06 November 2015
The Nigerian government must release a sculpture, impounded upon arrival in Lagos, which was created as a memorial to Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists, if the seizure is illegitimate, PEN International said today. The sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp, which is in the form of a steel bus, was impounded by custom officials on the grounds of its ‘political value’, according to reports. The sculpture is intended to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, who were were given death sentences by a military tribunal.
‘Twenty years ago a Nigerian government executed Ken Saro Wiwa and eight Ogoni leaders in a trial that failed to meet international standards. Today, another Nigerian government has impounded a sculpture commemorating him, attempting to stifle his voice once again. His voice lives, resounding across not only the Niger Delta but throughout the world. Nigeria should undo its past and not repeat history; its government must not only return the sculpture but enter into a meaningful dialogue with the Nigerian people so that healing can begin.’ – Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was born in October 1941 in Bori, Nigeria. After graduating from the University of Ibadan he worked briefly as a teacher before his best known novel, Sozaboy: A Novel In Rotten English, an anti-war satire, was published in 1985. This was followed by his second book, On A Darkling Plain, about his experiences in the Nigerian Civil War. He subsequently went on to write numerous novels, as well as the hugely popular television sitcom, Basi and Company, for which he wrote over 150 episodes..
In 1990 Saro-Wiwa joined the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He campaigned for greater autonomy for the Ogoni lands and demanded that the international oil corporations (namely Shell) share revenues made on oil extracted from Ogoni land and clean up the environmental damage the extraction had caused.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was first arrested in 1992 and detained for several months before being released. In January 1993 MOSAP led a peaceful demonstration which was violently suppressed by the Nigerian security services and five months later Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for a month.
On the 21 May 1994, four Ogoni chiefs from a different faction of MOSOP to Saro-Wiwa were killed by a mob of militant MOSOP supporters. Saro-Wiwa (who earlier had been prevented from attending a meeting with the four chiefs) was arrested along with fourteen other MOSOP leaders and charged with inciting the murders.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was convicted of the murder despite many observers claiming that the trial had been rigged. On 10 November 1995, after an extensive international campaign led by PEN, Saro-Wiwa was executed. His death led to an international outcry and the trial was universally condemned as violating international standards of justice and due process.