#OneNGWeekly (episode 23): Life History Of Ken-Saro Wiwa

Ken-Saro Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa, in full Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa was born on 10th of Oct, 1941 in a location called Bori, near Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Saro-wiwa is a Nigerian writer and activist, who spoke out forcefully against the Nigerian military regime and the Anglo-Dutch petroleum company Royal Dutch/Shell for causing environmental damage to the land of the Ogoni people in his native Rivers state.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was attended Government College, Umuahia and later attended the University of Ibadan. He briefly taught at the University of Lagos before joining federal forces in the civil war of the late 1960s. Afterward he worked as a government administrator until 1973, when he left to concentrate on his literary career. His first novels were “Songs in a Time of War and Sozaboy” (both 1985); the latter, written in pidgin English, satirized corruption in Nigerian society. He reached his largest audience with Basi and Company, a comedic television series that ran for some 150 episodes in the 1980s. He was also a journalist and wrote poetry and children’s stories.

From about 1991 he devoted himself full-time to the causes of the Ogoni, a minority ethnic group that numbered about 500,000 people. In mid-1992 he broadened the reach of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, an organization he led. In particular, he focused on Britain, where Shell had one of its headquarters. He criticized the destructive impact of the oil industry—the main source of Nigeria’s national revenue—on the Niger delta region and demanded a greater compensatory share of oil profits for the Ogoni. As a result of mounting protest, Shell suspended operations in Ogoni lands in 1993.
Saro-Wiwa was arrested in 1994 after the deaths of four Ogoni chiefs at a political rally. In a trial by special tribunal that was denounced by foreign human rights groups, he was found guilty for alleged complicity in the murders. His execution by hanging, along with those of eight fellow activists, aroused international condemnation and led to calls for economic sanctions against Nigeria, which was suspended from the Commonwealth a day after the executions. Shell later announced its commitment to a natural gas project worth nearly $4 billion, one of the largest foreign investments in Nigerian history. In 2009 Shell paid $15.5 million in an out-of-court settlement intended to resolve a lawsuit brought against it in 1996 on behalf of members of Saro-Wiwa’s family and others. Shell, accused in the lawsuit of being complicit in human rights abuses in Nigeria and in the 1995 executions, denied any wrongdoing.

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. Born into a ruling tribal family in the Delta region of Nigeria, Saro-Wiwa was among the first graduates of the newly independent nation's University of Ibadan in 1965. He then served as a federal administrator for the Bonny Island oil terminal, a key source of the country's growing wealth from its energy reserves. Saro-Wiwa supported the federal government's efforts to stop the state of Biafra from seceding in a bloody civil war from 1967 to 1970 and at the conclusion of the war was rewarded with an appointment as the commissioner of education for the region's Rivers State. After running afoul of authorities for criticizing official corruption, Saro-Wiwa began a new career as an entrepreneur and opened stores, trading posts, and real-estate operations. He gained his greatest fame, however, as the writer of Basi & Co. a drama about the lives of street-gang members in Nigeria's then-capital, Lagos. Saro-Wiwa also remained active in politics, usually as a critic of the federal government and its actions to exploit the oil resources of his tribe's traditional homelands. In May of 1994 Saro-Wiwa was arrested for allegedly planning the deaths of some rival tribal leaders who opposed his organization, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Saro-Wiwa's trial and subsequent execution on November 10, 1995, led to an international outcry as many observers thought the entire process was designed solely to remove one of Nigeria's best known and respected opposition figures.

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 (all on the conservative side of a schism within MOSOP over strategy) were brutally murdered. Saro-Wiwa had been denied entry to Ogoniland 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 eight other MOSOP leaders who, along with Saro-Wiwa, became known as the Ogoni Nine.
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.

The trial was widely criticised by human rights organisations and, half a year later, Ken Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award[10] for his courage, as well as the Goldman Environmental Prize.

On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and the rest of the Ogoni Nine were killed by hanging by military personnel. They were buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery.
In his satirical piece Africa Kills Her Sun, first published in 1989, Saro-Wiwa in a resigned, melancholic mood foreshadowed his own execution

Quotes: *** The writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils. He or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.

*** The most important thing for me is that I've used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it. And it sure makes me feel good! I'm mentally prepared for the worst, but hopeful for the best. I think I have the moral victory.

*** I’ll tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die.


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