REJOINDER: Ken Saro-Wiwa: A Playwright And Revolutionary, But A Man With Trading Instinct
Dear Janet Anderson:
Thank you for taking the time to write these good words credited to you about Ken Saro-Wiwa in the headline above. It was reportedly published in the Tempo Newspaper Nigeria, on Jan. 2, 1996 though originally printed in the Daily Telegraph of Nov. 13, 1995. Saro-Wiwa was, of course, the foremost minority rights crusader of Africa. He was a prolific and accomplished writer who authored more than 27 books. He also had several newspaper publications and position papers to his name; a non-violent and peaceful, intelligent, smart and witty world's environmental martyr he was. He was truly altruistic.
The aforementioned piece you wrote and titled, "Ken Saro-Wiwa: A Playwright and Revolutionary, But a Man with Trading Instinct," therefore speaks volumes. It is a piece that deals with your experience with Saro-Wiwa while you were a BBC's correspondent in London and Lagos, Nigeria. It speaks to the person--- courageousness, boldness and fearlessness, the astuteness and passion of Saro-Wiwa for the cause of the Ogoni and Niger delta people, other minorities of Nigeria and Africa, and the need for justice.
Meanwhile, accept my apologies for not seeing this piece since it was first published in 1995, and did justice to it until now. Having said the above may I draw your attention to three points you made in error, and for which I write to correct or argue against though not in the chronological order you place them. First, in discussing Saro-Wiwa at the Kangaroo military tribunal you declared: "His trial was a travesty. I still do not know if he really took it seriously, because he presented no defence," while also saying "his defence lawyers withdrew part way through, alleging a biased tribunal."
My questions are: which position above should your audience or the public believe; is it that he did not present any defence or defense, or that he presented his defence through his lawyers who withdrew half-way because they alleged the tribunal was biased? These conclusions you have advanced are confusing or at best contradictory. It is obvious that Saro-Wiwa presented a strong defence against the frivolous (trumped-up) accusations made by the Nigerian government supported by Dis-Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary. It is also clear the tribunal, which was set up and members appointed by the Nigerian military government with support from Shell, and handed a predetermined disposition was biased.
Among many legal concepts and conclusions, I refer you to the report of former Queen's Counsel, Michael Birnbaum, who has decades of formidable legal credentials as prosecutor and defence lawyer. He briefly observed the predetermined trial on behalf of Article 19 and the British Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the Law Society of England and Wales. In summary, Mr. Birnbaum said, "The tribunal was fundamentally unfair and not independent of the government."
He continued among other comments by saying the tribunal pretended that Saro-Wiwa did not make any effort to defend himself even though he submitted over 40 pages of written defence, which was ignored. He also said the tribunal acted in manners that strongly suggests it was favorable to the prosecution team and the Nigerian government despite granting some of the defence prayers. See “Nigeria-Fundamental Rights Denied: Report of the Trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others,” (Michael Birnbaum, 1995). Also check out his video or Youtube commentaries for more.
And, although economic sanctions, which should have stopped the buying of stolen oil and stopped the hangings was not imposed on Nigeria (the Ogoni and Niger delta oil thief with Shell), which used obnoxious laws to steal oil lands and resources from Ogonis and other oil producing communities in the British colonialists’ imposed country, due to western interest and influence, the Commonwealth of Nations suspended Nigeria. The summary condition imposed on the country if it were to return to the Commonwealth of Nations was to end military dictatorship and embrace democratic governance.
Governments around the world and civil society organizations and institutions condemned the trial, judgement and execution by hanging as unfair and barbaric or inhuman. The execution was hasty and against the review and appeal provisions stipulated in the decree number 2 of 1987, which established the so-called Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals. The former British Prime Minister, John Mayor called the hanging, "Judicial Murder." I call it State and corporate murder since there was nothing truly judicial about it, but a travesty as you rightly said.
I read Saro-Wiwa's defence and also witnessed firsthand at the tribunal premises the harassing and intimidating, uncooperative moves of the military and tribunal, which forced the defence lawyers to withdraw. It is on record that Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) who was one of the defence lawyers, and spoke in protest before announcing the defence team's withdrawal was subsequently arrested and jailed for no crimes he committed. No honest and neutral observer of the sham trial will claim Saro-Wiwa did not present any defence as you alleged incorrectly and falsely so. If the defence team did not withdraw the predetermined conviction verdict will not have changed.
Secondly, you said the young men who took over the streets of Ogoni caused a breakdown in law and order. This could be true but not uncommon with experiences around the world when aggrieved people or youths who have been exposed to their fundamental rights long denied due to decades of oppression, and a dangerously polluted environment, which threaten their existence, seeking to assert them are in protest mode. While it could be true that Ogoni youths, who took over the streets justifiably threatened "the interests of their elders in the Ogoni community who had been used to a cosy relationship with government and the oil companies," as you said, those youths did not murder their elders on May 21, 1994.
