Ken Saro-Wiwa, born 10 October 1941, was one of Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s, leading literary figures. The author of children’s books, novels, plays, poetry and articles/books on political and environmental issues, he produced and directed Basi and Company, a ground-breaking sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1995 on Nigerian television and was later syndicated across Africa. Ken Saro-Wiwa, winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Under the rule of General Sani Abacha, the Nigerian military tried and executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders in 1995. Under the rule of General Sani Abacha, the Nigerian military tried and executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders in 1995. The deaths of the Ogoni 9 are widely acknowledged to be the result of MOSOP’s peaceful protests against Royal/Dutch Shell. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) isn’t the only oil giant implicit in human rights violations in Nigeria. Concerns over human rights violations by Chevron (CVX) and subcontractors of both multinational oil companies were highlighted in Amnesty International’s 2005 Report Nigeria: Ten years on: injustice and violence haunt the oil Delta.
Ken Saro-Wiwa Full Biography and Profile
Ken Saro-Wiwa led a peaceful movement for the environmental and human rights of Nigeria’s Ogoni people whose oil-rich land has been exploited by multinational oil companies. The Nigerian government executed Saro-Wiwa in 1995. Ken Saro-Wiwa (d. 1995), a well-known Nigerian author and television producer, was president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), an organization set up to defend the environmental and human rights of the Ogoni people who live in the Niger Delta.
Since Royal Dutch Shell struck oil on Ogoni lands in 1958, an estimated $30 billion worth of oil has been extracted. In return the Ogoni, a group of 550,000 farmers and fishermen inhabiting this coastal land, have received little except a ravaged environment. Farmland that was once fertile turned to contaminated fields from oil spills and acid rain. Uncontrolled oil spills dotted the landscape with puddles of ooze the size of football fields. Virtually all fish and wildlife have vanished. Meanwhile, out of Shell’s Nigerian workforce of 5,000, less than 100 jobs went to Ogoni.
In January 1993, Saro-Wiwa gathered 300,000 Ogoni to march peacefully to demand a share in oil revenues and some form of political autonomy. MOSOP also asked the oil companies to begin environmental remediation and pay compensation for past damage.
In May 1994, Saro-Wiwa, who had been briefly imprisoned several times before, was abducted from his home and jailed along with other MOSOP leaders in connection with the murder of four Ogoni leaders. Amnesty International adopted Saro-Wiwa, a staunch advocate of non-violence, as a prisoner of conscience. Meanwhile, the Nigerian military took control of Ogoniland subjecting people to mass arrest, rape, execution and the burning and looting of their villages.
In October 1995 a military tribunal tried and convicted Saro-Wiwa of murder. Governments and citizens’ organizations worldwide condemned the trial as fraudulent, and urged the Nigerian dictator to spare Saro-Wiwa’s life. They also called upon Shell to intervene.
On November 10, 1995 Saro-Wiwa and his eight co-defendants were hanged. The only crime he and his colleagues had committed was to demand sound environmental practices and to ask for compensation for the devastation of Ogoni territories.
The Ogoni cause has since been taken up by other Ogoni living in exile including Ken’s son, Ken Wiwa and his younger brother, Owens, a medical doctor. Despite the sudden death of Nigerian Dictator General Sani Abacha in 1998, the Ogoni region remains heavily militarized and the government has yet to agree to allow an independent environmental assessment to be conducted to determine the total extent of Shell’s pollution in the Niger Delta.
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s life has provided a legacy of great inspiration for human rights and environmental activists around the world.
Shell Public Statement About Ken Saro-Wiwa Death
The 1995 executions of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogonis by Nigeria’s military government attracted international condemnation. Although SPDC was not responsible for those tragic events, and SPDC – and Shell International in London – had attempted to persuade the government to grant clemency, the family of Ken Saro-Wiva and others brought a court case against Shell. The allegations being made are false and without merit.
SPDC started operations in Ogoni land in 1958. The company withdrew in 1993 because of violence against staff and actions targeting our facilities. At the time, oil production from Ogoni land – some 28,000 barrels a day (b/d) – accounted for a small proportion of SPDC’s total production in Nigeria of around 1 million b/d.
The rising agitation coincided with the activities of the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which was campaigning for greater control over oil and gas resources on their land, for economic development, and autonomy over their affairs, (including cultural, religious and environmental matters). MOSOP – of which Ken Saro-Wiwa became president in 1993 – also alleged that the oil industry was causing ‘environmental devastation’.
There was ongoing violence and in May 1994 four prominent Ogoni leaders were murdered. The government arrested Ken Saro-Wiwa for complicity in the crime. The charges were unrelated to his criticisms of Shell, which had no involvement in the case. No member of Shell staff was on trial, none was called as a witness, and neither Shell nor SPDC was mentioned in any of the charges. On October 31, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis were sentenced to death for inciting the murder of the four Ogoni leaders. They were executed on November 10, 1995.
Despite Ken Saro-Wiwa’s criticisms of the company before his arrest, SPDC publicly said that he had a right to freely hold and air his views.
During the trial, Shell stated that the accused had a right to a fair legal process. After the trial verdict was announced, the then Chairman of Shell’s Committee of Managing Directors, Cor Herkstroter, sent a personal letter appealing to the Head of State to show clemency on humanitarian grounds to Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants. To our deep regret that appeal – and the appeals made by many others – went unheard. We were shocked and saddened by the news that the executions had been carried out.
The Execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa:
In 1995, the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other activists were executed by the Nigerian military regime. They’d been campaigning against oil pollution in their native Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta. Their deaths led to Nigeria’s expulsion from the Commonwealth. Ledum Mitee was a fellow campaigner who was spared execution.
Here are 7 things about the great man you should not fail to know:
- Kenule “Ken” Beeson Saro Wiwa was born on October 10, 1941 in Bori, Niger Delta to an Ogoni Chief, Jim Wiwa.
- He had his secondary school education in Government College, Umuahia, got a scholarship to read English at the University of Ibadan and served as a teaching assistant in University of Lagos.
- He was a successful businessman, a television producer, a writer and an environmental activist. His satirical television series, Basi and Company, was popular; his most famous novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, was well-read; and he did really well in his real estate and retail businesses.
- It was his environmental activism that got him dismissed from the Rivers State cabinet as the Regional Commissioner for Education.
- Ken was one of the earliest members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), advocating for the rights of the Ogoni people by speaking against the environmental degradation caused by the oil explorations of Shell Company and demanding a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands.
- He led several peaceful protests in Ogoni and spoke against the Abacha-led military regime. His son, Ken Jr., had a troubled relationship with him, saying martyrs often sacrificed their children for the sake of peace. But they later made peace when he was arrested.
- After several months in prison and an unjust trial where witnesses who had been bribed testified against him and his colleagues, Ken and eight other Ogoni leaders (Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine) where by killed by hanging on November 10, 1995. Their deaths received international condemnation and causes Nigeria’s expulsion from Commonwealth for 3 years.
- Ken Saro-Wiwa Full Biography and Profile (Amnesty / Goldman Prize / UNPO / Shell)