[Ken] Saro-Wiwa, a popular author who helped create a peaceful mass movement on behalf of the Ogoni people, was executed in November 1995 along with eight other environmental and human rights activists on what many contended were trumped-up murder charges. His body was burned with acid and thrown in an unmarked grave.
PEN, an international association of writers dedicated to defending free expression, along with Guernica, the online literary magazine, sponsored the panel with Mr. Patterson, Mr. Ndibe and Ken Wiwa, Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s son, to discuss Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s literary and political legacy.
Fourteen years have passed. General Abacha has died, and Mr. Saro-Wiwa has had a proper burial, but the circumstances surrounding the nine executions, along with related incidents of brutal attacks and torture, are getting another hearing. This month the Wiwa family’s lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell over its role in those events goes to trial in federal court in Manhattan.
“We feel that Shell’s fingerprints are all over,” Ken Wiwa told the audience. “Clearly Shell financed and provided logistical support.”
Among the accusations are that Shell employees were present when two witnesses were offered bribes to testify against Mr. Saro-Wiwa, said Jennie Green, a senior lawyer at the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the family. She said Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s brother Owens has also stated that Shell’s managing director, Brian Anderson (now retired), told him, “If you call off the campaign, maybe we can do something for your brother.”
Under American law you don’t have to be the one who “tightened the noose” to be found guilty, Ms. Green said.
During his imprisonment Mr. Saro-Wiwa said that he often envied Western writers “who can peacefully practice their craft.” Yet he also recognized that wasn’t his path. As he wrote in 1993, “The writer cannot be a mere storyteller, he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils, he or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.”