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Ken Saro-Wiwa


Kenule "Ken" Beeson Saro Wiwa (October 10, 1941 – November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

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Created: 20th Dec 2010
Modified: 20th Dec 2010
Professional Information

Biographical Information
Ken Saro-Wiwa
(At a Glance)
Date of Birth: Oct/10/1941
Gender: male
Place of Origin: Nigeria

Early life

A son of Ogoni chieftain Jim Wiwa, Ken was born in Bori, in the Niger Delta. He spent his childhood in an Anglican home and eventually proved himself to be an excellent student,he attended Secondary School at Government College Umuahia and on completion obtained a scholarship to study English at the University of Ibadan and briefly became a teaching assistant at the University of Lagos.

However, he soon took up a government post as the Civilian Administrator for the port city of Bonny in the Niger Delta, and during the Nigerian Civil War was a strong supporter of the federal cause against the Biafrans. His best known novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, tells the story of a naive village boy recruited to the army during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, and intimates the political corruption and patronage in Nigeria's military regime of the time. His war diaries, On a Darkling Plain, document Saro-Wiwa's experience during the war. Saro-Wiwa was also a successful businessman and television producer. His satirical television series, Basi & Co., is purported to have been one of the most watched soap operas in Africa, surpassed only by Jab Adu's The Village Headmaster and Claudius Eke's Masqurade.

In the early 1970s Saro-Wiwa served as the Regional Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State Cabinet, but was dismissed in 1973 because of his support for Ogoni autonomy. In the late 1970s, he established a number of successful business ventures in retail and real-estate, and during the 1980s concentrated primarily on his writing, journalism and television production, His intellectual work was interrupted in 1987 when he re-entered the political scene, appointed by the newly installed dictator Ibrahim Babangida to aid the country's transition to democracy.

But Ken soon resigned because he felt Babangida's supposed plans for a return to democracy were disingenuous. Ken's sentiments were proven correct in the coming years, as Babangida failed to relinquish power.

In 1993, Babangida annulled Nigeria's general elections which would transfer power to a civilian government, sparking mass civil unrest and eventually forcing him to step-down, at least officially, in the same year.


Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (November 2009)

In 1990, Saro-Wiwa began devoting most of his time to human rights and environmental causes, particularly in Ogoniland. He was one of the earliest members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which advocated for the rights of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni Bill of Rights, written by MOSOP, set out the movement's demands, including increased autonomy for the Ogoni people, a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands. In particular, MOSOP struggled against the degradation of Ogoni lands by Shell oil company.

In 1992, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for several months, without trial, by the Nigerian military government.

Saro-Wiwa was Vice President of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) General Assembly from 1993 to 1995. UNPO is an international, nonviolent, and democratic organisation (of which MOSOP is a member).

Its members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognised or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them.

In January 1993, MOSOP organized peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people – more than half of the Ogoni population – through four Ogoni centers, drawing international attention to his people's plight. The same year the Nigerian government occupied the region militarily.

Arrest and death

Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993, but was released after a month. On May 21, 1994 four Ogoni chiefs (all on the conservative side of a schism within MOSOP over strategy) were brutally murdered. Saro-Wiwa had been denied entry to Ogoniland on the day of the murders, but he was arrested and accused of incitement to them.

Saro-Wiwa denied the charges, but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by a specially convened tribunal. The same happened to other MOSOP leaders (Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine).

Nearly all of the defendants' lawyers resigned in protest against the trial's cynical rigging by the Abacha regime. The resignations left the defendants to their own means against the tribunal, which continued to bring witnesses to testify against Saro-Wiwa and his peers. Many of these supposed witnesses later admitted that they had been bribed by the Nigerian government to support the criminal allegations.

At least two witnesses who testified that Saro-Wiwa was involved in the murders of the Ogoni elders later recanted, stating that they had been bribed with money and offers of jobs with Shell to give false testimony – in the presence of Shell’s lawyer.

The trial was widely criticised by human rights organizations, and half a year later, Ken Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award for his courage as well as the Goldman Environmental Prizes.

Very few observers were surprised when the tribunal declared a "guilty" verdict, but most were shocked that the penalty would be death by hanging for all nine defendants. Many were skeptical that the punishments would actually occur, as the Nigerian government would face international outrage and possible sanctions and other legal action should the penalties be carried out. But on 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders (the "Ogoni Nine") were killed by hanging at the hands of military personnel.

