No thanks to a gerontocratic class that defiantly continues to stand between the present and future, younger generations in Africa find the rungs on the ladder of progress rather slippery. So, at 47, Ken could be said to have been at the prime of life, but still rather young to find a seat with the elders. His sudden death came as a great shock to those of us who knew him. I picked up the news of his rather untimely death, purely by chance. I spent a good part of the day unwilling to seek confirmation or further clarification, perhaps, emotionally thinking that the reality might just be different.
Life indeed is only a journey. When I heard that Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr had died, I was dumbstruck. I was scrolling through my BBM messages on my iphone when I saw his photo and a RIP message on Nkiru Asika of Storm Records, profile photo at 12:33am of Wednesday, the 19th of October, 2016.
I am at the Democratic National Convention this week, proud to represent New Hampshire as a Hillary Clinton delegate. The convention will be particularly meaningful to me because the party platform we will be adopting finally addresses the issue that brought me to the United States: environmental protection from corporate greed.
November has proved to be a very terrifying month for the Saro-Wiwa family. Exactly 21 years ago – on 10 November 1995 – the head of the family, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was gruesomely thrown into an unmarked grave by murderers acting on behalf of one of Africa’s worst dictators, General Sani Abacha, then ruler of Nigeria.
It did not come as a surprise although. Efforts had been made in the not too recent past to make Ogoni land an ocean of blood rather than an ocean of life. Magnus had severally vowed to kill too much of Ogonis as a revenge or reward for victory or failure. Magnus had sponsored several Army killings in Ogoni land beginning from January 2016 till date.
The Nigerian government has finally started the clean-up of oil-soaked Ogoniland after years of inaction. A billion dollars has been committed to what has been described as one of the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up exercises.
November 10th marked the 21st anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder by Nigeria’s military dictatorship for challenging Shell’s devastation of his home – Ogoniland. His only remaining son died a few weeks before this terrible anniversary. His funeral was this week.
Several questions have trailed the ceremonial flag off. Is the government sincere about the exercise? Is there a budget for the clean up? When would the structures to oversee the clean up be set up? What roles would local people play in the exercise? Will this be another avenue for dispensing political patronage?
The optimism raised by the flag off of the implementation of the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoniland 24 days ago, might soon be replaced by cynicism. Many in Ogoni and around the world had reckoned that the June 2, 2016 ceremony was to be a major breakthrough in solving one of the most serious environmental crises humanity has faced. But the seeming inability of the Federal Government to constitute the governing council and board of trustees 24 days after is now fuelling a feeling of disappointment that the exercise was perhaps without altruistic motives.