Letters and poems written by the Nigerian environmental and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa while on death row in 1995 have been published in a new book.
‘Silence Would be Treason, Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa’ is a compilation of the private letters he wrote to Irish missionary nun. Sr Majella McCarron OLA. and it also includes a selection of his poems.
It was launched at NUI Maynooth by the Nobel Peace Prize nominee’s brother, Dr Owens Wiwa. and introduced by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Chair of the University’s Governing Authority.
The letters were smuggled out of Saro-Wiwa’s detention centre in 1995 in bread baskets.
They document the writer’s transition from political activist to political prisoner, his efforts to protect the Ogoni people’s land in the Niger Delta against the depredations of the multinational oil corporation, Shell, and his enduring friendship with Sr Majella.
At the launch in Maynooth, Dr Owens Wiwa spoke of the family’s gratitude to Sr Majella and NUIM.
“In many ways Ken was a man ahead of his time who envisaged that unchecked and unregulated global corporations are a threat to people and the planet. His ideas spoke to the anxiety of millions who feel disconnected and disenfranchised by the agenda of politics and big business,” Dr Wiwa said.
He said his family remains disappointed that very little has changed in the area, despite the attention focused on it and the Ogoni people.
“The oil companies continue to seek strategies to evade their liabilities and their responsibility to the people and the planet, while Nigeria’s leaders continue to squander his legacy to the region,” he said.
At the launch, Sr Majella said she kept the letters for 16 years.
“I felt that I was referentially putting them into the safety of an archive so I was surprised and delighted when they decided to edit the letters and bring the voice of Ken Saro-Wiwa back to the public,” she said.
The OLA missionary donated the letters to the university in 2011.
NUIM also unveiled an audio archive which includes extensive interviews with Sr Majella, speaking of her childhood in Co Fermanagh, her decision to join a religious order, working in Nigeria and meeting Ken Saro-Wiwa, and her efforts to save his life and the lives of the Ogoni Nine.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a leader of the Ogoni people, who number just half a million, and are based in the south eastern region of the Niger Delta.
He led a non-violent campaign against the environmental destruction of the Ogoni’s land by the multinational oil company, Shell, which operated as many as 100 oil wells, a petrochemical complex and two oil refineries there at the time.
He was executed in 1995 along with eight other activists after they were found ‘guilty’ of the murder of four Ogani chiefs, a conviction which sparked an outcry across the world as people reacted to the apparent miscarriage of justice.
Nigeria was subsequently suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations for a number of years.
The new book was edited by three NUI Maynooth staff, Dr Íde Corley (English Department), Helen Fallon (Library) and Dr Laurence Cox (Sociology Department).