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Ken Saro-Wiwa: A foremost environmentalist

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Ken Saro-Wiwa, one of nine Ogoni community activists executed after a grossly unfair trial in 1995.

Kenule Beeson Tsaro-Wiwa, generally known as Ken Saro-Wiwa, was an author, dramatist, television producer and environmental activist. He was a firm believer in non-violence. As President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Tsaro-Wiwa led a non-violent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by the operations of the multinational petroleum industries, including the Royal Dutch Shell Company.

Born on October 10, 1941, Tsaro-Wiwa attended Government College, Umuahia and the University of Ibadan. He changed his name to Saro-Wiwa after the Nigerian Civil war in 1970.

While still a student in the university, he worked for a travelling drama troupe, which performed in Kano, Benin, Ilorin, and Lagos, and also collaborated with the Nottingham Playhouse. He taught at the University of Lagos and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before picking up a political appointments.

He was the Civilian Administrator for the Port City of Bonny in the Niger Delta and later, the Regional Commissioner for Education in River State.  

In 1990, Saro-Wiwa began devoting his time to human rights and environmental causes, particularly in Ogoniland. He was one of the earliest members of MOSOP that advocated for the rights of the Ogoni People. In 1992, he was imprisoned for months without trial by the military government.

Saro-Wiwa was Vice Chair of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) General Assembly from 1993 to 1995. 

In January 1993, MOSOP organised peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people to draw attention to the plight of the Ogonis and their land.
 
On May 21, 1994, he was tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of four Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting and was hanged on November 10, 1995. The same fate befell eight other MOSOP leaders who, alongside Saro-Wiwa, became known as the Ogoni Nine. They were all executed by hanging.

Saro-Wiwa’s death provoked international outrage and the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as the recalling of many foreign diplomats for consultation. The United States and other countries considered imposing economic sanctions.

Despite his death, different organisations within and outside the country have been doing one thing or other on his name. There are also different awards, memorial and institutions named after him. One of these is the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Prose, sponsored by the Association of Nigerian Authors.

His satirical television series, Basi & Company, was popular among TV audience across the country.

• Compiled by Omiko Awa

 


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