Before Nigeria’s most brutal military government headed by late General Sani Abacha snuffed the life out of him on November 10, 1995 by hanging, Ken Saro-Wiwa had established himself as a hero, a human rights activist, and an impeccable character who could not be bought over. Just as late legal luminary, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was a pain in the neck of successive Nigeria’s military dictatorship, so was Ken Saro-Wiwa, the nemesis of oil companies operating in his Niger Delta country home.
The great novelist and television producer, against the selfish wish of Nigerian government and its collaborators in the Niger Delta was consistently concerned about the ill-treatment of his people within the Nigerian Federation. When it became obvious that all the late writer’s attempt to make Nigerian government see reason beyond the selfish exploitation of his kinsmen would not yield good fruits, the Ogoni-born environmentalist launched a non-violent movement for social and ecological justice in 1990. He accused the Nigerian government and the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, especially in his Ogoni country home of waging an ecological war against the Ogonis which in truth had precipitated the genocide of the Ogoni people.
His unrelenting attacks were so effective that by 1993, the oil companies had to pull out from Ogoni. Although, this victory he achieved from his kinsmen later cost him his life on November 10, 1995 when the late General Sani Abacha’s military government hanged him. The fact remains that Ken Saro-Wiwa did not die in vain. His struggle for justice against the cruelty of Nigerian government and the oil companies at least paid off.
It was in the light of this that The Tide decides to look at the life and times of this great novelist and environmentalist. Our correspondent, TANEH BEMENE unveiled the strength behind Ken Saro-Wiwa’s struggle , the intrigues involved and the strategies employed by the late environmentalist to achieve his aim.
Passing years often carry with them the ordeals of a nation. The story of Nigeria’s socio-economic and political transformation as a democratic state is replete with struggles, agitations, sacrifices and betrayals.
The Ogonis, a minority group in Nigeria, epitomizes Minority Rights struggle in the country. The Ogonis, led by Saro Wiwa in the early 1990s, raised awareness within and outside the Nigerian state over the perceived marginalization of the people. Saro-Wiwa registered the discontent of the people at the United Nations, seeking international intervention over the injustices meted out to his people. The Ogonis were explicit in their demands which include, self determination and liberation from environmental degradation, political marginalization and economic strangulation. A fundamental demand of the Ogonis is the creation of a state for them.
When General Sani Abacha seized the reign of power in Nigeria, he adopted a psychopathic obsession to retain power, and many Nigerians worshipped at his altar. Only few men of courage resisted the ruthless General and by all indications, the Ogoni demand for justice was offensive to Abacha. But Saro-Wiwa, the diminutive Ogoni-born activist, woke up a hitherto docile Ogoni people through the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) to protest the degradation of their oil rich environment. The major culprit accused by MOSOP in the environmental crime were the Royal Dutch Shell and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Saro-Wiwa’s conviction in the struggle was as firm as his strategy. Believing that the Ogonis and the dispossessed oil rich Niger Delta region has an inalienable right in the Nigerian State, he employed a mass action to rouse the insensitivity of the powers that be to the plight of the people. Saro Wiwa rattled the military junta with such bold courage and vocal criticism in his demand for justice that getting rid of him became a national emergency.
However, he read the mind of Nigerian dictators. He knew that greed for Niger Delta oil money had bolted their hearts against the pitiable condition of the people and driven them to such extremities that debased their sense of humanity.
He wrote in one of his celebrated literary pieces that his reaction to the draconian policies of the military and Shell, that yoked his people under indigenous colonialism, will earn him their wrath. “What is it to live at the mercy of buffoons who use state terrorism to subdue you to dust”.
On November 10, 1995, the Abacha military government contemptuously murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow Ogoni compatriots. Abacha was not a man of letters and so damned the consequences of killing a writer of 27 books. Lovers of literature where shocked over the judicial murder of the former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
The wide condemnation that greeted the killing of Saro Wiwa and eight others did not unnerve Abacha. Reveling in the macabre dance steps of a depraved emperor, Abacha’s violent temper spewed forth against any person that faulted his sanctimonious approach to governance. Many Nigerian patriots fell to the gun of Abacha’s goons. The cataclysmic activities of the junta further bastardized the already waning international reputation of the country.
Nigeria was suspended from the United Nations, and the country became the epicenter of political misadventure, with surplus appropriation of tax payers’ money for public office holders. The Ogonis and other concerned Nigerian patriots were disconsolate.
They wished Saro Wiwa were incarcerated like Nelson Mandela who left the prison shackle after 27 years to become the president of his country.
But the Nigerian government exemplified by Abacha was vicious. It embarked on the wastages of the country’s best brains. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate who criticized the General, escaped death by the whiskers. He fled the country after surviving various assassination attempts by Abacha’s goons.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was witty and full of great laughs. But most of his roarous laughter was sarcastic and reflective of the many unanswered questions of the country. He faulted the false existence of the nation as a federation because of the unequal partnership among the component units.
His faith in a new Nigeria gave him stability in the struggle and placed him over his tormentors. A man of considerable fortune and comfort, Saro-Wiwa compromised such privileges that superficially define achievement in Nigeria, and staked his life for his people.
He detested such opportunistic thinking that make Nigerian leaders make the most of their country materially at the expense of the masses. Saro-Wiwa formed MOSOP as a grassroots organization that drew its strength from affiliate bodies representative of all segments of the Ogoni people. While alive, he urged the Ogonis to engrave in their hearts the true ideals of the struggle. The real adherents of the struggle are therefore the ordinary Ogonis that have the principles and ideas of the struggle imprinted in their hearts.
The ultimate success of the Ogoni struggle is the total liberation of poverty which is still very much at home with the people.
16 years after the death of Saro-Wiwa, the struggle he pioneered for his people is yet to receive desired attention from the federal government.