Ogoni villagers survey destroyed canoes at Kaa, 5th January 1994. Photo: Sr. Majella McCarron, NUI Maynooth Ken Saro-Wiwa archive.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the execution of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Sr Majella McCarron (OLA) was a friend and confidant of the murdered Nigerian environmental activist.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of Nigeria’s leading literary figures. In the early ’90s he led the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta in their stand against the environmental devastation resulting from oil drilling and ruptured oil pipelines. Saro-Wiwa co-founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to challenge the substantial pollution of the water and soil on which the Ogoni people depend for their survival.

Sister Majella worked with Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria, and internationally, to highlight the plight of the Ogoni people who continue to be adversely impacted by the activities of Royal Dutch Shell in their homeland.

In 1993, the Ogoni declared Shell persona non grata in Ogoniland. They had the support of 60% of the population. The response was swift and the territory was immediately occupied by the military. This ‘Internal Security Task Force’ went about destroying villages and was responsible for widespread killing in the region.

In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were arrested. They were falsely charged with the killing of four Ogoni chiefs.

Back in Ireland, Sr Majella campaigned tirelessly to save the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the others. They became known as The Ogoni Nine and, following a sham trial, they were all executed on 10 November 1995.

In 2011 Sister Majella donated the death row correspondence she received from Saro-Wiwa, together with a collection of photographs, to Maynooth University. The letters, which were smuggled out of military detention in breadbaskets, form part of the book, Silence Would Be Treason, published by Maynooth University.

A new book, I Am a Man of Peace, edited by Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian at Maynooth University has been published to mark the 25th anniversary of the execution. It contains a collection of 21 essays and 42 poems by contributors from around the world, including an essay by Sr Majella, Global Solidarity: The Translocal Connection – South to North Ogoni to Erris. The book can be downloaded below:

I Am a Man of Peace

Letter to Majella McCarron (OLA), summer 1994 (undated)

Dear Sr. Majella,

Greetings in God’s name. Well, you know the whole story. They are getting closer to me – Shell and the Nigerian establishment that is. I’m not particularly protected, although I have great faith in God, in the justness of my cause & in the belief in eventual VICTORY. But the pain which we all have to endure! Would to God it had been lighter!

My current detention is sheer torture. I’m a private prisoner of the Lt-Col Komo and his Internal Security Task Force. This is a lawless situation. I’m not being held under Decree 2 for all I know, and if I were being held under the Criminal Code over the homicide of the 4 Ogoni men, I should be in the hands of the Police. (UNHRC have a mandate on the condition of prisoners. Can the rep in Lagos do something about me?)

Now here I am, in a private house, denied access to lawyer, doctor, family, other visitors and not allowed to have the special diet which I have been on. I am not allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio or read books. It’s mental torture.

The living condition is okay – there is electricity & air conditioning, but I’m alone with two armed guards, 24 hours a day. I’ve asked Bishop Makozi [Catholic Bishop of the Port Harcourt Diocese] to intervene with the Governor so I’m properly fed & taken to hospital. No dice.

You should see me. I’ve lost weight! For the first 10 days here, I was on bread, water & bananas alone. But I’m in good spirit, undaunted, as convinced of my cause as ever. My real worry is the devastation of Ogoni villages, the destabilization of the area & the harassment & killing of the people.

With MOSOP Steering Committee members on the run or under arrest, the Ogoni are not protected at all. And the international scene is quiet, taken up with Abiola [who won the 1993 election, annulled by the military]. Only Divine intervention can help the Ogoni.

I’m not worried for myself. When I undertook to confront Shell & the Nigerian establishment, I signed my death warrant, so to speak. At 52, I think I’ve served my time and, come to face it, I’ve lived a charmed life. A few more books, maybe, & the opportunity to assist others would have been welcome. But it’s okay.

Of course, I & MOSOP had nothing to do with the death of the 4 gentlemen [Saro-Wiwa and the 8 other executed Ogoni activists were charged with the murders of 4 Ogoni chiefs, despite the fact that the security forces had prevented him from entering Ogoniland on the day of their deaths]. We are struggling for justice, not for power and, in any case, they were of little consequence in a highly mobilized and conscious Ogoni population. They were no threat in any way at all.

Komo has just succeeded in masking the government’s role in the unfortunate & brutal deaths. And the Orages were my in-laws. My children are cousins of the Orages. Elizabeth is from Bane & is the elder sister of my estranged wife, Maria. And I did have a lot in common with Edward Kobani. We continued to discuss & chat even in recent times. We always got together again after he’d have strayed to his heart’s content.

Well, Sr., I hope you do get this letter. I hope I’ll get another opportunity to write you. I’m spending my time writing short stories – I lock my door & do not allow my gaolers to see me at it.

If we meet again, we’ll smile. Till then, it’s good luck & God bless you.