Saro Wiwa: Narratives and the counter-narratives

It is another Friday.

Ordinarily, the mood should be one of elation; that another weekend is here. But no, I am not so disposed.

Rather, I am thinking of the fact that this is November after all. It is a time of the year when despite the impending yuletide season, I cannot but also remember how the Nigerian State turned on itself by killing one of her golden sons – Ken Saro Wiwa.

Specifically, it was on November 10, 1995. The scene still comes back clearly to me. I was, as on this occasion outside Nigeria, in far-away Wisconsin.

I was coming in from Florida, where I had attended the African Studies Association conference with Professor Adebayo Williams. We were bringing our bags out of the car, with the snow falling all around us, on the grounds of the University of Wisconsin. This was when Bayo turned to me…they have killed that man – Ken Saro Wiwa. I was stupefied. It was, to say the obvious, a bad time for Nigeria.

So bad that we were even in Wisconsin for a week-end conference whose theme was: Dilemmas of Democracy in Nigeria. As far as I was concerned and in my own presentation, the dilemma had been resolved. It was clear that there were no more dilemmas. That democracy, under the circumstances, was about the only way to go. For this much was clear, under a democratic dispensation, such a dastardly act would not have taken place. And a number of reasons have certainly informed this stance.

Just one of them will suffice here. In the first instance, such was the pre-programmed nature of the exercise that the fiery human rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, threw in the towel at the onset of the exercise. He was convinced that there was something inevitable about the entire exercise.

Read also: Nigeria democracy facing uncertain future, says UK Guardian

Ghastly enough, he turned out to be right. Why for instance would a charge as grave as murder, be tried before a special tribunal whose members were hand-picked by the government. Again, there were revelations to the effect that Big Oil was the invisible and invincible hand behind the entire charade. Those witnesses had been induced to do Saro Wiwa and his compatriots in. Even then, the indecent haste which occurred in the post-trial period was quite something and baffling, to say the least.

For even under the draconian statutory provisions, on whose platform the trial took place, there was the provision for appeal. But no, the doomed man and his colleagues had to be despatched-post-haste.

Thus, without waiting for the appeal process to be played out – the hangmen came in and did the ghastly and needful, which was as unbecoming and barbaric.

However, it appears as if President Buhari is yet to come to terms with the nuances and deeper dimensions of this unfortunate incident. Very recently for instance, when he received in audience – a delegation of the Ogoni leaders, he was reported to have said that a pardon was being considered for Saro Wiwa and his friends.

Those in the know, were taken aback. And at the risk of speaking out of turn, it was evident that our president had misfired. Taken together, it was obvious that there is a riddle here.

Indeed, and as opined in one of the reactions: who should pardon who? It is arguable that it was the Nigerian State that should be seeking pardon from Saro Wiwa, if that were possible. In my own private moments, I have often wondered about the attitude of the elite in that part of the country.

How did they really feel, when Saro was despatched to the beyond in such a callous manner? My own experience is worth recalling here. One fine evening, I found myself in the midst of two top oil executives from Rivers State who had attended the Government College Umuahia.

It just occurred to me that they could well have been contemporaries of Ken at GCU. So, I asked them what they thought of the man. Almost in unison, they were very dismissive of Ken – pointing out that he was something of a maverick. I could see here the usual antipathy between the elite on one hand and the counter-elite, which Ken embodied. But such is my inclination that my spirit always goes with the latter.

For despite the short end of the stick that was handed to Ken, he still managed to have the last word. As he faced the gallows, he was reported to have said – Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues. As anybody can see, the struggle indeed continues.

First in the Niger Delta itself, which has been in a perpetual state of restiveness. Very much the same thing can be observed at the global level. At the recent meeting in Glasgow for instance, the managing director of Royal Dutch Shell, the oil giant, was subjected to some severe excoriation.

On this note, Ken Saro Wiwa himself would have been smiling in the beyond. Still, despite what appears to be my own disposition towards the entire Ken Saro Wiwa issue; there is still a counter-narrative to the entire situation. And for the sake of balance, this should not be ignored.

Specifically, our reference here is to the voices from the descendants of those who were allegedly killed by Saro Wiwa. Such a counter-narrative was trending recently on the social media, ably amplified by the journalist, Donu Kogbara.

It was to the effect that Ken was indeed responsible for the deaths of the other Ogoni elite like the Badeys, Kobani and the rest of them. Clearly therefore, what obtains particularly in Ogoni land is not a black and white situation. Some measure of grey lies in-between. And my suspicion here is that much bitterness and rancour continue to plague the small Ogoni community.

As far as I am concerned, this is very unfortunate. For their real enemies are out there and not within. And it is on this note that I am contending thus: in the light of these narratives and counter-narratives; may the souls of Ken, his colleagues as well as those of the Badeys and Kobani continue to rest in peace.

Professor Kayode Soremekun, former Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye Ekiti, is the chairman, Editorial Board, BusinessDay Newspaper

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