According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, more than 2,000 Ogonis were murdered. Saro-Wiwa raised his voice higher. On the stump, riding from village to village in a region where bowler hats and walking sticks were popular sartorial touches, Saro-Wiwa was a riveting presence. He could enthrall, Saro-Wiwa could turn black into white.
Saro-Wiwa had eloquence and brilliance, and with his back against the wall, Saro-Wiwa staged even more rallies. “It was a dangerous game, he played.
Shortly after midnight on May 21, 1994, the military arrested Saro-Wiwa and eight others. They were not told why they were held. The day before, the village had hosted a reception for two villagers. After the reception, which followed a week of tribal bickering, four tribal chiefs who were not in support of Saro-Wiwa’s aggressive leadership of MOSOP – Albert Badey, Edward Kobani, Samuel Orage and Theophilus Orage – were chased and murdered by a rampaging mob. Then their bodies were set afire. Saro-Wiwa and the others were charged with those murders. Gani Fawehinmi was Saro-Wiwa’s lawyer. He complained about inaccessibility to his client. Because Saro-Wiwa was held at a military barracks, Fawehinmi could only see him in court. Fawehinmi complained until he was beaten by soldiers and arrested. He was jailed at the time too.
The military government then handpicked lawyers for Saro-Wiwa, but he refused their services. During his imprisonment, Saro-Wiwa, who was 54 at the time, received two distinguished awards for his work with MOSOP. The Right Livelihood Award was given in Stockholm. It is often referred to as the alternative Nobel Prize. He also received the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa from the Goldman Foundation in San Francisco.
The Association of Nigerian Authors is a sponsor of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Prose and the government of Rivers state under Ezenwo Nyesom Wike had renamed the Rivers State Polytechnic after Ken Saro-Wiwa. A plausible stride by the government to immortalise Saro-Wiwa.
Saro-Wiwa appeared in court Oct. 31, 1995. He was limping. He had no legal representation. The government’s surprise witness against him was his onetime ally Celestine Meabe. According to the trial transcript, he announced his innocence again. He also said he had been “badly brutalized” while in detention but however expressed satisfaction at the thought that he and his loyalists have made a wonderful contribution to the nation.
News of the death sentence swept across international waters. Foreign governments sent emissaries to plead with the government of Gen. Sani Abacha. Shell itself refused to intervene, saying it was an “internal” matter for Nigeria. On Nov. 10 – while much of Nigeria had its eyes glued to a national soccer match – the writer along with the eight other MOSOP members were marched to the gallows behind a barracks in Port Harcourt and hanged. The gallows itself broke down, and several of the men had to be hanged twice. “Ken was not killed because of the death of those four people,” Baton Mittee says. “He was killed because of his campaign against the government.” An emotional Prime Minister John Major of Britain called it A judicial killing”.
Reaction against the Abacha regime was swift. Ambassadors were recalled. Nigeria lost membership in the European Commonwealth, which includes former colonies. The US also condemned the hangings. Sanctions had been under consideration for an awfully long time. The bodies of Saro-Wiwa and the others were dumped in a mass grave in a Port Harcourt cemetery. Afterwards, soldiers doused the bodies with acid. Gokana village was gravely quiet.
Shell had pulled out, though it still had extensive oil operations in the country. The suffering in silence by the Ogoni people because of what happened was odious. Even though many activists had been imprisoned, still, the military maintained its checkpoints, scared of the fruits the action of the government may bear. Later on, a new exodus of many Ogoni activists complaining of harassment by authorities, and vanishings across the border into Benin was recorded. Every now and then, through and through, one is struck by the early morning noises in the village, the laughter of children climbing up from a creekbed onto a dusty road, hauling water because the wells are bad, their walk taking them across fields that have yielded millions and millions of dollars, their tummies protruding from malnutrition, their feet bare of shoes. They suffered odiously and yet they were of the loins of exceeding plenty.
Saro-Wiwa as Family Man
Saro-Wiwa was married to Maria and they had five children, who grew up with their mother in the United Kingdom while their father remained in Nigeria. They include Ken Saro Wiwa, Gian Saro Wiwa, Tedum Saro Wiwa, Noo Saro Wiwa and Nina Saro Wiwa. Noo and Zina were twins. Ken and Noo were both journalists and writers. The family was made up of men and women who pursued careers in journalism, writing and filmmaking. In addition though, Saro-Wiwa had two daughters with another woman.
