Ken Saro Wiwa is best known as the writer who fought fiercely for the rights of the Ogoni people in south-south Nigeria, eventually paying the ultimate price.
Saro Wiwa was hanged today, November 10, but back in 1995 – 20 years ago – after being tried by a military tribunal he said had written the judgement in advance.
In letter from prison, he wrote: “A year has gone by since I was rudely roused from my bed and clamped into detention.
“Sixty-five days in chains, weeks of starvation, months of mental torture and, recently, the rides in a steaming, airless Black Maria to appear before a kangaroo court, dubbed a special military tribunal, where the proceedings leave no doubt that the judgment has been written in advance. And a sentence of death against which there is no appeal is a certainty.”
Here are 20 other quotes from the “true son” of Ogoniland.
1. “Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues.”
2. “The men we are dealing with are mindless, Stone Age dictators addicted to blood.”
3. “In Nigeria, the only wrongdoers are those who do no wrong; to live a day in Nigeria is to die many times.”
4. “[Nigeria’s rulers] have been responsible for the African nightmare, afraid as they are of ideas and men of ideas. They are daylight robbers who kill for money.”
5. “Water wey dey boil No hot like dis Nigeria.”
6. “Forgive me friend, if I laugh at what should make me cry.”
7. “You cannot destroy an idea like mine…Even if I were to die tomorrow, even if I were to be locked up in prison…You can’t destroy an idea like mine.”
8. “I want the country to be together. I want one country, but I want a true federation, not this apparition…”
9. “It is said that a prophet is not without honour save in his country and in his own house. But I have found honour among my beloved Ogoni people who have suffered immensely in the last hundred years.”
10. “The most important thing for me is that I’ve used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it. And it sure makes me feel good! I’m mentally prepared for the worst, but hopeful for the best. I think I have the moral victory.”
11. “Unless you go back to how the country started, we will never be able to find a way out of our dilemma.”
12. “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.”
13. “In this country [England], writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence…but for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into that. Literature has to be combative.”
14. “I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.”
15. “I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief.”
16. “Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence.”
17. “Shell and the Nigerian military dictatorship are violent institutions, as the Ogoni planned peace and dialogue, Shell and the Nigerian military plotted death and destruction.”
18. “I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: ‘All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.’ Come the day.”
19. “The men who ordain and supervise this show of shame, this tragic charade, are frightened by the word, the power of ideas, the power of the pen.”
20. “Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time, money and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow.”
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