Nigeria: Remembering an Activist, Fifteen Years After his Execution

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

On November 10th, fifteen years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a prominent activist and outspoken critic of the oil industry in Nigeria, was executed along with eight of his associates. Saro-Wiwa was known throughout the world for his nonviolent activism on behalf of the Niger Delta, a region devastated by the by the oil industry. He was a hero for many Nigerians, and his execution inflamed the international community against the notoriously authoritarian regime of Sani Abacha and the practices of Royal Dutch Shell.

Saro-Wiwa and his associates, dubbed the ‘Ogoni nine’, were accused in the murder of four chiefs, members of a rival faction in the organization that advocated for their home region, Ogoniland. Saro-Wiwa and the eight other leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People were tried by a special military tribunal convened by the Abacha regime, a tribunal which was perceived as being so corrupt that nearly all the defense lawyers on the case resigned in protest (witnesses in the trial later admitted to being bribed to give false testimony). Nevertheless, the nine were convicted and sentenced to death; despite international outcry, shortly after the conviction they were hung.

Sokari at Blacklooks remembers the day Saro-Wiwa was executed:

I still remember the day, a Friday. The immediate week before the execution there was a scramble by heads of states, religious leaders, human rights organizations and individuals to try to prevent the hanging by appealing to General Abacha. Right until the very moment we all persuaded ourselves it would not happen. On the Saturday morning I remember clearly lying in bed staring at the ceiling when the phone rang. It was a call from a relative in Port Harcourt telling me what I already knew but was now confirmed. Eight members of MOSOP, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Barinem Kiobel, Fexlix Nuate, John Kpuinen, Daniel Gbokoo, Baribor Bera, Nordu Eawo, Saturday Doobe, Paul Levura had been executed.

Myrne Whitman writes of Saro-Wiwa's influence on her:

[Sara-Wiwa's writing] made references to the abuse he saw around him, as the oil companies took riches from beneath the soil of Ogoni land, and in return left them polluted and unusable. The[y] fed into my world view of how the world worked, and why I needed to tell my own story however I could.

Writing on the NigeriansTalk blog, Temie Giwa remembers Saro-Wiwa:

Ken Saro Wiwa has been my hero for as long as I can remember… I am in awe of his passion and commitment to his people. His bravery in fighting, even though he predicted his death two years before, forces me to attempt to live a life of service and to not be afraid. His commitment to literature, the exacting world of satire, and his passion for business are all concepts I hope to emulate.

He was a man that stood for his principles. He hated war but he waged it against those who exploited his people. He was a peaceful man who died for a terrible crime he did not commit. He was a product of the best that there is in the Nigerian spirit and for that I have hope for our nation.

In the wake of the November 10th execution, the families of the Ogoni nine brought a suit against Shell, the primary oil company operating in the region. They accused the multinational of crimes against humanity, alleging Shell's complicity in torture, shootings, illegal detention and other abuses carried out by the Abacha regime. In June 2009, fourteen years after the execution, the suit was settled for $15.5 million, with Shell denying responsibility for the nine deaths. After the proceedings, the Guardian reported on classified documents which revealed Shell's PR strategy at the time of the executions: in a series of internal memos, the company outlines a plan to “create coalitions, isolate the opposition and shift the debate”, win over “middle of the road” activists to Shell's agenda, and cozy up to the press.

Visit the Remember Saro-Wiwa website to hear audio about the current situation in the Niger Delta, or visit the MOSOP website for further updates.

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.


  • Ken sarowiwa still remain an icon in the fight for the emacipation of the Niger Delta.What a great loss.

  • Joe

    During military era there were many brutality against humanity. Late ken saro wiwa an icon for fair justice for mankind and others met their untimely death in a such cruel regime.Ibrahim Babangida like Abacha has assasinated many innocent lives before their natural death. Dele Giwa,Maman vasta not to mentioned MKO were among those killed by IBB. Freedom should not be a portion for such a killer in Nigeria today. Inspite of all these attrocities committed by this shameless man,he still wanted to contest for public office.Today Nigerian voices have been heard very loud and clear he would not be president any longer in the republic of Nigeria. The position he claimed he stepped aside. The only way the country could moved forward is when the truth is published out for others to read.Nigeria is on the move towards democracy.Ken saro wiwa and others fought for justice ultimately got killed sleep well in thy god almighty. Your death is not in vain, you all have fought a good fight and will always be remembered.

  • Ken was murdered for nothing. He only represented his people and fought for the right and aspiration of the ogonies.Rest in perfect peace

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