To most of us, Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian activist and a martyr, a brave and inspiring campaigner who led his Ogoni people’s struggle against the decades-long defilement of their land by Big Oil, and ended up paying for it with his life.
To his family, however, he was brother, father and loving husband, even though at first, he may have been considered a distant dad by his daughter Noo, since for most of her childhood, she would see him only three or four times a year. Saro Wiwa’s family resided in England and on his regular visits to England; he would visit his wife and children. They also spent time together as a family during the long summer holidays at the family home in Port Harcourt, where Saro Wiwa lived.
Also, he was not always the perfect dad, certainly not that day in 1990, when his 14-year-old daughter, Noo, received a phone call from her uncle out of the blue. When he called, he revealed that when Noo was to visit Nigeria that summer, she and her siblings would have two new friends to play with: their half-sisters. The implication of this is that Saro Wiwa had another family different from the ones known to reside in England.
“He got his brother to tell us about them, …this whole ‘other family’ he had,” Noo said. They were eight and six by the time we learned they even existed. We were shocked, angry. We felt betrayed. Less valued. Now I see it differently. But not at the time …”
At that point, the reconciling families, meeting firsthand, could really not meet eye to eye. The siblings rebelled against each other for years. Still, Saro-Wiwa kept initiating the meeting of the two families he had, in his PortHarcourt hometown. He would constantly drag them back there for two months every summer. Enough finally seemed to be enough after Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by the country’s military dictatorship in November 1995. And at that time, there was even less of an incentive for the two warring families to meet, especially for those residing in England to return to Nigeria.
Nigeria became a repository of all their pain, fears and disappointments. It became a place “where nightmares came true”. It took them time to go back and to reappraise their father.
Before he became a world-renowned activist, Ken was a true polymath. He had an almost manic energy. He saw potential everywhere. He was a writer, he had interests in retail, property and the media. One readily sees clips of these attributes as one recalls episodes of Basi & Co, a satirical TV show Saro Wiwa produced that was for a time the most-watched soap in Africa.
His wife, Maria Saro Wiwa had moved with her children to Britain in 1977. A successful, self-made and by then relatively well-off man, Ken wanted his wife and children to have the best possible start in life. Despite whatever ulterior motives may have reared from this decision, Saro Wiwa just wanted his children to do well.
The family settled in Ewell in Surrey, and the children were sent to boarding schools; Noo went to Roedean. Ken was just this great, energetic, moustachioed presence, with fantastic bedside stories and always lots of presents and chocolates, but permanently with his pipe. According to Ken’s daughter Noo, she’d say: “When I was very young, I used to think every black man I saw with a moustache was him.”
Gradually, though, his marriage to Maria began to show signs of strain. She was not particularly pleased at her exile to England, where she spent 17 years working at a Job Centre. Maria became increasingly unhappy, sometimes tearful; rows erupted, during Ken’s visits, over clothes bought “for cousins”; Ken soon grew more and more distant.
Ken often made efforts to woo his children with the wonders of Nigeria, taking them on a road trip through the central highlands and further into the interior in the family Peugeot. Noo mainly remembers being subjected to endless recordings of Richard Clayderman’s neo-classical renderings of 70s pop hits on the car stereo.
What they may have not really grasped at the time was that their father was by then devoting most of his time and energies to campaigning. Ken was one of the first members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop), a non-violent group militating for greater autonomy, a fair share of oil revenues, and repair of the environmental destruction wrought by the oil majors, notably – and notoriously – Shell.
He started talking about his campaign with his family at some point. He would take them there after he had set up the group and published the Ogoni bill of rights. He showed them the gas flares burning in the village and the oil spills. He was very passionate about his cause but his family never really had any inkling of what it would eventually lead to.
Ken was arrested for the first time by Nigeria’s military regime in 1992 and he spent several months in prison without trial. The following year, after about 300,000 people – around half the Ogoni population – took part in peaceful marches and demonstrations across the region, the military government of General Sani Abacha sent in the troops and Ogoniland was occupied. Ken was promptly arrested once more, but released after a month.
In May 1994, four conservative Ogoni elders were murdered. Ken was immediately arrested and charged with incitement. After more than a year in jail, he and eight other senior Mosop leaders appeared before a specially convened military tribunal.
Most of the Ogoni Nine’s defence lawyers resigned at what they protested was the outrageous rigging of the trial; a number of prosecution witnesses later admitted they had been bribed to provide incriminating testimony.
