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Remembering an audacious activist Ken Saro Wiwa

Today we commemorate the death of Kenule ‘Ken’ Beeson Saro-Wiwa, environmental activist, writer, TV producer, who was hanged on this day in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.



Kenule ‘Ken’ Beeson Saro-Wiwa, environmental activist, writer, TV producer, was hanged on this day in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.

In 1995, the Abacha government hanged Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni men, in what was considered a shocking move. The international community was quick to condemn the move, with the Commonwealth suspending Nigeria for more than three years and others considering economic sanctions.

Born in 1941, Saro Wiwa started out as a teaching assistant at the University of Lagos and later at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He had to leave for Bonny for supporting the Federal Government when the civil war broke out. At Bonny, he became a civilian administrator before serving as the Regional Commissioner of Education in the River State but his agitation for Ogoni autonomy led to his dismissal.

Saro Wiwa authored Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, about a Nigerian boy recruited during the Civil War. On Darkling Plain narrates his experience during the war. He was also a producer of Basi & Company, a satirical series, and was also a playwright, penning plays such asTransistor Radio.


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Most of his works portrayed an alternative image of the Nigerian society. He was inspired by the politics of the day as well as the environmental and social justice issues.

Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa (October 10, 1941 – November 10, 1995), Nigerian author and environmental activist. Photo: Wiki/CC

Saro-Wiwa started dedicated most of his time to environment and human rights causes, joining the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which advocated for the rights of the Ogoni people. One of the main priorities of MOSOP was to fight against the degradation of Ogoni land by Shell.

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In 1992, he was first arrested and detained for a number of months before he was released. In May 1993, he was imprisoned for a month for leading the MOSOP peaceful demonstration, which the Nigerian security forces suppressed.

In May 1994, Saro Wiwa was arrested together with other MOSOP leaders and charged with the inciting the murders of four Ogoni chiefs killed by members of a different faction of MOSOP.  He was in jail for one year, before he was found guilty.


With the eight other MOSOP leaders, known as Ogoni Nine, Saro Wiwa was sentenced to death. Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood for his courage and the Goldman Environmental Prize.

After their hanging in 1995, they were buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery.

As part of the tributes to Saro Wiwa include a 2006 memorial in London, a literary prize- Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Prose- sponsored by the Association of Nigerian Authors, and the Writer Hero award by the My Hero Project.  The River State University in Nigeria and a street in Amsterdam was renamed in his honour.

He inspired a number of writers, and his life has been written in different texts.