More seriously, a time to remember


“Lord take my soul, but let the struggle continue.” Ken Saro-Wiwa, the day he was executed. 


Ten years ago this month, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet and respected novelist, was hanged by the Nigerian military regime of Sani Abacha. His crime was simply to raise his voice in protest, to campaign for the rights of his people.


Even today, the air in Ogoniland on the Niger Delta reeks of petroleum. For the last forty years, gas flares and fumes have poisoned the air, oil spills have killed the fish in the Delta, pipelines have torn through the farmland. Oil companies, supported by the Nigerian government have taken so many things from the half-a-million or so Ogoni people, destroyed so much yet given back so little.


Ken Saro-Wiwa had stood up for the rights of the Ogoni and opposed his Government many times. He produced a long-running satirical television series and wrote a book accusing the oil companies, and one in particular, of colluding with the government in genocide. By 1993 he had already been arrested several times, but things worsened for him and the Ogoni people after Sani Abacha took over. Saro-Wiwa, who had sought international help for his cause, was prevented from leaving the country. He was arrested in May 1995 and held in custody without being charged for several months, before being accused with the murder of four Ogoni leaders. He had not even been in Ogoniland at the time of the killings. Ken Saro-Wiwa was subjected to show trial, with the government presenting little evidence for their case. He was hanged on a makeshift gallows in Port Harcourt, not too far west of Ogoniland, in November 1995. British PM John Major noted it was “a fraudulent trial, a bad verdict, and an unjust sentence. It has now been followed by judicial murder”.


Sani Abacha died of a heart attack in his villa in 1998, according some rumours during a Viagra fuelled romp with a handful of prostitutes. Things are better now in Ogoniland and the oil companies have finally packed up and gone. But they’ve left nothing. The Ogoni people are still poor, still struggling for their freedom; their homeland is still polluted. The army still rules the Niger Delta with an iron fist.


I was in University when Saro-Wiwa was executed. I remember talking about him with other students, even giving a speech at a Student Union meeting. We all knew he would be executed, but when it happened, I kicked the furniture and punched the wall in anger.


Ken Saro-Wiwa was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in absentia in 1994. In 1996 he was posthumously elected to UNEP’s Global Roll of Honour. Saro-Wiwa was an innocent man, a good man who dared to speak out for freedom and justice. His life, his work, his death, deserved to be remembered.

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