“Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time, money and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow. We must keep on striving to make the world a better place for all of mankind - each one contributing his/her bit, in his or her own way.” Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995)
A couple of weeks ago, I read this statement almost teary-eyed (yes I do get emotional, and grown men do cry - not saying it got to that…anyway it’s our little secret). I was 14years younger when Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were executed. A little too young to fully recognise the significance of the cause he not only fought for but sacrificed his life for. But taking it all in now at a wiser age, I dare say that we fail to recognise the everyday “Jesuses” (Christians please forgive my blasphemy but the circumstances warrant the name) who put everything on the line even when it ultimately costs their lives. Yes, Nigerians are quick to reference religious martyrs but the very people who shoulder society’s burdens to their graves are quickly forgotten.
And I am guilty as charged, I forgot but I was reminded. Not reminded at home in Nigeria but abroad in Dublin, Republic of Ireland (http://flickr.com/photos/24935400@N06/sets/72157608792269359/). Adelaide Road in Dublin which was named after Queen Adelaide of England, wife of King William IV was renamed in 2008. But life little ironies appeal to those who look a little closer. That said, it might interest you to know that Ken Saro Wiwa Street, Dublin is not only home to the Department of Natural Resources but even more ironically, the main entrance of the headquarters of Shell Exploration and Production Ireland limited. I guess since we failed to remember, someone somewhere though noble in thought re-wrote history. Our history, our story, our unsung hero.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a well known Nigerian author and television producer. He was president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), an organization set up to defend the environmental and human rights of the Ogoni people who live in the Niger Delta.
Since Royal Dutch Shell struck oil on Ogoni lands in 1958, an estimated $30 billion worth of oil has been extracted. In return the Ogoni, a group of 550,000 farmers and fishermen inhabiting this coastal land, have received little except a ravaged environment. Once fertile farmland has been laid waste by oil spills and acid rain. Uncontrolled oil spills dotted the landscape with puddles of ooze the size of football fields. Virtually all fish and wildlife have vanished. The following excerpt from Ken Aro Wiwa’s closing statement at the Nigerian Military Tribunal explains what motivated him to sacrifice all.
“We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory”.
In January 1993 300,000 Ogoni’s led my Saro-Wiwa marched peacefully to demand a share in oil revenues. They also requested the oil companies to begin environmental remediation and pay compensation for past damage. In May 1994 Saro-Wiwa, who had been briefly imprisoned several times before, was abducted from his home and jailed along with 8 other MOSOP leaders in connection with the murder of four Ogoni leaders. The Nigerian military took control of Ogoniland subjecting people to mass arrest, rape, execution and the burning and looting of their villages.
In October 1995 a military tribunal tried and convicted Saro-Wiwa of murder. Governments and citizens’ organizations worldwide condemned the trial as fraudulent, and urged the Nigerian dictator to spare Saro-Wiwa’s life. They also called upon Shell to intervene.
Shell’s call for “quiet diplomacy” in the 11th hour following the confirmation of the death sentence by the Nigerian Ruling Council has a hollow ring. Shell had ample opportunity to demonstrate concern over the 17 months of Ken’s incarceration and trial. They chose to maintain their cosy relationship with the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha to secure oil profits rather than condemn the brutal and unjust arrest and later sentencing of non-violent environmental campaigners.
On November 10, 1995 Saro-Wiwa and his eight co-defendants were hanged. According to most accounts, Ken was the last person to be hanged and so was forced to watch the death of his colleagues. Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in Port Harcourt prison—at the fifth attempt—on November 10, 1995.
In the word of Ken Saro-Wiwa “In Nigeria, the only wrongdoers are those who do no wrong”. But an even greater crime would be to neglect those who died to doing right.