Ken Saro Wiwa was a Nigerian campaigner for the human rights of the Ogoni people in the Niger River delta who was executed by dictator Sani Abacha’s regime in 1995.
Source: Ken Saro Wiwa – The Zimbabwean
The Ogoni are a minority group of one million in a country of 200 million, so his focus on his own people did not make him a national figure in his life time. But his rigged trial and execution – together with eight others, making ‘the Ogoni Nine’ – outraged international sensitivity and made his name known. Saro Wiwa was also a writer and a broadcaster, so his campaign was not just focused on one issue but developed a wider consciousness of civic awareness, particularly in the way the Shell Oil company was allowed by the Nigerian government to exploit the rich oil reserves of the delta without attending to the environmental impact on the lives of the people. Mark Dummett, of Amnesty International, says that while the company claimed that in one area of Ogoniland, only 1,640 barrels of oil spilled into the environment, an independent estimate put it at 100,000 barrels. Shell saw its Nigerian business as ‘the jewel in the crown of its exploration and production division’.
The result is that Saro Wiwa is now remembered principally as a prophet of ecological justice, something that is becoming increasingly relevant today. In his speech at his trial in 1995, he said;
‘We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live in a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalisation and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and decent living and determined to usher into this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilisation, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated.’
His courage and commitment are echoed in the readings we have this Sunday: ‘Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life.’ The Book of Wisdom is a scene-setter for the gospel words; ‘the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of man, and they will put him to death.’ We can see the deaths of Ken Saro Wiwa and his eight companions in this tragic tradition of a world ‘groaning on one great act of coming to birth.’ Their deaths repeat the death of the Son of Man and set off an explosion of revulsion across the planet. But it also forged a conviction among many, especially the young, that the struggle for justice was the one worthwhile cause facing humanity today.
19 September 2021 Sunday 25B Wis 2:12…20 James 3:16-4:3 Mk 9:30-37
 Material for this piece comes from: Fallon, H, (Ed), I am a man of peace, Writings inspired by the Maynooth University Ken Saro Wiwa Collection, 2020