Today’s Birthday Celebrant, Late Ken Saro-wiwa A Poet, Playwright, Author And Human Rights Activist

Today’s Birthday Celebrant, Late Ken Saro-wiwa A Poet, Playwright, Author And Human Rights Activist
October 10 13:21 2017 Print This Article

Born Kenule Tsaro-Wiwa, he was the son of Jim Wiwa, a forest ranger and Widu in the village of Bori, located in Ogoniland in present day Rivers State.

Saro-Wiwa received his primary education at a Native Authority school in Bori as well as the Government College in Umuahia the capital of Abia State.

On completion of secondary education, he obtained a scholarship to study English at the University of Ibadan where he won several departmental prizes in 1963 and 1965, it was there that his interest in drama was kindled as he belonged to the school’s drama troupe.

He briefly became a teaching assistant at the University of Lagos and later at University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he became a African literature lecturer when the Civil war broke out. Owing to his support for the Federal Government’s war efforts, he left the teaching services of the UNN for his hometown of Bori.

He was later appointed the Civilian Administrator for the port city of Bonny during the Nigerian Civil War. The appointment ran concurrently with being a commissioner in the old Rivers State.

During this period, he wrote his first novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, a prose that 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.

In the early 1970s Saro-Wiwa served as Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State Cabinet, but was dismissed in 1973 because of his support for Ogoni autonomy. In 1977, he unsuccessfully ran as the candidate to represent Ogoni in the Constituent Assembly.

He began writing series of television programmes with such works as Transistor Radio. In 1972, a radio version of the play was produced and in 1985, he produced, Basi and Company, a successful screen adaption of the play. Saro-Wiwa included the play in Four Farcical Plays and Basi and Company: Four Television Plays. Basi and company, an adaptation of Transistor Radio ran on television from 1985 to 1990.

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 Royal Dutch Shell.

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

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

Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993 but was released after a month. On 21 May 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. He 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 eight other MOSOP leaders who, along with Saro-Wiwa, became known as the Ogoni Nine.

Some of the defendants’ lawyers resigned in protest against the alleged rigging of the trial 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 organisations and, half a year later, Ken Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award for his courage, as well as the Goldman Environmental Prize.

On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and the rest of the Ogoni Nine were killed by hanging by military personnel. They were buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery.

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