Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995)

Ken Saro-Wiwa remains the best activist the Niger delta has ever produced. He was martyred because of his ideas and guts.

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Lecturer, Administrator, Novelist/Poet, Politician, Entrepreneur, Activist

Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa was a renowned novelist and television producer during the late 1970s to 1990s. He was martyred due to his human rights and environmental activism.

Synopsis

Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995) widely known as Ken Saro-Wiwa, hails from Bori town in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State. In the late 1960s to 1980s, he had a varied career life as a poet, an administrator, novelist and television producer (Basi and Company). Subsequently, in the 1990s, he became an ardent activist for the rights of the Ogoni people and also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government oil policies alongside with Royal Dutch/shell. At the peak of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s non-violent campaign, he was arrested and tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of some notable Ogoni elites at a pro-government meeting and afterwards he was found guilty and executed. He was 54 years old.

Early Life and Education

Ken Saro-Wiwa was born in Bori town in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State, Niger Delta on 10 October 1941, to Chief Jim Wiwa and Mrs. Widu. His father was a forest guard and a polygamist while his mother the third wife of Jim Wiwa was a farmer and trader. Ken Saro-Wiwa had a Christian upbringing (Anglican Communion). In the mid-1940s. He had his primary education at Native Authority School in Bori town Southern Nigeria and he later proceeded to Government College Umuahia for his secondary education in the 1950s. Ken Saro-Wiwa was adjudged an intelligent and exceptional student; in 1961 he got a scholarship to study English at the prestigious University of Ibadan. He graduate in 1965 with a B.A in English.

Wife and Children

In 1967, Ken Saro-Wiwa got married to Nene Saro-Wiwa and they had five children together and they are: Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. born in 1968 was a journalist in United kingdom and a then presidential aide to former President Goodluck Elebele Jonathan; he died 18 October 2016 (aged 47). others are Gian, Tedum, Noo and Nina; they all live in the United Kingdom with their mother. It was also reported that Ken Saro-Wiwa had other three children (two girls and boy) with another woman before his death.

Career life

After he graduated in 1965, he lectured briefly at the University of Lagos. Ken Saro-Wiwa later became African literature lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka till the outburst of the Nigeria civil war of 1967. Ken Saro Wiwa supported the Federal Government of Nigeria against the state of Biafra and in return Major-General Yakubu Gowon the then Head of State of Nigeria appointed him Administrator of Bonny (an oil and gas rich island in Niger Delta) till Navy Lieutenant Commander Diete Spiff’s government was established in Rivers State and he was appointed Commissioner for Education from 1970 to 1973. In the late 1970 till his death he was a successful business mogul; he had elegant properties around Port Harcourt metropolis and beyond, opened stores and trading post. Ken Saro-Wiwa was man of means throughout his life time.

Basi and Company

However, from 1986 to 1990 Ken Saro-Wiwa veered into television production. He created the hilarious Basi and Company (widely known as Mr. B) television series televised on all NTA stations nationwide and gained his greatest fame. The following persons cast the 30 mins sitcom: Albert Egbe (1985-1987) and Zulu Adigwe (1988-1990) as Mr. B, Aso Ikpo-Douglas as Madam, Tekena Harry-McDonald as Alali, Lasa Amoro as Dandy, Emmanuel Okutuate as Josco and Timi Zuofa, Affiong Usani, Ethel Ekpe and Mildred Iweka as Segi. It was adjudged then, Basi and Company TV series had a quantum of over 20 million viewers.

Novels and Poems

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a consummate novelist and poet from 1973 to 1996. His literature works gave him national and international audience; some of his published books are: Tambari, Songs in a Time of War, Sozaboy, Mr. B Port Harcourt, Basi and Company, Prisoner of Jebs, Adaku and Other Stories, Four Farcical Plays, On a Darkling Plain, Mr. B is Dead, Genocide in Nigeria, The Forest of Flowers A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary and Lemona’s Tale etc.

Politics and Activism

Ken Saro Wiwa had a stint in politics, he contested the Constituent Assembly to represent Ogoni in 1978 but narrowly lost to his friend Edward Kobani.