"Ken therefore posed a threat to the state, but he was a hero to many of his people," you also said and I agree. He was a justified threat without guns and other harmful and deadly weapons but the truth. In addition, you said they believed he could change the world. But he did not realize what his power could do and what his supporters would do without his permission. Consequently, you concluded that, "Perhaps I do feel Ken bore some responsibility for the murders that were committed."
My concern and position on your conclusion regarding the murders is that you did not provide any iota of or substantive legal evidence which ties Saro-Wiwa to the unfortunate murder of the Ogoni chiefs, some of whom were his friends, mentors and in-laws, and for which he was trumped-up and executed unjustly. You also did not show proof that the youths and others who followed and supported Saro-Wiwa murdered the chiefs. The fact that Saro-Wiwa aroused the consciousness of his long oppressed people to know and stand up for their rights does not justify linking him to said gruesome murder without any direct or indirect circumstantial evidence. Note that the Nigerian government and Shell planted the murder of the four Ogoni chiefs and elders.
Shell, like the Nigerian government had monitored Saro-Wiwa long before the orchestrated Giokoo's murder. The reasons were conspicuous. He exposed severe environmental pollution and degradation in Ogoni and told the world how these two powerful and evil entities (Shell and the Nigerian government) conspired to rape and oppress Ogoni and other Niger delta oil producing communities. He and Ogonis accused Shell and Nigeria of genocide against Ogoni. When asked to recount his position on Shell’s pollution, cover-up and exploitation and he refused because he was convinced telling the truth by exposing these crimes will force global attention on these entities, question their rationale and dealings, and help to hold them accountable. This is irrespective of the state and non-state (corporate) actors' power, influence and manipulation on the global stage which makes holding them accountable difficult.
Furthermore, then Major Paul Okuntimo sent a proposal between 1993 and 1994 to the Rivers State Military Government headed by Lt. Col. Dauda Musa Komo, and Shell. The memo detailed how crisis can be stirred and sustained in Ogoni to allow commercial activities, oil production in particular which had been stopped by Ogonis in 1993 to continue. This, in his infamous restrictive memo for "wasting operations in Ogoni" was to apply ruthless tactics aimed at intimidating and scaring Ogonis. He planned these tactics against MOSOP and other Ogoni meetings and rallies as avenues to waste some prominent Ogonis, create insecurity to secure their so-called security, which to date has become elusive in Nigeria.
As a result the Ogoni youths you said caused breakdown of law and order for asserting their rights on the streets did not kill the Ogoni chiefs as mentioned inter alia. The government killed them using the military and their thugs in conspiracy with Shell, which in recent years accepted paying allowances to the military forces headed by Okuntimo. This happened after Shell severally denied any involvement including its rejection of the notion that it paid the military and bribed witnesses to lie against Saro-Wiwa. Also the chiefs who were in a meeting at Giokoo when murdered unjustly were promised security and safety by the Rivers State Military Governor Komo.
The Nigerian Sun-Ray newspaper he disbanded about 1994 published the governor's security and protection---support press release. I bought a copy and read it like thousands of other citizens in the state who read it. This is the same governor who in less than 24 hours of the incident declared Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP guilty and ordered his arrest while he declared other MOSOP executives wanted without any formal independent investigation as provided by law.
The question becomes who bypassed or broke through the military or security protection promised by the governor, to kill the chiefs? There was, of course, dreadful military presence everywhere in Ogoni on that day, to confirm the military governor's promise of protection. Nevertheless when it was time to produce the press statement (the defence team demanded to prove the trial was predetermined), which contained the governor's less than 24 hours declaration of guilt without any investigation the government lied that the tape was recycled thus not available.
As I have mentioned and you may be aware, Ogoni was infested with geared-up men of the Nigerian Armed Forces on the day of the gruesome murder. I was on errand courtesy the Council of Ogoni Professionals (COPS) that Saturday morning of May 21, 1994, visiting some Ogoni communities scheduled for Saro-Wiwa's stops for the government's national conference's interest campaign. Saro-Wiwa was an honest, tough and brave man; an honest yet tough negotiator or broker he was. He was always available to making his case and grant compromise where necessary hence his interest for the national conference. The government of Nigeria and Shell were terrified; they were scared of him, especially his ability to speak and persuade. They planned to trap him when he announced his participation as the Ogoni representative to the conference. The government feared his presence at the conference could persuade participants, the oppressed minorities of the country in particular to threaten breaking away from Nigeria due to the suffering imposed on them by successive governments which mismanaged and nearly ruined the country.
In addition, let me state here that I saw the military following Saro-Wiwa from Sogho, an Ogoni community. He was followed to Bori and Gokana. The military stationed at Sogho stopped me while I was coming from Kaani and entering Sogho-Kaani junction. This was the exact time Saro-Wiwa was forcefully stopped from entering and speaking in Sogho, and was ordered to leave. He peacefully left for Bori, headquarters of Ogoni Kingdom in the company of the military without incident. The military accepted his deputy’s (Mr. Ledum Mitee) suggestion that Saro-Wiwa follow him to his hometown, K-Dere in Gokana Local Government Area of Ogoni (Rivers State) for refreshment since he was not allowed to speak anywhere but ordered to return to Port-Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State.
