Remembering Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa


Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa popularly called Ken Saro Wiwa was born on October 10, 1941, the eldest son of a prominent family in Ogoni, which is today in Rivers State, Nigeria. He got his B.A. from the University of Ibadan in 1965 before getting married in 1967 to Nene Wiwa with whom he had five children.

He was consistently concerned about the treatment of Ogoni within the Nigerian Federation and in 1973 was dismissed from his post as Regional Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State cabinet, for advocating greater Ogoni autonomy. In 1990, Saro Wiwa started to dedicate himself to the amelioration of the problems of the oil-producing regions of the Niger Delta. Focusing on his homeland – Ogoni. He launched a non-violent movement for social and ecological justice. In this role, he attacked the oil companies and the Nigerian government accusing them of waging an ecological war against the Ogoni and precipitating the genocide of the Ogoni people. He was so effective, that by 1993 the oil companies had to pull out of Ogoni. This however cost him his life.

The “Ogoni Nine,” as the defendants became known, were trialled 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. Kenule Saro Wiwa was afterwards executed on November 10, 1995.

The 1995 Trial took 17 months of highly criticised trials for the authorities to kill Saro Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen on 10 November 1995. He can be regarded as one of Nigeria’s best orators. 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.

Saro Wiwa developed the idea of indigenous imperialism claiming that the Nigerian domination of the Ogoni was no different from the British rule over Nigeria. For him, being Nigerian meant transcending the idea of ethnicity to dominate the country’s political scene. He realised that ethnic politics was the key to having a political voice in Nigeria, but he wanted to change it.

Ken Saro Wiwa’s literary works gave him both name recognition in Nigeria and a door into European and American intelligentsia through his novels, short stories and poetry. Prisoners of Jebs and Basi and company were his most prominent works. The latter was one of the most successful television show in Nigeria history. People from all over the country could relate to it because it spoke to the ideas that made Nigerians what they are.

In June 2009, shell agreed in New York to pay out 15.5 million dollars to Ken Saro Wiwa’s family as well as the other 8 Ogoni activists who were executed in 1995. This shows that even in death, Saro Wiwa has prospered the cause of the Ogonis more than in life. While on trial before death, he said “I am a man of ideas in and out of prison… my ideas will live.” So perhaps Saro-Wiwa’s most important legacy was the push to hold corporations accountable when their operations violate local or international laws and the companies hide behind a complicit or ineffectual government.


Compiled by SOLA ALOGBA


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