Subsequently, from 1987 to 1995 he was an ardent member of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) which solely advocated for the rights of the ogoni people. MOSOP was a non-violent political group demanding a fair share of proceeds of oil and gas extraction and also was against Royal Dutch Shell company degradation of Ogoni landscapes and environment; during the same period Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) General Assembly UNPO is an international, nonviolent, and democratic organization (of which MOSOP is a member) made Ken Saro Wiwa Vice Chair. Consequently, MOSOP and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s agitations angered the Military junta.

Arrest and Trial

Ken Saro Wiwa has had series of arrests before his death. He was arrested and imprisoned without trail in 1992 and was released afterwards and he was arrested again and detained in June 1993 but was released a month after.

Finally, he was arrested alongside eight of his associates on 21 May 1994 for a purported murder of four prominent Ogoni Chiefs. The Military Government under General Sani Abacha now had a case to nail Ken Saro-Wiwa. A kangaroo military tribunal was setup to trial Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues in 1995. Justice Auta headed the tribunal and while Joseph Dauda (SAN) was the prosecuting lawyer and the trial took seventeen months; Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine were not given a fair hearing and on 31 October 1995 they were sentenced to death.

Ken Saro Wiwa’s Death

On Thursday 9 November 1995, some special executioners (Hangmen) from Sokoto state Northern Nigeria were flown to Port Harcourt for the onerous task of executing the Ogoni nine.

On Friday 10 November 1995 at about 5am, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were bundled from the Army camp (Bori Camp) to the Port Harcourt prison. The execution commenced afterwards, ken Saro-Wiwa was the first person among nine to be executed but it failed. The hangmen tried about 4 other attempts on ken Saro-Wiwa and it failed.

The hangmen left Ken Saro-Wiwa and executed the other eight of his colleague and they died instantly, immediately Ken Saro-Wiwa became limped while seeing his colleagues dead and said his last words “lord take my soul but the struggle continues” and he submitted to the will of the hangmen; he entered the hanger and died. At about 3:00 pm thereafter was heavy rain around the Port Harcourt metropolis; the bodies of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were escorted under armed guard to the Port Harcourt cemetery for interment.

Saro-Wiwa Quotes

I am a man of ideas in and out of prison – my ideas will live

Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues.

The men we are dealing with are mindless, Stone Age dictators addicted to blood.

In Nigeria, the only wrongdoers are those who do no wrong; to live a day in Nigeria is to die many times.

Nigeria’s rulers have been responsible for the African nightmare, afraid as they are of ideas and men of ideas. They are daylight robbers who kill for money.

Water wey dey boil No hot like dis Nigeria.

Forgive me friend, if I laugh at what should make me cry.

You cannot destroy an idea like mine…Even if I were to die tomorrow, even if I were to be locked up in prison…You can’t destroy an idea like mine.

I want the country to be together. I want one country, but I want a true federation, not this apparition…

It is said that a prophet is not without honour save in his country and in his own house. But I have found honour among my beloved Ogoni people who have suffered immensely in the last hundred years.

The most important thing for me is that I’ve used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it. And it sure makes me feel good! I’m mentally prepared for the worst, but hopeful for the best. I think I have the moral victory.”

“Unless you go back to how the country started, we will never be able to find a way out of our dilemma.”

“The writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils. He or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.”

“In this country [England], writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence…but for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into that. Literature has to be combative.”

“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. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.

“I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief.”

“Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence.”

“Shell and the Nigerian military dictatorship are violent institutions, as the Ogoni planned peace and dialogue, Shell and the Nigerian military plotted death and destruction.”

“I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights.

History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse

‘All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.’ Come the day.

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.

“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.


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Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995)

Posthumous

On 8 June 1998, 5am thereabout General Sani Abacha died mysteriously in Aso Rock FCT Abuja.

In June 2009 thereabout shell agreed in New York to pay 15.5 Million Dollars to relatives of the Ogoni nine martyred in 1995 under General Sani Abacha‘s Military Government.

The Governor of Rivers State immortalized Ken Saro-Wiwa by renaming the Rivers State Polytechnic Bori as Ken Saro-Wiwa polytechnic.

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