According to most accounts, Saro-Wiwa was the last person to be hanged and so was forced to watch the death of his colleagues. Information on the circumstances of Saro-Wiwa's own death are unclear, but it is generally agreed that multiple attempts were required before Saro-Wiwa died.

His death provoked international outrage and the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations as well as the calling back of many foreign diplomats for consultation. The United States and other countries considered imposing economic sanctions on Nigeria because of its government's actions.

A memorial to Saro-Wiwa was unveiled in London on 10 November 2006. It consists of a sculpture in the form of a bus, and was created by Sokari Douglas Camp, also from Nigeria. It toured the UK the following year.

Family lawsuits against Royal Dutch Shell

Beginning in 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), EarthRights International (ERI), Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman and other human rights attorneys have brought a series of cases to hold Shell accountable for alleged human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention. The lawsuits are brought against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of its Nigerian operation.

The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York set a trial date of June 2009. On June 9, 2009 Shell agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $15.5 million USD to victims' families. However, the company denied any liability for the deaths, stating that the payment was part of a reconciliation process. In a statement given after the settlement, Shell suggested that the money was being provided to the relatives of Saro-Wiwa and the eight other victims, in order to cover the legal costs of the case and also in recognition of the events that took place in the region.

Some of the funding is also expected to be used to set up a development trust for the Ogoni people, who inhabit the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The settlement was made just days before the trial, which had been brought by Ken Saro-Wiwa's son, was due to begin in New York.


A biography, In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son's Journey to Understanding His Father's Legacy, was written by his son, journalist Ken Wiwa. Published in September 2005, shortly before the tenth anniversary of Saro-Wiwa's execution, Canadian author J. Timothy Hunt's

The Politics of Bones documented the flight of Ken's brother Owens Wiwa, after his brother's execution and his own imminent arrest, to London and then on to Canada, where he is now a citizen and continues his brother's fight on behalf of the Ogoni people.

Moreover, it is also the story of Owens' personal battle against the Nigerian government to locate his brother's remains after they were buried in an unmarked mass-grave. Ken Saro-Wiwa's own diary, A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary was published in January 1995, 2 months after his execution.

A book of essays about Wiwa entitled Before I Am Hanged: Ken Saro-Wiwa, Literature, Politics, and Dissent was published by Africa World Press in December 1999. More information on the struggles of the Ogoni people can be found in the book Ogoni's Agonies: Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Crisis in Nigeria he(ISBN 0-86543-647-9)

In popular culture and academia

The Finnish band Ultra Bra dedicated their song "Ken Saro-Wiwa on kuollut" ("Ken Saro-Wiwa is dead") to the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The Italian band Il Teatro degli Orrori dedicated their song "A sangue freddo" ("In cold blood", it's also the title track of their second album) to the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. An academic book on trade, health and human rights has been dedicated to Ken Saro-Wiwa. The folk duo 'Magpie' included the song "Saro-Wiwa" on their album "Give Light," crediting it as Words and Music by Terry Leonino and Ken Saro-Wiwa. It includes lines from Saro-Wiwa's poem "Dance."

Ken Saro Wiwa's execution is quoted and used as an inspiration for Beverley Naidoo's 2000 novel The Other Side of Truth.A novel, Eclipse, which is based on the events in Nigeria, was published by Richard North Patterson in 2009.

Guitarist and composer Robin Flower and musical partner Libby McClaren included Saro-Wiwa as an example of a cultural "Angel of Change" on a 2003 recording of the same name.

A Igbo high-life Bongo musician hailing from Owerri in Imo State, Nigeria is currently recording under the stage name "Saro-Wiwa". He has gone on to release several popular albums such as "Bongo Jere Uzo Ije" & "Bongo Ekoo".

Italian alternative rock band "Il Teatro degli Orrori" dedicated their 2009 album "A Sangue Freddo", to Ken Saro-Wiwa. A sangue freddo means "in cold blood", referring, evidently, to the killing.

Source: Wikipedia

Topical Focus  » Ken Saro-Wiwa

Nigeria: The Last Interview by Ken Saro-Wiwa

This rare interview with the writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who had led the Ogoni people of Nigeria in their non-violent struggle to stop the multinational oil companies, like Shell, destroying ...

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