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Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa 22 years after

Ken Saro-Wiwa

It is exactly 22 years now since the renowned playwright, environmentalist, and leader of Ogoni people, Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa, was arrested in Ogoni in May 1994 on framed-up murder charges for the killing of four Ogoni chiefs. After a show trial and detention period by the Nigerian State, led by late General Sani Abacha that lasted 29 months, he was eventually hanged along with eight other Ogoni activists on November 10, 1994. Though 22 years have come and gone since his gruesome and barbaric murder, the imprint and impact of his leader style remain indelible in all Ogoni men and women, young and old, a vacuum that would be difficult to fill for a very long time.

Saro-Wiwa exuded a trait of simplicity, sincerity of purpose, generosity and above all a noble mien, which attracted to him both strangers and familiar people of all races, class and tribes, the world over. He single-handedly mobilised his Ogoni people from state of political asphyxia to a state of political consciousness and environmental alertness. His mobilisation activities were impelled by the negative oil exploration attitude of Shell Petroleum, an oil company, which has up to 24 well in oil-rich Ogoni land.

For a period spanning over 50 years, Shell had been involved in oil mining in Ogoni. In the process, its activities despoiled and polluted Ogoni environment with avoidable oil-spillages, thus rending all aquatic lives inert, the entire Ogoni water polluted, fishes killed; these made it impossible for fishing and farming activities, which are the main economic sustenance and livelihood as the people depended on peasant farming and fishing. The entire Ogoni people lived in penury, pristine conditions, mostly inflicted by strange diseases and when they go to the hospital, there were no drugs to treat their children, who could not going to school because their parents’ means of fetching school fees had being destroyed by the oil exploration. Death resulting from strange sickness caused by drinking polluted water was commonplace. These and many more anti-social and anti-economic activities of Shell, as well as the lukewarm attitude of the Nigeria government to address the people’s problems, prompted Saro-Wiwa to swing into action to salvage the deplorable conditions of his people. He used Ogoni as a template upon which his based his argument and struggles but he was ultimately fighting for the entire Niger Delta, comprising of Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Imo, Cross River and Akwa Ibom States.

He was arrested and detained several times by the military junter of the time. In one of his normal conversations with me, he said: ‘David, I know they are going to kill me. You must prepare to start from were I’II stop; the Nigerian state does not want the truth and their main plan is to cause genocide in Ogoni.’

His struggle was a light and the wealthy and powerful found it discomforting, hence they resolved to exterminate him. Saro-Wiwa was saying things they did not want to hear, even if they were true. Even more worrying, he had successfully mobilised his people, the Ogoni, a minority ethnic group in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where Royal/Dutch Shell and several other transnational companies, which had been producing oil for over four decades without leaving anything in form of compensation behind, to address the degradation of the environment and to stand up and insist that enough was enough!

Eventually, on November 10, 1995, the Nigerian military regime under Abacha hanged Saro-Wiwa, and eight other members of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). The hangings followed soon after they were tried and convicted by a kangaroo military tribunal for alleged conspiracy in the murder of four Ogoni Chiefs, on May 21, 1994. No opportunity was allowed for any form of appeal. The hangings, which were condemned the world over, as ‘judicial murder’ took place on the morning of the first day of the Commonwealth Conference in Auckland, which led to Nigeria’s suspension from the organisation.

Before the death sentence was pronounced by the presiding judge, Saro-Wiwa addressed the tribunal and made some far-reaching g and deep-rooted predictions on Nigerians and Shell. Actually, history has vindicated him. All Nigerians are today facing one form of depression and social deprivation or the other. Many forms of political upheavals culminating in social disobedience are taking place.

The second prediction made by Saro-Wiwa was that it was not only him and his colleagues that were on trail at the tribunal. Shell, according to him, was equally on trail. Today, it can be proven that Shell is having a series of problems all over the world that mares its corporate image and reputation elsewhere apart from Nigeria, a position that it cannot repudiate.

The third prediction made by the playwright was that “the Nigerian nation, its present and, of course, future rulers and all those who assist them are on trail.” Since 1995, the Nigerian State and its rulers have been having one problem or the other, problems, which are novel in nature and defy all known solutions. These do not exclude those assisting the state to perfect its heinous state atrocities against the helpless, voice less and defense less people, who own all the resources that have helped to develop other places. Saro-Wiwa also predicted that the scene played out at that infamous tribunal would be played out and replayed out by generations yet born. Clearly, we have seen unprecedented spate of crimes, kidnapping, Boko Haram insurgency, oil theft and a host of other crime against the state. All these happenings suggest to the nations and its collaborators that all is not well with the wealth they are benefitting at the expense of the people in the oil-rich region, who suffer in the devastation of oil activities such as polluted environment.

Saro-Wiwa’s death was divine. He died so that his people will live. But that is not the case today. The Nigerian State has treated his death with frivolity by failing to address the problems for which he died. Ogoni people are looking forward to the day the United Nations’ environmental assessment of Ogoniland report would be addressed by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The cleaning of Ogoni environment has been unusually politicised. God will certainly judged those behind Ogoni genocide and neglect!

* Ekun is a Management Consultant based in Abuja

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Ken Saro-WiwaMOSOP


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