They knowingly did not stop him nor did they suggest any other route to Mitee's home but the one linking the venue of the meeting attended by the chiefs, and which they were aware. It was not until he was escorted close to the meeting's venue that he was stopped and ordered again to return to Port Harcourt. This act was to make it appear Saro-Wiwa’s stop created the alleged mob, which the government claimed murdered the chiefs. My source which was his personal aide in the car with him disclosed that he was told his presence there was not in his best interest so he should help make their job easy.
This is what they knew from the outset but did not reveal rather he was misled until they reached the road linking the meeting venue at Giokoo. As narrated further his personal aide said after a brief talk with the officers who were following and stopped him, and Mitee who parked his car and walked to him (Saro-Wiwa who remained in his car), his driver revised the car and in military escort drove to Port Harcourt without any incident he saw nor partook. How then should he be responsible for a government’s master-minded killing, which was predetermined as the only way to get him implicated and put away?
Shell in 2009 settled the case: Wiwa vs. Shell for $15.5 million out of American court days before trial. Although the company did not accept responsibility or liability for the unjust and wrongful killing of Saro-Wiwa and others, as common with culpable and guilty powerful corporations and other entities, including individuals who are rich enough to settle their wrongdoings out of court, the public and court system understand that if Shell had nothing to do with the hangings it will fight to the end and not settle out of court.
In the third instance you posited that, "Ken also argued that Nigeria's minority groups should have the right to run their own government; I did not agree," you declared. The reason adduced in your disagreement was that Nigeria needed a functional democracy to enable everyone have their fair share of the resources, not especially set aside places for the 250-odd minorities. You reasoned that granting these so-called minorities the right to govern themselves will be a recipe for chaos. In this consideration I am tempted to wonder or ask if you truly had the chance to listen to Saro-Wiwa and understood what he meant by the need for minority groups to have and run their own government.
If you had the opportunity to hear him out then you did not understand what he meant. And if you did not have the chance to listen and hear him well then asked questions for clarification, you took this position from a misunderstood angle. You misunderstood his viewpoint thus misunderstood or did not understand how Nigeria is configured into so-called majority and minority ethnic groups. Against your claim: not specially set aside places for 250-odd minorities, no record has it that Nigeria is made up of 250-odd minorities rather the general and to a great extent scholarly view is that Nigeria has about or over 250 ethnic groups. These groups comprise both minority and majority ethnic peoples. Those who claim the majority title are but three groups namely Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.
What Saro-Wiwa said repeatedly in every MOSOP meeting and rallies I attended, and in his writings is that Ogoni being one of these ethnic groups, classified minorities should be granted its right to self-determination, which equally means self-government or governance. He likewise spread this argument to other minorities of the country, especially those whose oil and gas resources are used to grant the so-called majority groups multiple self-government structures or states and statuses. Self-government for Saro-Wiwa meant political autonomy or internal self-determination, which allows groups to govern and control their respective affairs without undue interference while also working collaboratively with the federal or central government. It is a natural right recognized by national laws and international norms, including the right to external self-determination or independence.
Self-government proposal is not strange to Nigeria nor is it strange to America and other western democracies though America and the latter does not have wide-spread ethnic composition as Nigeria, an artificial creation, which rogue British colonialists used as one of their conduits to siphon natural wealth from Africa. America, for example has states, which have self-government or autonomy yet these states collaborate with the federal government for the security, safety and development of the country through strategic and effective states' and national policies. Nigeria currently has thirty six states. About twenty five of these states are created on ethnic basis.
While there are about eleven states created by military fiat for Hausa-Fulanis, six states for Yorubas and five for Igbos (the so-called majority ethnic groups), two states are also created for Ibibios, and one for Ijaws---so-called minority ethnic groups. More than ninety percent of the twenty two (out of thirty six) states created for the above three ethnic groups, which claims majority status depends on sharing oil money from the minority groups' land on monthly basis without which they cannot create their budget and pay salaries. It is therefore clear here that the three states created for these minorities have not caused any chaos as your conclusion misrepresented.
This means Saro-Wiwa was right even though you disagreed without fully understanding what he meant. And the clamor in recent years for a return to Nigeria's regional system of governance that worked well, if the country is restructured on regional lines you will see these oil producing minorities in the South-south geopolitical region governing themselves alongside other regions. All the regions, say six, eight or ten will contribute to the center and not depend solely on sharing oil money while the minorities whose lands have oil and gas are polluted and cause to endure pains, suffering and die for Nigeria to survive; a proposition Saro-Wiwa vehemently challenged, opposed and exposed, and was killed.
Ben Ikari is the author of Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP: The Story and Revelation; Rights and Environmental Justice Advocate.