Thorn in side of Nigeria generals

Condemned: Human rights groups fighting for Ken Saro-Wiwa's release say he was denied a fair trial

DAVID ORR

Ken Saro-Wiwa, the writer and environmental activist sentenced to death yesterday, has been a thorn in the side of the Nigerian government ever since his Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People began to campaign against the operations of the Shell oil company five years ago.

Mosop aimed to force Shell to repair environmental damage caused by its activities, and to pass a greater share of oil revenues to the 500,000 Ogoni people, crammed into their 400-square-mile territory.

The region, dotted with oil spills, contaminated water and gas flares, is one of the most polluted on the planet. Mosop protests forced Shell to halt operations in mid-1993. In August, the Nigerian military encouraged neighbouring ethnic groups to attack the Ogonis, and used mobile "kill-and-go" police to attack demonstrations.

Mr Saro-Wiwa's stance provoked divisions among the Ogoni, but the moderates were sidelined by a Mosop intolerance and government repression.

The tribunal that condemned Mr Saro-Wiwa and three others for the murder of four Mosop members has been sitting in the oil city of Port Harcourt since February.

Human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch/Africa, have been campaigning for the trial to be stopped. "The tribunal lacks independence and impartiality and has been the subject of intense international criticism", said a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

The murders of the four Mosop activists took place in May last year. Mr Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues are alleged to have carried out the killings because the men were selling out to the military government. Two of the murdered men were his in-laws and the other two close friends.

Campaigners for the release of the accused admit Mr Saro-Wiwa had differences with the murdered men over the leadership of Mosop but contend that the four men were murdered by government agents bent on discrediting Mosop.

The military regime of General Sani Abacha has been trying to suppress the secessionist movement which is demanding compensation from Shell for pollution of Ogoni land by nearly 100 on-shore oil wells.

Oil export revenue accounts for about 90 per cent of Nigeria's foreign exchange, and a 1978 decree ruled that all land where oil is found belongs to the federal state.

"The land is so devastated environmentally that fishermen and farmers cannot sustain their lives,'' Dr Owens Saro-Wiwa told the Independentshortly before the verdict on his brother, and co-defendants, was announced. "The government and the oil companies did not like the demands being made by our organisation. They are prepared to do anything so that other ethnic groups in Nigeria will not start agitating."

Dr Owens Saro-Wiwa, who granted the interview at a clandestine location in Lagos, is on the run. He claimed that his brother had been tortured, more than 30 Mosop activists are in detention and that hundreds of Ogoni campaigners are in hiding from the Nigerian security services. "My brother's lawyers were detained and persecuted," Dr Owens Saro-Wiwa said. "Witnesses were discouraged from giving evidence by harassment and bribery."

In a statement to the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Tribunal in September, Ken Saro-Wiwa said that after his arrest he was tortured, and denied food and medical attention. He also claimed that his mother and wife had been beaten.

Lawyers defending Mr Saro-Wiwa pulled out of the case in the summer in protest at the failure of state officials to submit key evidence to the tribunal.

The Human Rights Watch report, which was published in July after a three-week mission to Nigeria by the Washington-based group, says that at least 50 Ogonis were executed without trial by the security forces after the murders of the four pro-government Ogoni leaders.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer / Full Stack Developer

£24500 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat