By Denrele Animashaun
Yes, October 1, 2012. Independence Day came and went in my household, without a muster or fanfare. I vowed two years ago, that future Nigeria’s Independence Day at least, in my household, is not a time for whimsicalities but one of quiet contemplation.
So true to my word, my family and I celebrated the achievements of great Nigerians who have truly contributed positively to the lives of our people.
One such luminary is Ken Saro-Wiwa. He was a writer, artist, journalist, and television producer and became the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors for three years until 1991, when he decided to devote himself entirely to the nonviolent struggles of his fellow Ogoni people. He was born Kenule Benson Tsaro-Wiwa in Bori, in 1941, the son of Jim Beesom Wiwa, a businessman and community chief and a farmer.
Mr Saro-Wiwa,( I feel I cannot use his first name) was a larger than life character, with trademark pipe and safari top, you could not miss him, he was engaging and erudite and truly a man of the people. His son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, in his book of his father, In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son’s Journey to Understand His Father’s Legacy (2001), described him as truly special that “he walked at seven months, and his parents doted on him because he was, for the first seven years of his life, their only child.”
I picked up Mr Saro- Wiwa’s novels like many other young Nigerians, every page came to live and you cannot fail to warm to the characters. You felt you knew them or you wanted to know these characters and my favourite of his novels, was Sozaboy.
Sozaboy was written in Pidgin English, (that was unique!) liberally splashed with graphic and flawless English. My copy is no longer with me but it was well worn. I also was one of many who rushed home to watch Basi and Company which Saro- Wiwa wrote and produced more than 150 episodes. This showed the genius of the man. We laughed and cackled and rolled with laughter at the exploits of the lead character, Basi.
Ken was more than that. In 1990 Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). A more radical youth movement, also founded by Saro-Wiwa, was reputedly engaged in sabotage against Shell. The company decided to cease operations in Ogoniland in 1993. Saro-Wiwa highlighted the corruption and condemned Shell and British Petroleum.
He brought the international environmental attention to the cause.The Nigerian government disbanded the movement to stifle Ken, but the tinder box was lit. They killed many of their supporters at Giokoo and it ultimately led to his arrest and the senior members of the movement.
He said that “The most important thing for me is that I’ve used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it. And it sure makes me feel good! I’m mentally prepared for the worst, but hopeful for the best. I think I have the moral victory.”
Ken was right and maintained his belief to the end ,”You cannot destroy an idea like mine…Even if I were to die tomorrow; even if I were to be locked up in prison…You can’t destroy an idea like mine.” And he wrote to the end.
Couple of years ago, my dad mentioned that Mr Saro-Wiwa wrote to him while in prison. My dad knew him and of course I was told by my dad that he was a thoroughly amazing man.
“History is on their side. God is on their side.
For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41:”All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.
He was hanged with rest of the Ogoni 7 on the 10th of November, 1995. On the 10th of October ,2012 he would have been 71.
Mr. Kenule Benson Tsaro-Wiwa Ken, I salute you, a truly incredible Nigerian.