If a guilty verdict came as no surprise, the sentence – death by hanging – most certainly did. Few domestic or foreign observers ever expected it to be carried out. But on 10 November, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight co-defendants were duly executed. The resulting wave of international shock and outrage, led by Nelson Mandela, who called the killings “a heinous act”, saw Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth for three years.
Back in Surrey, his children were mostly shielded from a lot of what went on in the time leading up to the execution. Maria shielded them, even though they knew he was being locked up and had spent time in prison for a long time.
From solitary confinement, Ken would write to ask how their end-of-term exams had gone – and for those who were yet to be admitted – which universities they thought of applying to.
After more than a year since the family last set eyes on him, Maria, his wife broke the news of his hanging which was a complete surprise. It was shocking that the regime would actually make good the incessant threats Ken suffered in their hands by hanging him. It was the front page of every newspaper, the top item on the TV news, and it only suddenly dawned on his children what an influential and big figure he was, and that he meant so much to them and to the Ogoni people he died defending.
On their return to Nigeria within the decade after their father’s death for his official burial in 2000, and then for his family burial five years later in his home village of Bane, next to her grandfather’s house, relatives painstakingly reassembled Ken’s exhumed skeleton. The remains was identified and eventually released after lengthy discussions with Nigeria’s new and democratically elected government. With the help of an uncle who was a medical doctor, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s carefully arranged bones were finally laid to rest.
It is actually surprisingly easy to change one’s perspective. One of Ken’s siblings Noo, who didn’t really get along with her dad when he was alive, said: “I could either have been all western about it and freaked out at the idea of touching his bones, or think: this is still my father. I shouldn’t run away from him or be scared. He needs to be properly buried. So that’s what I did.”
The family naturally became indelibly impressed by their father’s achievements, and recognized the fact that it’s such an incredibly tough country just to live in, talk less of involving in rigorous activism within its confines. Survival in Nigeria as an outspoken citizen takes tremendous skills. So to truly see what Saro-Wiwa achieved, from such a disadvantaged background economically and ethnically, and the challenges he took on over and above that – facing down a massive oil multinational, a military dictatorship, one naturally knows he was brave, and an unflinching monument for an eternally solemn reference.
The Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation, with the involvement of Saro-Wiwa’s children, and brothers, carries on Ken’s mission. Human beings are flawed. That Saro-Wiwa ran a polygamous marriage was just a pointer to his humanity. According to his daughter Noo: “When you’re young, you don’t fully understand that your parents are the product of your upbringing.
Polygamy complicates things… Look, my grandfather, my father’s father, had six wives. I’ve no idea how many children he had. So my father was already a massive improvement; a step on the road to normality. I’m grateful to him.
Arrest and execution
Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993 but was released after a month. On 21 May 1994 four Ogoni chiefs who were all on the conservative side of a schism within MOSOP over strategy were brutally murdered.
Saro-Wiwa had been denied entry to Ogoni land on the day of the murders, but he was arrested and accused of incitement to them. He denied the charges but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by a specially convened tribunal. The same happened to other MOSOP leaders which included Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine.
Some of the defendants’ lawyers resigned in protest against the alleged rigging of the trial by the Abacha regime. The resignations left the defendants to their own means against the tribunal, which continued to bring witnesses to testify against Saro-Wiwa and his peers.
Many of these supposed witnesses later admitted that they had been bribed by the Nigerian government to support the criminal allegations. At least two witnesses who testified that Saro-Wiwa was involved in the murders of the Ogoni elders later recanted, stating that they had been bribed with money and offers of jobs with Shell to give false testimony – in the presence of Shell’s lawyer. .
Whilst Saro-Wiwa was routinely tortured in prison, put in leg-irons, and denied access to family, friends, a lawyer and medication, the Internal Security Task Force, ostensibly searching for those directly responsible for the killings, started deliberately terrorising the whole community, assaulting and beating indiscriminately. Over the next few months, hundreds of Ogoni people were arrested, beaten, intimidated and killed. Many young girls, older women and pregnant women were raped. Thousands fled in terror into the bush as Okuntimo’s soldiers looted hundreds of villages destroying houses in a systematic campaign of terror to ‘sanitize Ogoni’. The following month after the Saro-Wiwa executions, an affidavit was signed by one of the two chief prosecution witnesses, Charles Danwi. It alleged that he had been bribed by Shell and others to testify against Saro-Wiwa. It read: “He was told that he would be given a house, a contract from Shell and Ompadec and some money … He was given 30,000 Naira. Another affidavit from the other Chief prosecution witness, Nayone Akpa, was signed alleging that he was offered “30,000 Naira, employment with the Gokana Local Government, weekly allowances and contracts with Ompadec and Shell” if he signed a document that implicated Saro-Wiwa too.
