Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Remembering Ken Saro Wiwa

Posted in: ,
On Friday, the 10th of November 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed. In his closing statement to the Nigerian military-appointed special tribunal, Ken Saro-Wiwa said;

"We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. 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. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory."

I got to know of the social activist Ken Saro Wiwa, as a child, reading the opening credits of his long-running TV series, Basi and Company. Today for most Nigerians,, marks the 15th anniversary of the Military execution of the activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. He was killed for speaking out against injustice and oppression of the minority ethnic groups in the Niger Delta Region by the Nigerian government and the multinational oil companies, including Shell.

Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa, most known as Ken Saro-Wiwa, was born to a prominent Bori family in October 1941. He was a native of Ogoni, in todays Rivers State, South-South Nigeria. Previously an academic, Ken Saro Wiwa went into politics as the Civilian Administrator for the Port of Bonny, near his hometown of Ogoni during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war (1967-1970) and later as regional Commisioner of Education in the Rivers State cabinet. During the 1970s he built up his businesses in real estate and retail and in the 1980s concentrated on his writing, journalism and television production. In 1990, Ken Saro-Wiwa decided to concentrate his efforts to speaking and campaigning about the problems of the oil producing regions of the Niger Delta. He focused on his homeland, Ogoni, and launched the non-violent Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

His popular soap opera whose satire may have often been too advanced for me, had some very engaging characters, with distinctive names, dressings and manners of speech. I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue and often acted out some of the scenes with my siblings after the show had ended. As one with great imagination, and even then, the stirrings of a writing muse, I was inspired by writers, and as such, the name of the writer of this witty drama stuck with me. Several children's adventures later, I was working on a romance novella and waiting to take the entrance exams to university when the news of the execution broke. Ken Saro-Wiwa had been hanged, along with eight others (the Ogoni Nine), by the Nigerian military junta of the day.

I was stunned with disbelief. Saro-Wiwa was a thinker and activist who I had looked up to and aspired to be like. I had previously ignored the military regime of the now late Gen. Sani Abacha, but I was forced to consider how they stifled free speech, and how this might affect my own writing, my life. It was not an encouraging picture I saw. As it was, the hangings caused an international outcry and the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth - which lasted three years - as well as the calling back of many foreign diplomats. As the next few years dragged on, several writers, journalists and authors alike, were hounded and prosecuted, several went to jail or prison, and many left the country for asylum elsewhere.

In the years in between Ken Saro Wiwa's death and today, I read two more of his books of his experiences during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Sozaboy: a Novel in Rotten English, of a naive village boy recruited into the army; and On a Darkling Plain, his personal diary. The first I read as a political university student, active in my faculty and department, an official in some groups and associations. The other I read as a young woman, living and working in Abuja, the new capital city of Nigeria. Both books and most of his others made references to the abuse he saw around him, as the oil companies took riches from beneath the soil of Ogoni land, and in return left them polluted and unusable. The fed into my world view of how the world worked, and why I needed to tell my own story however I could.

Today, 15 years later, I am more grown up and socially aware. I live in the United States by choice and will travel to Nigeria in the next couple of weeks. I am a full time writer, editor and author. My book, A Heart to Mend, has also been published and is doing very well in Nigeria. In March of this year, I established and currently serve as managing editor for a critique website for Nigerian writers called Naija Stories. The aim of the website is to provide a platform of opportunities to aspiring Nigerian writers and get them telling their stories on their own terms. In a press release yesterday by the Niger-Delta Restoration of Hope, two of Naija Stories members had won in a writing competition held to commemorate the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Their entries were appropriately titled "Road to Martyrdom" and "Life before Death”.

Ken Saro Wiwa had died for speaking out and making his voice relevant. I, and others, will continue speaking.


Image linked from


  1. May his soul rest in perfect peace

  2. I first heard of Ken Saro-Wiwa after reading The Politics of Bones which was truly fantastic and gave a good overview of the situation, I think, though it focused on his brother and included the struggles after. It's shocking how recent it really was - when I think about it for some reason it's hard for me to picture that it was only 15 years ago. I don't know if it made the news in Canada (though I would expect that it did) but I was quite young and so wouldn't have noticed anyway.

