Kenule Beeson Saro – Wiwa (1919 – 2002)


“The men who ordain and supervise this show of shame, this tragic charade, are frightened by the word, the power of ideas, the power of the pen”

Ken Saro-Wiwa, local leader, Speaking at Ogoni Day Demonstration, Nigeria

Kenule was born on a Friday; October 10th. He was the oldest son from a prominent family in Ogoni, now Rivers State, Nigeria. Giving him his name “Tsaro”. Ken was described as a distinguished student in Secondary School, this earned him a scholarship to the University of Ibadan studying English as a major. In his duration in college Ken immersed himself in cultural & academic interests. Continuing his exceptional streak, he won various departmental prizes & joined a successful traveling drama troupe. After graduation Ken Saro-Wiwa secured a brief job as a teaching assistant in the University of Lagos, later he became a Professor of African Literature in the University of Nsukka. This position he held until the 1967 Civil war broke out.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was called to become the Civilian Administrator for the port city of Bonny in the Niger Delta & positioned himself as an Ogoni leader dedicated to the Federal cause during the Nigerian Civil war.

In the early 1970s, Saro-Wiwa served as the Regional Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State Cabinet, however he was relieved in 1973 because of his support for Ogoni autonomy.
Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, is one of Saro-Wiwa’s most notable works. It tells the story of a naive young boy being recruited by the army during the Biafran war. Saro-Wiwa also wrote proses & dramas. Transistor Radio; one of his best known plays was adapted for a television series. Basi and company; an absurd comedy adapted from Transistor Radio ran on television from 1985 to 1990. At a point it was Africa’s most watched soap opera. In 1990 Saro-Wiwa began to dedicate his time to fighting for human rights & environmental issues. Particularly the rights of people of Ogoniland, joining the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) as one of it’s earliest members. MOSOP advocated for the rights of the Ogoni people by speaking against the environmental degradation caused by the oil explorations of Royal Dutch Shell & demanding a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction. MOSOP demanded compensation for all the of environmental damage done to Ogoni lands.
Since Shell struck oil on Ogoni land in 1958, an ~ $30bn worth of oil has been extracted & out of Shell’s workforce of 5,000, less than 100 jobs went to Ogoni people.
Saro-Wiwa had been imprisoned for several months -without trial- by the Nigerian military government in 1992.

In January 1993 MOSOP had successfully organized over 300,000 peaceful marches garnering global attention to the plight of the Ogoni people. On May 21, 1994, 4 Ogoni chiefs were assassinated. Although Saro -Wiwa had nothing connecting him to the scene of the crime, he -alongside 8 other MOSOP leaders- was arrested & accused of incitement of the murders. Later dubbed the “Ogoni 9”.

The trial was riddled with bribery & corruption the military dictatorial regime ruled by Sani Abacha so often is. Saro-Wiwa & the rest of the Ogoni 9, albiet insisting on their innocence; were found guilty & sentenced to death. On 10 November 1995, the Ogoni 9 were executed by hanging by military personnel. This earned Nigerian a 3-year suspension from the Common Wealth Nations.
On 9 June 2009 Shell agreed to an out-of-court settlement of US$15.5 million to victims’ families of the Ogoni 9. The Nigerian government is still yet to allow an independent environmental assessment to determine the total extent of Shell’s pollution in the Niger Delta.

Below is a video of Ken Saro-Wiwa junior recieving the Goldman Environmental Prize award, on behalf of his then imprisoned dad.

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