Conversation With Ken Saro Wiwa

Conversation With Ken Saro Wiwa

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By Ken Meju

Ken Saro-Wiwa

A day of dialogue in memory of late iconic environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa tagged, “Conversation With Ken Saro-Wiwa” was hosted Thursday April 25 by Mother and Earth Health Foundation, HOMEF in Port Harcourt.

According to the organizer, Nnimmo Bassey, “the aim  of the intellectual event which held at  12 Isiokpo St, D/Line, Port Harcourt was, “to examine the thoughts of great thinkers according to Ken, “using them as a mirror to know if we are moving in the right direction, ” noting,“We have lost the sense of social organizing and need to put things aright. It was the young ones that liberated Africa from colonialism.

The executive director of HOMEF pointed out that Thomas Sankara, former Burkina Faso leader and Chiweizu who wrote, “the West and the Rest of Us”, were young revolutionaries as he began an x-ray of the life Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni leader who was assassinated on November 10 1995 by the military junta under the Abacha government.

Ken authored a poem, “Silence Would Be Treason” arising from a conversation between him and Sister Angela while in prison.

Nnnimmo said the dialogue session was like sneaking into Ken’s mind who he said  fought for Ogonis first having it in mind that the fight is for the general Niger Delta people.

The HOMEF boss said Ken was taking the Ogonis on a journey on pages 90 and  92, with the aim to take them far on revitalization until other people will take over in a good spirit, while expecting the worst but also for the best and not looking far from the circumstances.

He advised, “You must have your facts as activists, avoid some unnecessary exaggerations in order to get to your destinations,” as he warned activists to be careful of colonial divisions which are suggestive of entrenchments in the system.

Raising fears over succession, the environment laureate asked, “What will happen to our struggle if I and Ledum have gone?” and suggested the training of people to take over to keep the activism dream going.

Nnimmo also called for collaboration among civil society members:“Give credit to be collective”, he emphasized. “If you want to go far, don’t go alone but with people.

   He then asked, “What is it to go on a journey?”

On page 23, Ken Saro-Wiwa said he had signed his death warrant. “I am not worried about myself; I have signed my death warrant”. And he was documenting events to help others. “We shall all stand before history”. History will decide whatever we do, how far we have gone.

He explained that in the poem, ‘04, 1994’, page 10, Saro-Wiwa talked about ethnicism, a doctrine of ethnic autonomy, resource and environmental control and hoped that if it comes to pass, Ogonis would be free.

Ken was indeed an ethnic minority activist who advised the use of different cultural ideas to preserve nature, Nnimmo point out. Citing use of Fire in page 148: “Fire in me burns all night and day; flares of injustice and oppression” and a stanza in another poem titled ‘Ogoni’:  “Agony of trees dying: poison air-  and warnings to keep out of prison by his parents on page168, Saro-Wwa lamented that, “but while the land is poisoned, silence would be treason’ ( where the title of the book was picked).

Considering the rage of guns in protest to happenings in the Niger Delta today, Nnimmo advised that intellectual militancy is better than carrying guns. “Intellectual militants tackle issues with intellect, reading of books and dissemination of ideas”, he posited pointing out that now is the time to do adopt that approach for the Niger Delta struggle.

The author and poet further charged activists to read his books, ‘Re-Source Democracy’ and the ‘Resistance to the Military’ with regards to the adoption of the intellectual strategy

The eco-justice champion asked if  Nigeria can be turned into another America or Europe to which he responded, ‘Impossible” as he explained that we cannot replicate the injustice done to us by the two powers to get to their present powerful positions

Ken Henshaw host of  the conversation took up from there with five quotes to illustrate and x-ray SaroWiwa  as both Ken the writer and Ken the activist.

“I have used my talent as a writer. I have a moral victory”- Ken at 26, was an administrator in Bonny and served as commissioner in the Rivers State government.

To Henshaw, Ken the writer was more vital. Writers cannot be mere story tellers but must be actively involved in the process of shaping the present and the future, he argued.

At trial, he postulated that ,”those who did that charade were afraid of him and, stated that writers write to entertain like in England but writing also has to be combative.“The story teller must e different from others it has to be a combination of action theory that makes up a practice.

