Special Ritual of November 10 In Honor of Ken Saro-Wiwa

Since 1995, in Nigeria and other parts of the world where a cluster of the Ogoni people of Nigeria have migrated to, every eve of November 10 a ritual rite is organized to honor the spirit of slain writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and his fallen comrades. Ken and his colleagues were killed by hanging on November 10, 1995, in the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison.

Photo: Source Open Country

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which he founded, advocated for a de-continuation of oil exploration in Ogoniland. Through MOSOP, Ken Saro-Wiwa conducted a nonviolent campaign against the environmental degradation of Ogoniland and its waters by the operations of the country’s multinational petroleum industry. This was necessitated after several oil spills and little effort by the operating oil multinationals to address the issue. Because the action of a small group of people was going to spark bigger outrage in the Niger Delta (the oil-producing region of Nigeria) and inspire other communities to demand compensation and fractions of the oil wealth as stated in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the military government of the era felt compelled to make a case to serve as a deterrent.

To achieve its sinister aim, four Ogoni elders who had contributed immensely to the growth of Ogoniland and MOSOP were brutally attacked in Gioko, a community in Ogoniland, and their remains were put in a car and set ablaze. The Saro-Wiwa faction of MOSOP was accused of carrying out the attack against their former members who had entertained a different perspective on the struggle.

Former MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara and his excos at the 2017 Ken Saro-Wiwa candlelight session. Photo: Bura-Bari Nwilo

In early 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested alongside members of MOSOP. What followed was a total clampdown on anyone who identified with the group or resisted oil exploration despite the despoliation of the land. Many non-MOSOP members and local farmers and fishermen were arrested and even killed. A military trial was set up and Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of MOSOP were accused of inciting the violence that killed the elders in Gioko. They were sentenced to death by hanging.

The news of the sentencing of Ken Saro-Wiwa sparked global outrage and the style of the trial was questioned. In 1995, precisely on 10 November, Mr. Saro-Wiwa and his comrades were killed by hanging. This news caused the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations and other organizations condemned the act.

A shrine of candles at the 2017 Ken Saro-Wiwa procession. Photo: Bura-Bari Nwilo

Since that horrific incident in 1995, Ogonis (and non-Ogonis) have carried out the ritual of a candlelight procession. This year, the 28th year of that ritual, there will be yet another gathering to burn candles in honor of this writer and activist. The epicenter of this event will be held in Nigeria — Ken Saro-Wiwa’s private office at 24 Aggrey Road in Port Harcourt. People would gather from all walks of life to pay tribute with music and solidarity chants in honor of the fallen heroes and the struggle for Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta, a region that forms the core of oil production in Nigeria.

A section of people at the 2017 Ken Saro-Wiwa candlelight procession in Port Harcourt. Photo: Bura-Bari Nwilo

As part of activities for the rite, human rights activists and concerned individuals address the crowd at the memorial eve and a procession walk from 24 Aggrey Road would move to the Port Harcourt cemetery, where Ken and his colleagues are buried in a mass grave, and it would return to Aggrey Road. This ritual is done to seek the place of the spirits to interfere with that of humans, to hunt down those who kill and those who exploit the Niger Delta of its resources.

To commemorate 28 years since Ken Saro-Wiwa was brutally hung with eight of his kinsmen, here are a few interesting facts about the activist…

#1. Ken Saro-Wiwa briefly lectured in drama at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka

You probably had no idea that the writer and dramatist lectured at a university before devoting time to full activism and political writing.  

#2. He wrote fiction, short stories, and drama plays and self-published a bulk of his works

The early writings of Mr. Saro-Wiwa found publishers but due to his knack for entrepreneurship, he added publishing to his line of business, publishing his works and some new writers at Saros Publishing.

#3. Ken was a one-time national chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors and a columnist with some Nigerian daily newspapers

Despite his busy schedule, Ken led the apex body of writers in Nigeria and contributed writings to a few Nigerian dailies.  

#4. Ken won an environmental prize called the Goldman Environmental Prize

#5. He fathered twin girls whom he named Zina and ‘Noo – which could loosely be translated as Star and Moon.

#6. Ken Saro-Wiwa was an administrator of Bonny during the civil war in Nigeria. Around the same time, he wrote a poetry collection titled Songs in a Time of War which included a special poem to his wife, Maria.

Featured photo: sahistory.org.za

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