First time I heard of the name ‘ken saro wiwa’ was during a government class in SS1 and also in my literature class. I can clearly remember how we beat our palms on our school desk chanting the words ‘Ken Saro wiwa’ in a sing song manner in order to remember the poems written by him. That was how I heard the name of the great Ogoni leader who is strongly remembered with a smile on his face and one hand lifted up in solidarity with his people.
Kenule Beeson Saro-wiwa later known as Ken Saro-Wiwa was born on October 10th, 1941 in Bori near Portharcourt, Nigeria. He is well known to be a television producer, poet, and writer of children’s stories and became known worldwide as an environmental activist. He was an African Literature lecturer in Nsukka before the Nigerian civil war. His works are “songs in a time of war” and Soza boy: A novel in pidgin English (1985), His war diaries “On a darkling Plain (1989)”, and his satirical television series- Basi and company which aired in the 1980s (Encyclopaedia Britannia, Wikipedia).
In 1990, Ken Saro-wiwa became actively involved in politics and environmental activism. He was the President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). His main focus was on protecting the Ogoni people who were less than a million and a minority group in the Niger Delta region. Ogoni land was one of the lands in which oil was discovered and also a land where oil spillage had destroyed the once fertile soil and the riverine area where the natives were predominantly fishermen. The region had been exploited by the multinational oil companies whose actions had been left unchecked by the owners and also by the Military Government in power.
Ken Saro-wiwa became a front runner and a spoke person for his people whose farmlands and riverine areas had been destroyed due to oil spills, acid rain, and the death of life in the rivers. In January 1993, under the dictatorship regime of Late Gen. Sani Abacha, he led the first massive peaceful protest to demand that oil companies be made to pay compensations to the community, to be held accountable for the environmental pollution of the land and water, and also for the Ogoni people to revenues and have political autonomy over their oil.
Due to his consistent activism against the health hazards for his people, Shell suspended operations in Ogoni land. Alas, his victory was short-lived as he was arrested in 1994 for the death of four Ogoni Chiefs at a political party along with eight fellow activists collectively known as the “Ogoni Nine”.
On 10th November 1995, Ken Saro-wiwa and the eight activists were hanged after being tried by a military tribunal and convicted of murder. The “Ogoni Nine” execution was carried out despite local and international outcry who had condemned the trial and deemed it fraudulent. This led to Economic sanctions and Nigeria being suspended from the Commonwealth. Ken Saro-wiwa is known to be one of Nigeria’s bedrocks of environmental activism and a defender of Human rights.
Awards conferred on him are the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Award, the Right Livelihood for his courage, and Goldman Environmental Prize. In the 17th edition, 2015 of the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), the Ken Saro-wiwa price was initiated (United Nations meetings coverage and press releases, Goldman Environmental Price, Nigerian Vanguard).
Today, we remember a hero who fought till his last breath for his people.