“The sentence of the Tribunal on you, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, to the offence you have been convicted of is that you will be hanged by the neck until you be dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul” This was exactly the words of Justice Ibrahim Auta, Abacha’s Shylock and symbol of a misguided justice.
Ken in his reply to the Kangaroo court said, “I have been guilty by the Tribunal…I have been brutalized. My business has been destroyed. Today has been a black day for a black man. I am well honoured for my idea. This idea will grow. I am impressed that Shell has given its compensation. I think we have made a wonderful contribution to the nation. I have no hand in the killing of the deceased.
Verily, the junta has decided to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa even before he was tried. He has been castigated, rubbished and uselessed by the power that be yet every body knew and still knows 17 years after his execution that Ken Saro-Wiwa was innocent of the false charges leveled against him. The only sin of Ken was that he has not remained quite when a stranger came to defecate in his house. He had decided to disembowel silence created by fear. Hence, if Ken was charged with the offence of “FIGHTING FOR HIS PEOPLE” everybody the world over would have endorsed his conviction and sentence. But he was charged with the wrong offence of murder which Ken cannot dream of and also cannot conceive. His crime put it succinctly was his non-violent struggle for survival from an ecological war, a slow genocide, a despoliation of his land. The endowment of his people became a destructive and corruptive catalyst in society. The unbridled desire of those whose land are dry, rocky, barren and unfruitful ignited the calamity of Ken and the misfortune of his people (Ogonis). The Nigerian false, camouflaging and pretentious federalism has laid down a theory of reaping where one did not sow and killing the sower for better for worse.
Ken Saro-Wiwa therefore signed his death warrant when he said enough was enough for a thief. Yes, if you cannot kill the thief, if you cannot apprehend him, shout thief, thief and he will be exposed and one day he shall surely be caught. Indeed, he was to face the machine guns, the submarine, the armoured vehicles and what have you that have become redundant since the Biafran surrender in 1970. But Ken had already had a premonition for his preconceived murder. He has been advising his subjects to be fearless in the struggle.
William Boyd his London friend wrote this concerning the doggedness of Ken “From my own experience of Nigeria, I knew of the uncompromising ruthlessness of political life there…Ken was not young, nor was he in the best of health…as we said goodbye, I shook his hand and said, “Be careful, Ken, Ok? And he laughed his dry, delighted laugh and replied, oh, I’ll be very careful, don’t worry: But I knew he woudn’t.”
The die was however, cast when on Wednesday, November 8 in 1995 Lt. Col. Musa Komo who was in the meeting of PRC was ordered to execute Ken and Co. within 24 hours. But the Rivers State Government had no gallows. Really, no execution has been made since the construction of the Port Harcourt prisons. Make shift gallows had to be constructed to hang Ken and Co. Death warrant was rustled by Komo, the normal 30 days of mercy was already reduced to 24 hours.
The number one Nigerian enemy was driven from Bori Camp to the Port Harcourt Prison and arranged on a bench. Saro-Wiwa’s name was called from behind a closed door, a few yards from the shrouded bench. Ken came in and met a priest standing with a Bible in his right hand. The final hour has come, Ken reasoned rightly. His fetters were removed remaining his handcuffs. There was a sheriff and guards present. Yet his chief hosts here were the hangmen and the gallows. There was also a cross-beam from which a noose was suspended hanging. The priest started his ungodly, unsacramental and unbiblical duties right away, perhaps to obey Abacha rather than God. He prayed for the repose of Ken’s soul to the bosom of Jesus Christ. Has he ever preached to Komo and Abacha? Your guess is as good as mine. “Ken! Make your final request”, the hosts ordered. “May I see my wife, Hauwa?” Ken requested. “No make another request,” the hosts re-ordered. “May I see my father to hand over my wallet and pipe”, Ken pleaded. But like before, this request was turned’ down. He was to write down whatever he had into a ledger to be given to his family later. Saro-Wiwa then bent down and wrote something. He stepped back to the gallows on a false floor. The hangman stepped behind while the sheriff stepped in front with a signed warrant to read out his crime and conviction. The sheriff did not fail to inform Ken that his appeal has been rejected and that he was to be hanged. Though Ken was at this point mesmerized he remained stoic. He did not quake which ordinary men would. Ken did not cry. Quickly the hangman blindfolded him with a black hood over his head and like cattle to the slaughter, he was seized and dropped on the false floor to tighten the noose around his neck. To work on the pulley, the hangman went. Jerked the pulley downwards but the pulley failed. Tried again and again but the violent pulley was stubborn in honour of an innocent man. This was the same pulley that was used in mock hanging exercises of dummies filed with sand of comparable weights during which exercises the pulley worked perfectly well.
Ken was returned to the bench where he broke the news to his innocent compatriots. Most of them broke down on hearing a death chamber where there lynching was imminent. Ken did not bamboozle them but reminded them that though they may die, yet they would continue to live forever in the hears of those they fought for.
Shortly, John Kpuinen, Nycop President was led to the gallows. He was hooded and the noose tied around his neck. The hangman did his cruel duty and he was killed instanta. His body fell six feet beneath. They sent for Ken again and once again, the system failed. The heavens, the shrines and the people were not happy. Ken was returned once more and Baribor Bera led to the slaughter. He was equally butchered. Ken was brought again and the pulley which just killed two souls failed again. Then Dr. Barinem Kiobel was led to the butcher ground and was also gruesomely killed. At this moment Ken seeing his brothers slaughtered like fowls, he broke down and wept.
Ken Saro-Wiwa offered to be killed. He then prayed to the spirits of Ogoni to let him die. But Ken did not forget to ask his executors, “Why are you people treating me like this”? “WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY IS THIS THAT KILL THOSE FIGHTING FOR A BETTER LIFE FOR THEIR PEOPLE?” The hangman now started work and this time it worked. But as Ken’s body dangled from the rope, he spoke these words which were to be his final words. “LORD, TAKE MY SOUL, BUT THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES”. He was struggling and thrashing his arms around. His tongue shot out of his foamy mouth while his eyes bulged out. It took him 20 minutes to die.
After this unwholesome experience and excruciating pains, dementing experience and eclipse of an era, Musa Komo sent for a doctor and ordered Ken’s body to be retrieved from the pit. The doctor came and certified that Ken was dead but Ken and the rest eight’s remains were carried in the paupers’ coffins made at Bundu waterside in Port Harcourt, loaded in the same Black Maria that brought them from Bori Camp. They were dumped in a mass grave downtown in Port Harcourt. And to lubricate their decay and prevent a perceived resurrection particularly Ken, five gallons of acid were pured on their bodies.
Justice Ibrahim Auta came to watch his home video of the execution of the accused persons that earned him an elevation to Federal High Court. Komo came to supervise the scene that qualified him as the best Military Administrator. Fifteen other government officials also callously watched with unabated joy the carnage carnival to justify their undesirable togas. What a show of shame! What an aberration! What a doom! What a human holocaust! What a sacrifice, what a propitiation! What a remission! What an atonement! And what a ransom was Ken Saro-Wiwa. What a true Shepard whose life he laid down for his friends and even for his enemies.
The Ogonis and indeed the good and bad people of the Niger Delta should know today that we are because Ken was. Only God knows where we would have been if Ken never was. But about 17 years after the murder of Ken where is the struggle now? There is no gain saying, the struggle has been abandoned or mortgaged at the instance of political appointments for members of a chosen family. It has become “am Aluta of my family” or an aluta of my clique”. “Movement for the Survival of our family people”. A “Mao Mao Movement”. “My own family first”. But did Ken die for nothing? Only time shall tell!
Barr. Gideon Kpoobari Girigiri