Flag of the Ogoni people T-Shirt
Kenule "Ken" Beeson Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 – November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic Nigerian minority whose hometown, Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme and unremediated environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate oil waste dumping. Initially as spokesperson, and then as President, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and natural waters of Ogoniland by the operations of multinational oil companies, especially Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce proper environmental regulations on the foreign oil companies operating in the area. At the peak of his non-violent campaign, Saro-Wiwa was arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995 by the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha, all on charges widely viewed as entirely politically motivated and completely unfounded. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations.---------In 1990, Saro-Wiwa began devoting most of his time to human rights and environmental causes, particularly in Ogoniland. He was one of the earliest members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which advocated for the rights of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni Bill of Rights, written by MOSOP, set out the movement's demands, including increased autonomy for the Ogoni people, a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands. In particular, MOSOP struggled against the degradation of Ogoni lands by Shell oil company. In 1992, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for several months, without trial, by the Nigerian military government. Ken was Vice President of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) General Assembly from 1993 to 1995. UNPO is an international, nonviolent, and democratic organisation (of which MOSOP is a member). Its members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognised or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them. In January 1993, MOSOP organized peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people – more than half of the Ogoni population – through four Ogoni centers, drawing international attention to his people's plight. The same year the Nigerian government occupied the region militarily.-------------Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993, but was released after a month. On May 21, 1994 four Ogoni chiefs (all on the conservative side of a schism within MOSOP over strategy) were brutally murdered. Saro-Wiwa had been denied entry to Ogoniland on the day of the murders, but he was arrested and accused of incitement to them. Saro-Wiwa denied the charges, but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by a specially convened tribunal. The same happened to other MOSOP leaders (Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine). Nearly all of the defendants' lawyers resigned in protest to the trial's cynical rigging by the Abacha regime. The resignations left the defendants to their own means against the tribunal, which continued to bring witnesses to testify against Saro-Wiwa and his peers. Many of these supposed witnesses later admitted that they had been bribed by the Nigerian government to support the criminal allegations. Brian Anderson, the Managing Director of Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, met with Owens Wiwa, Saro-Wiwa’s brother and offered to trade Saro-Wiwa’s freedom for an end to the protests against the company. At least two witnesses who testified that Saro-Wiwa was involved in the murders of the Ogoni elders later recanted, stating that they had been bribed with money and offers of jobs with Shell to give false testimony – in the presence of Shell’s lawyer.The trial was widely criticised by human rights organizations, and half a year later, Ken Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award for his courage as well as the Goldman Environmental Prize.------ Very few observers were surprised when the tribunal declared a "guilty" verdict, but most were shocked that the penalty would be death by hanging for all nine defendants. Many were skeptical that the executions would actually occur, as the Nigerian government would face international outrage and possible sanctions and other legal action should the penalties be carried out. But on 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders (the "Ogoni Nine") were executed by hanging at the hands of military personnel. According to most accounts, Ken was the last person to be hanged and so was forced to watch the death of his colleagues. Information on the circumstances of Saro-Wiwa's own death are unclear, but it is generally agreed that multiple attempts were required before Saro-Wiwa died. His death provoked international outrage and the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations as well as the calling back of many foreign diplomats for consultation. The United States and other countries considered imposing economic sanctions on Nigeria because of such actions. ----------------- A memorial to Saro-Wiwa was unveiled in London on 10 November 2006. It consists of a sculpture in the form of a bus, and was created by Sokari Douglas Camp, also from Nigeria. It toured the UK the following year.--------------Beginning in 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), EarthRights International (ERI), Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman and other human rights attorneys have brought a series of cases to hold Shell accountable for alleged human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention. The lawsuits are brought against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of its Nigerian operation. The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York set a trial date of June, 2009. On 9 June 2009 Shell agreed to an out of court settlement of 15.5 million USD to victims' families. However, the company denied any liability for the deaths, stating that the payment was part of a reconciliation process. In a statement given after the settlement, Shell suggested that the money was being provided to the relatives of Saro-Wiwa and the eight other victims, in order to cover the legal costs of the case and also in recognition of the events that took place in the region. Some of the funding is also expected to be used to set up a development trust for the Ogoni people, who inhabit the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The settlement was made just days before the trial, which had been brought by Ken Saro-Wiwa's son, was due to begin in New York.