“On this day in 1995, Nigerian author, television producer, and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed, provoking international outrage against the Nigerian government and Royal Dutch Shell oil company.
Born Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa, Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria. Oganiland, the Ogoni people’s 350-square-mile oil-rich but desperately impoverished homeland in the Niger Delta, was the site of decades of environmental damage by the multinational petroleum industry’s crude oil extraction and indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. Saro-Wiwa served as spokesman, and later president, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of Ogoni land by petroleum interests of Royal Dutch Shell. Saro-Wiwa was also among the most articulate and determined critics of the Nigerian government, who he said was lax in enforcing environmental regulations.
As part of his work with MOSOP, Saro-Wiwa organised peaceful marches, advocated for the rights of the Ogoni people, and helped write the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which laid out the movement’s demands, including Ogoni autonomy, remediation of environmental damages to Ogoniland made by Shell pipelines, and a share of the revenue from the oil pumped from their land. According to human rights groups, the Nigerian government responded by sending their troops to burn and pillage Ogoni villages, committing murders and rapes.
Because of his activism, Saro-Wiwa was briefly imprisoned several times. In May 1994, he and eight other MOSOP leaders were arrested in connection with the murders of four Ogoni chiefs, and put on trial in a special military court on what human rights groups and international observers said were fabricated and trumped up charges. The trial, rigged by the Abacha regime, saw witness after witness testify against Saro-Wiwa and his MOSOP colleagues. Most of the witnesses later admitted they were bribed with money and job offers to testify against the accused. Still, Saro-Wiwa and the eight other MOSOP leaders were found guilty and convicted to death by hanging. Governments and citizens’ organisations called on Shell to intervene, but to no avail. On 10 November 1995, after being forced to watch his eight colleagues hanged, Saro-Wiwa, too, was hanged by the military government of General Sani Abacha.
The trial and execution provoked an international outcry against the Nigerian government and Shell, and was widely criticised by human rights organisations. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations for more than three years for the politically-motivated executions.
In 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a law firm specialising in human rights, sued Shell for human rights violations in Nigeria. In June 2009, Shell agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $15.5 million to the victims’ families, but denied liability for the deaths.
Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award and Goldman Environmental Prize for his courage and perseverance.”
Credit: © Reuters/Corbis
Caption: Ken Saro-Wiwa, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award and Goldman Environmental Prize, was executed in Nigeria in 1995, sparking international outrage.