Henshaw quoted a stanza from Saro-wiwa’s poem, “As we subscribe to subnormal; criticizing the system we live in so by accepting higher standards we live to cheat”;  “Ah love; let us be true to one another while describing the Biafran War” and  “And we are here, a vast empty and; confused alarm, while ignorant arms clash at night”

Henshaw explained that every major event in life happens. They are tragedies and farce drawing inference from Fredrick and Karl Max and concluded with a question addressed to all –“How do we change our own lives?”

Also contributing, a participant at the dialogue, Arochukwu said used word carefully and has taught humanity lessons.

“Ken SaroWiwa picks his words to match his ideas. Ken has taught us how to use our profession to address societal cause. Read Ken quietly, consistently and seriously. He has taught us how you can use his ideas to reach out and help others. His death is an advantage to us”.

According to Georgewill Enefa, another participant at the conversation session,  Saro-Wiwa is a character who was able to work and talk, painting the picture of an activist with ability to understand his people and the environment without mobilizing them with money to achieve results.

“We should remodel our style to Ken’s”, he suggested.

But to Comrade Celestine Akpobari, of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Ken Saro-Wiwa should be remembered for three things-sincerity, truthfulness and courage.

Akpobari described the late Ogoni leader as a prophet noting that 24 years after his assassination, all he said have stood the test of time.

“UNEP came and validated everything Ken lived and died for”, he said and charged activists to be the torchlights to the people.

Akpobari drew attention to Saro- wiwa’s courage by refusing gratification in form of appointment from Abacha at an Abuja lunch with the junta.  “When I decided to take my write-up to the street , I know where it will take me. Best but hopeful for the worst”, he quoted.

He said that was prophetic as Ken knew exactly he would die.

Akpobari advised activists to be visional and picture where they are going from where they are starting, adding, “If you want to travel with Ken as an activist, be like him. You can kill the messenger and not the message.”

He said Ken was taken to the gallows three times but he was not afraid. He was encouraging inmates instead of crying and urged all to speak the truth and be courageous.

Akpoari pointed out that Ken led a struggle in which no stone was thrown.

Worried about the state of affairs in MOSOP Ejit had a poser for the speakers, “Do you still think the Ogoni struggle will be achieved in the face of existing divisions?’’ But Akpobari said it is possible and urged the warring MOSOP contenders to go back and form a formidable youth wing. “Look for men with character, the struggle is alive,” the Ogoni Solidarity Forum president reiterated.

Quoting Ken, Akpobari explained, “Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP is a front to propagate ideas. MOSOP was scrapped; it is only a vehicle for the struggle. Ogoni struggle is far beyond MOSOP”. 

Another participant, Michael urged the dialogue organizers to produce a documentary on Ken Saro-Wiwa while a student, Amadi Praise George demanded for the introduction of a students’ movement to ensure sustainability in the struggle.

From Anthony came the, “When do we become consistent to form a neutral force to do the extraordinary against a calculated attempt to steal the will of the people by government and politicians?”

Nnimmo responded with the advice, “Listen to our key leaders to emancipate yourself from slavery-mentality, economic slavery and others. We must think ourselves. Life is short, if you cross 30 years, you have crossed a generation”.

A participant who said he was 11 years old when Ken died wanted to know who Ken was.

Patrick Inemite quoted Mother Theresa, “When you invite me for trouble, I will not be there but when you invite me for struggle I will be there”, and asked to know the immediate solution to problems in the Niger Delta.

He was told to go deep into Ken Saro-Wiwa (through his works) and see the result, interrogate things as Saro-Wiwa foresaw and addressed this in his Bassey and Company Comedy with a character known as Mr Big who, was pretending to be unAfrican and looking for money.

According to Nnimmo, Ken foresaw this current craze for quick money; he was a man ahead of his time.

Another participant, Silas advocated the use of social media to educate the militants to adopt better living and encourage youths to embrace digital technology.

Summing up the conversation, Nnimmo Bassey stressed the need for us to know our heroes and urged all to look for Ken Saro-Wiwa’s books, read and share them in the social and traditional media as well as encourage everyone to celebrate the ideals he advocated. He also charged everyone to question things normally taken for granted and redefine their steps as away of nurturing a better society.

Write stories and poems, he instructed. “Perfect it knowing what you are doing. Also raise people to takeover for the sake of continuity”.

Ken Henshaw closed the conversation with a parting shot, “Whatever you have chosen as your endeavor, find a voice to define and change your own world”.  

In all, it was an intellectually re-awakening conversation bringing Ken Saro-Wiwa back to the minds of Niger Deltans with the silent message that the cause for which his blood was shed is yet to be achieved.