Thorn in side of Nigeria generals
Condemned: Human rights groups fighting for Ken Saro-Wiwa's release say he was denied a fair trial
Wednesday 01 November 1995
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.
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK, where houses cost 11 times local salaries
Wellcome Image Awards: The most striking images from the world of science, including breast cancer cells under chemical attack and a photographer’s own kidney stone
Space debris orbiting Earth to be destroyed with giant lasers fired from Australia
Oscar Pistorius murder trial: Athlete repeatedly sick as court hears 'graphic details' of Reeva Steenkamp's post-mortem
How climate change helped Genghis Khan: Scientists believe a sudden period of warmer weather allowed the Mongols to invade with such success
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 2 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 3 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks
£1000 per month: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ban...
£960 - £1550 per month: Inspiring Interns: Our client has been at the forefron...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client is a leading digital agency bu...
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Charter Selection: Global leader in its respective ...