'We either win this war to save our land, or we will be exterminated, because we have nowhere to run to.'
- Ken Saro-Wiwa, MOSOP A renowned poet and environmentalist.
Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (b.October 10, 1941-died November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian writer of satiral novels ; civil rights activist, television producer .In 1994 Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned by order of the dictator Sani Abacha. He had strongly defended the rights of the Ogoni people and criticized the government's oil policy with Royal Dutch/Shell. Despite wide international protests, Saro-Wiwa was hanged after a show trial with other eight Ogoni rights activists in Port Harcourt, on November 10, 1995.
married Nene Saro-Wiwa in 1967; children: Ken, Gian, Tedum, Noo, and Nina
Education: University of Ibadan, BA, 1965.
Politics: Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)
Memberships: Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, party official and founder, 1987-95.
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.
Became Activist for Ogoni Rights
Saro-Wiwa became a nationally recognized figure in the 1980s, not as a businessman but as the writer and producer of Basi & Co., a television drama that depicted the lives of street-gang youths in Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa also authored dozens of novels and collections of poetry and wrote a regular column for the Lagos Sunday Times, which gained him an audience outside of Nigeria. It was politics, however, that preoccupied most of Saro-Wiwa's attention by the end of the decade. Although he served briefly in one presidential administration in 1987, the corruption and repression of Nigeria's successive military regimes confirmed Saro-Wiwa's belief that it was no longer possible to work within the country's official power structure.
As a founding member in 1990 of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the author of The Ogoni Bill of Rights, and an activist with ties to Greenpeace International, Saro-Wiwa became the foremost opposition leader in Nigeria. Under Saro-Wiwa's leadership, MOSOP likewise became one of the most visible organizations in protesting the economic exploitation and environmental degradation of the Delta region, where most of the country's oil reserves were located.
Despite Saro-Wiwa's forceful presence, however, MOSOP was split among several competing factions, with some groups engaging in terrorism and violence to make their demands known. Saro-Wiwa also faced opposition from some Ogoni tribal elders who believed that the group should continue to negotiate with the international oil companies instead of turning their backs on further talks. On May 21, 1994, when four of Saro-Wiwa's opponents were killed in an ambush led by a MOSOP splinter group, the Nigerian government laid the blame on Saro-Wiwa, who was arrested along with eight of his colleagues. The fact that Saro-Wiwa had long dismissed such terrorist tactics and was working to suppress such violence was disregarded by the regime of General Sani Abacha, who had seized power in November of 1993.
The "Ogoni Nine," as the defendants became known, were tried by a Nigerian military court in proceedings that international observers condemned as patently unfair. Despite the international outcry, Saro-Wiwa was convicted and sentenced to death. Saro-Wiwa used his last statement in court to make an impassioned critique of Nigeria's dilemma. "On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them," he told the court, "Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence.... We all stand on trial, my Lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardized the future of our children." Kenule Saro-Wiwa was executed on November 10, 1995.
The 1995 Trial
It took 17 months of highly criticised trials for the authorities to kill Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen on 10 November 1995. Easily one of Nigeria’s best orators, Saro-Wiwa used the platform of the trial to state his case more forcefully to a global audience that Greenpeace, the environmental group, had keyed to the case
Saro-Wiwa and his kinsmen were hanged at Port Harcourt Prisons before they could appeal their death sentence. The world was appalled, in particular over the denial of the right of appeal
In death, Saro-Wiwa prospered the cause of the Ogonis more than in life. He became a reference point that refuses to go away and a big symbol of the struggle for emancipation of the Niger Delta
Shell agreed in New York to pay out 15.5 million dollars (10.7 million euros) to relatives of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others executed in 1995 in what plaintiffs said was a campaign of repression backed by the oil giant.
The settlement brings to an end a long battle by the Nigerian victims and means that Shell avoids a potentially embarrassing court case while having to accept no actual wrongdoing.
But Kpalap( spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), insisted Shell must still address the issue of environmental pollution and change the way it does business in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where farmers and fishermen are being driven off.
"For a lasting peace in the Ogoni land, Shell has to change its attitude towards the people. Shell should treat us as civilised human beings and not those to be exploited because of our oil," he said.
"In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son's Journey to Understand His Father's Legacy" is a biography which Ken Wiwa dedicated to the memory of his father.
He travelled around the world lobbying world leaders and mobilizing public opinion, so that his father was recognized as a hero and a symbol of the struggle for environmental justice. The Saro-Wiwa name became global currency for righteousness.
Ken Wiwa has embarked on a book that tells the story—from a human, anecdotal perspective—of what it means to grow up as a child in the shadow of such extraordinary men and women. In the end, it's about Ken's attempts to make peace with himself and his father—following his journey as he reaches toward a final rendezvous with the father who was snatched by the hangman.
" I am a man of ideas in and out of prison -- my ideas will live." Ken Saro Wiwa.