Kenule Beeson “Ken” Saro-Wiwa was born on October 10, 1941, in Bori, Ogoni land in Rivers state.
He was a gifted Nigerian writer, environmental activist, television producer, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award for “exemplary courage in striving non-violently for civil, economic and environmental rights” and the Goldman Environmental Prize for his environmental activism.
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Saro-Wiwa was educated at Government College, Umuahia, and then proceeded to the University of Ibadan where studied English. He lectured briefly at the University of Lagos before joining federal forces at the start of the Nigeria-Biafran war in 1967.
He resigned from government work as an administrator to concentrate on his literary career. His earliest novels, Songs in a Time of War and Sozaboy were published in 1985. Sozaboy was the first major work of fiction satirizing corruption in Nigerian society and written in pidgin English.
His comedic television series, Basi & Company, which ran for some 150 episodes in 1980 was rated within theatrical circles as a classic. He also was a journalist who wrote poetry and children’s stories.
By 1992, Saro-Wiwa began to devote most of his time to environmental activism within the Niger-Delta oil corridor. The successful prospecting and extraction of oil since the 1950s Ogoni land, Saro-Wiwa’s homeland, in the Niger-Delta has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. Saro-Wiwa and a cute circle of like-minded individuals would not condone the trend and they rebelled peacefully against it.
As a founding member and spokesperson of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and later as its president, he grew into being a target of the powerful cabals benefitting from the plunder of Ogoni land.
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Saro-Wiwa was an outspoken mobiliser who led a nonviolent campaign to protest the environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by the operations of Royal Dutch Shell company. He was also a critic of the Nigerian government being led by the military to guns such as late General Sani Abacha. He believed that there was collusion by the government and oil exploration companies in the reluctance to enforce environmental regulations on the foreign petroleum companies operating in the Niger-Delta region.
At the zenith of Saro-Wiwa’s movement, he was roped into a charge for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of some Ogoni chiefs. A special military tribunal was set up to try the Ogoni 9 – which comprised Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni environmental activists. They were eventually hanged on November 10, 1995, by the Abacha junta.
It was Saro-Wiwa’s execution, alongside the other Ogoni 8, that finally provoked international outrage and caused Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations amongst other diplomatic recalls and economic sanctions.
With his death, Saro-Wiwa became a martyr and a lot more activists, both local and international, standing up to fight for the plight of the Niger Delta which Saro-Wiwa championed.
Kenule Saro-Wiwa was survived by his wife and five children – some of whom have also now passed on.
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