The trial was widely criticised by human rights organisations and, half a year later, Ken Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award for his courage as well as the Goldman Environmental Prize.
On 10th November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders (the “Ogoni Nine”) were killed by hanging at the hands of military personnel. They were buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery.
According to a controversial memo endorsed by Defiant military dictator, Sani Abacha and backed by a small band of military officers, it is widely believed that they convinced themselves that executing the Ogoni nine, swiftly, was the best way to resolve the Ogoni unrest “once and for all”, and to make it clear to Nigerians and the world that the authoritarian regime was no weakling.
A recording of the final meeting, where the decision to hang Mr. Saro-Wiwa and eight of his associates was taken had Mr. Abacha telling members of the Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, the regime’s highest decision making body, that the activists deserved no sympathy, and that hanging them would stem further discontent and prove to the world the regime was bold and courageous. He was of the view that no sympathy should be shown on the convicts so that the sentence will be a lesson to everybody.
In his satirical piece Africa Kills Her Sun first published in 1989, Saro-Wiwa in a resigned, melancholic mood foreshadowed his own execution.
His death provoked international outrage and the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as the calling back of many foreign diplomats for consultation. The United States and other countries considered imposing economic sanctions.
A memorial to Saro-Wiwa was unveiled in London on 10 November 2006 by London organisation Platform. It consisted of a sculpture in the form of a bus and was created by Nigerian-born artist Sokari Douglas Camp. It toured the UK the following year.
Saro-Wiwa strove to improve the lives of the Ogoni people and there are no doubts that he hugely succeeded in his campaign. Saro-Wiwa, mortal messiah of Ogoni land, did not die for nothing.
IN POPULAR CULTURE
Saro Wiwa’s execution is quoted and used as an inspiration for Beverley Naidoo’s 2000 novel The Other Side of Truth.
A novel, Eclipse, based on the events in Nigeria, was published by Richard North Patterson in 2009.
The folk duo Magpie included the song “Saro-Wiwa” on their album Give Light, with the credit: “Words and Music by Terry Leonino and Ken Saro-Wiwa”. An Igbo Highlife, Bongo musician hailing from Owerri in Imo State, Nigeria, is currently recording under the stage name “Saro-Wiwa”.
King Cobb Steelie, an Indie Rock – Jazz fusion band from Guelph, Ontario, Canada, wrote a song, “Rational” in their album Junior Relaxer, inspired by events surrounding Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death and the impact it had on those lucky to live in peaceful and more privileged communities.
The Finnish band Ultra Bra dedicated their song “Ken Saro-Wiwa on kuollut” (“Ken Saro-Wiwa is dead”) to the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The Italian band Il Teatro degli Orrori dedicated their song “A sangue freddo” (“In cold blood” – also the title track of their second album) to the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Amsterdam has named a street after Saro-Wiwa, the Ken Saro-Wiwastraat.
Saro Wiwa stood before history. He was a man of peace and a man of ideas. He was appalled by the denigrating poverty of his people who live on a richly endowed land till this day, but were feeding off crumbs in the midst of plenty.
Distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land which was their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives all a valid claim to human civilization, he devoted his intellectual and material resources, his very life, and his all to a cause in which he had total belief would bring forth enduring dividends.
He could not allow himself be blackmailed or intimidated. He had no doubt at all about the ultimate success of his cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which he and the “eight” who believed with him may have encountered on that gruesome journey. Neither imprisonment nor death could stop his ultimate victory.
With resounding energy, he consistently reechoed that all Nigerians stands before history. He had no doubts in his mind that the ecological war that the Company had waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and that the crimes of the war against the Ogoni people would be duly punished.
In his words: “The writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher, he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, or its perils. He or she must be actively involved in shaping its present and its future. Saro Wiwa did not shy away from protesting injustice and oppression. Saro Wiwa predicted that the scene of 10th November 1995 would be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Truly, his predictions were correct. Generations keep playing, replaying and standing in awe of the achievements of this great man. Today, People in History joins in a hearty play and replay of salutations to the great Ken Saro Wiwa.
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