    I've been meaning to read his books and must now make the effort to find them. I hope that freedom of speech comes to be respected more and more in Nigeria.

  3. Myne,

    Thank you for reminding us all of Ken Saro-Wiwa's great sacrifice. I remember those days well and the way his trial and execution crystallized just how bad things were with Abacha and the cost of standing up against oppression.

    Great post and really well said.

  4. I applaud you and all, telling your stories.
    That's Ken's work being continued. Africa lost a powerful mind & voice that day he was hanged.
    I pray his words are knocking on eardrums in Ghana right now.


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. It is so sad that legends and heroes are not realized until they are dead. may his soul rest in peace and may his fight not be in vain.

  7. Rip. he would be ashamed in his grace if he could see how the ND struggle has been hijacked for personal and political gain. sad

  8. That was a really sad thing,how can pple be so mean as to hanging s/one?wish they even closed down Nigeria sef?a country that doen't appreciate his own,may his soul rest in peace.
    Great work Myne,more grease.

  9. Saro Wiwa was a rarity.
    I read his son's book (In the Shadow of a saint by Ken Wiwa) a while back with great sadness.
    Unfortunately, we (Nigerians) seem to give more recognition to those who are famous - just for being well recognised or well dressed!Hunger and greed only breeds selfishness and oil wealth has made Nigeria an uncomfortable place for intellectuals and real revolutionaries.

  10. That was a really sad thing,how can pple be so mean as to hanging s/one?wish they even closed down Nigeria sef?a country that doen't appreciate his own,may his soul rest in peace.
    Great work Myne,more grease.

  11. I dream of a Nigeria where people would be free to speak out with fear for their lives.
    A Nigeria where Life is valued and things are working.
    Praying the death of Saro Wiwa and others like him will not be for nothing.
    And that generations that
    Nice work Myne...keep it up, How far with Kevve and Efe?

  12. I remember where I was when Saro-wiwa and his colleagues were hanged. Something else died in Nigeria that day...Justice. Lets hope we can resurrect justice in our country in memory of those who have lost their lives for it.

  13. May his soul rest in peace. Great job Myne.

  14. It is so sad that Nigeria has become a country where the heroes are killed and the villains celebrated. From Mamman Vasta to Dele Giwa to Ken Saro Wiwa.. distinct voices and great minds who were cut off at the time we needed them most.

    No matter what, you can not drown out the voices. for every one that is cut down, ten more shall rise in his place.

    Rest in peace, Ken Saro Wiwa, your legacy lives on.

  15. For what we indulge in today, much blood's been spilled and for where we are going to,
    For much more blood not to be spilled, we all need to (continually & consistently) rise and speak with ONE voice.

    Nigeria we hail thee, the blood of our modern-day heros shan't (have) been spilled in vain.

  16. This is a great way to continue the legacy of someone you looked up to.

  17. giving back to the writing community is the best thing an author can do.

  18. I enjoyed reading your take on this..
    I followed his life closely as I always listened to my father and friends discuss then(before his death and during)
    I picked interest..
    It's so good taking out time to remember him this way..
    It's the best remembrance.

  19. Blessings my sistah....
    I trust you are well. Thank you for sharing this piece, it was/is very enlightening. Not many have the courage to live their convictions.


  20. Thanks for the comments, it is heartening.

    @Olufunke, Kevwe and Efe are coming next, lol...

  21. 15years ago?....time do fly...tnx 4 remembering him MW...may his soul continue to rest in was a horrible death at the hands of Abacha...which soul i pray would continue to be tormented by the people he kiiled while alive A-M-I-N!

  22. I hope we never forget him. And it's people like you who make sure we don't! Please keep it up. This post was a really good read.

  23. The last paragraph of his closing statement is so inspiring. May we/I have the faith & perseverance to trudge on despite the tribulation(s) that we/I will encounter.

    RIP to Ken Saro Wiwa.

    Will definitely check out the books you read.

    Great stuff Myne..


Click Post a Comment to share your thoughts, I'll love to hear from you. Thanks!

*Comments on old posts are moderated and may take sometime to be shown. That's just because I want to see them and respond to you if necessary.