Ken Saro-Wiwa, diminutive in stature, a cerebral colossus, with immense courage

Ken Saro-Wiwa, renowned author, playwright, committed environmentalist, social crusader, and intellectual humorist even in moments of terror, tribulation and humiliation, refuses to lose his wit candour and deep-seated enthusiasm to ensure justice for his people and redefine the unjust Nigeria federation, as depicted in the above quote from his last interview with TELL in the Bori military detention camp. Even though diminutive in stature, he was a cerebral colossus, with immense courage, verve and resolute determination.

As a writer sensitive to the plight and injustice in society and the need to urgently redress such, Saro Wiwa could see, feel and touch the realities of the massive exploitation and deprivations of the good things of life of his Ogoni kindreds. Despite their gargantuan contributions to the nation’s wealth, the Ogoni people, some mere 500,000, are insulated from the comfort and cosy things of life by a vicious unjust apparatus of the state. With the abundance of the black gold beneath their soil, the Ogoni are rare breeds and lucky creation of God. So they thought. To have oil is to have wealth. But for the Ogoni, their oil has become the source of their penury. But Saro-Wiwa set to alter the equation. He plunged himself along with his compatriots into the struggle for redemption and survival of the Ogoni people, through the nascent formation of MOSOP, as association he later led. He articulated the needs and desire of his people for a fair share of the national cake baked by them.

He wanted justice, but he never reckoned with the viciousness and barbarity of the Nigerian state and its mindless operators. They are at all times ready to hammer to death any obstruction on their way to maintain a vice grip on the nation’s oil. Saro-Wiwa clearly underrated the bestial dispositions of our self-appointed leaders.

Thus, he became a writer who never read well the arithmetic of his nation’s survival and existence. For the oppressors, the activities of Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP threatened the very foundation of “our” unity and attempted to inhibit the free flow of oil wealth guzzled by a tiny cabal that has held the country to ransom. Hence, he relentlessly asked for justice, equity and fairplay but the nation was only prepared to give him blood and death.

As it is usual for a man of peace and ideas, he sought equitable redistribution of the nation’s resources. Instead he got equitable execution. After all, according to Tanko Yakassai in a TELL interview, “oil was located in the soil of Ogoniland by God.” And the Yakassias of Nigeria want an end to the hoopla about groundnut pyramid. The Ogoni, they claim, didn’t do anything to put oil beneath their soil, but the Hausa-Fulani worked hard t plant groundnut. However, they have forgotten, or deliberately refused to appreciate that this same Almighty God who have the Hausa-Fulani a good soil for planting groundnuts also in his wisdom disposited oil in Ogoniland.[edited]
Ken Saro-Wiwa was promptly arrested, but arraigned 10 months later before a special tribunal, in spite of global outcry for the trial to hold in the normal court. Despite the visible anomaly, Saro-Wiwa expected the worst but hoped for the best. Precedent abound. General  Zamani Lekwot, a Northern minority from Zango-Kataf was similarly arraigned before Justice Ben Okadigbo Tribunal for his alleged involvement in the communal riots that claimed numerous lives in the Zango Kataf crisis of 1992 in Kaduna State. He was sentenced to death by the tribunal.

But General  Ibrahim Babangida the former dictator, committed the sentence to a five-year jail term after an exhaustive National Security and Defence Council, NSDC, meeting, where General Sani Abacha was a decisive player. By extrapolation, not a few expected Abacha to extend such magnanimity to Ken Saro-Wiwa. This was a gross mistake, Saro-Wiwa is not Lekwot. He was a special minority who does not court much the powers that be.

With the intensely lubricated but skewed logic of the apostles of the state that the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa is in our character since it conformed with our judicial expectations and laws, many wonder if the actions and pronouncements of special breed Nigerians are not in our character. For instance, in the glare of security agents, paid and nurtured by the people’s sweat, irrespective of tribe and religion, an Igbo trader, Gideon Akaluka was beheaded in Goron Dutse federal prisons in Kano. The head in a primitive orgy was hung on an iron spike and the murderers victoriously danced round the town with it. Yet, no single arrest was made up till date. Not even when some street toughs and miscreants appeared before a panel and admitted beheading Akaluka. Certainly, the tribunal is not made for such special breeds. More so, Akaluka “deserves” what he got for allowing himself to be born by his parents in the forsaken part of the country.

Not done yet, Nigeria’s first-class citizens insulated from the special treatment of Tribunals went ahead to senselessly murder a professor of medicine, and chief medical director of ABU, Bandele Bandipo, for working where he was not supposed to work, and occupying a position reserved for his superiours. Despite the public grandstanding of the publicity conscious Kaduna State administrator, Lawal Jafaru Isa, that the perpetrators of the act would be tried before a special tribunal, the accused have since been taken to a magistrate court.

Obviously, Isa does not know those who are meant for tribunals. If Ken Saro-Wiwa could be hanged for murder of the four Ogonis despite the fact that he was not at the scene, but because he was leader of the MOSOP, will the government now arrest, prosecute and hang the leaders of the Northen Element Coalition, NECO, who have been fomenting trouble in ABU? The answer is self-evident.

Truly, most Nigerians especially the downtrodden are not arcane trialists or religious bigots. But the actions of four leaders which palpably fan the embers of tribalism encouraged most to think tribally.

If today journalists have become tribal irridentist and religious fanatics, it is purely because our leaders have broken faith with their oath of office and social responsibilities. If the truth must be told, Saro-Wiw’s judicial murder was oiled and orchestrated by the state simply because he was born on the wrong side of Nigeria’s landscape, The impact of this fact was not lost on Saro-Wiwa, when he remarked before his death that his greatest regret was being born a minority in Nigeria.

 

This article was first published by Dateline Magazine: Page 5, Jan 4, 1996