The BBC Documentary Podcast will be broadcasting a documentary on the book, ‘Silence Would be Treason, last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa’ on Saturday 19th June at 12:06 (UK time). [UPDATED – this is postponed till 3 July 2021]
The book features the private letters written by Ken Saro-Wiwa to Irish missionary Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) while he was on death row, and includes a selection of his poems.
The letters were smuggled out of his detention centre by Sr Majella in bread baskets, and they document the extraordinary and enduring friendship between the two. They provide first hand insight into Ken Saro-Wiwa’s courageous efforts to protect the Niger Delta against the environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by the operations of the multinational petroleum industry, especially the Royal Dutch Shell company.
The letters also addressed the growing political instability in Nigeria, his hopes for peace in Northern Ireland, and his passion for peace and justice throughout the world.
The letters were donated by Sister Majella to Maynooth University in 2011. The book was edited by Dr Íde Corley, Helen Fallon and Dr Laurence Cox of Maynooth University.
Extract from the BBC:
Silence Would Be Treason
The last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa from prison in Nigeria to an Irish nun in the run up to his execution in November 1995. Smuggled out of prison in bread baskets, they are the final testament of a man who gave everything he had in the struggle for social and ecological justice.
As Ken Saro-Wiwa continues to inspire people and movements across decades and continents, these letters form part of our living history, and give us an immediate link with the man behind the hero.
For years, Shell Oil with the backing of the Nigerian government drilled for oil in the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta. The pollution that followed destroyed farms and rivers, and contaminated the fishing and drinking water of the Ogoni people. Ken Saro-Wiwa spearheaded the resistance to this destruction, and became an icon for social justice movements everywhere.
Nigerian environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey describes these last letters as: ‘invaluable fragments of a living conversation’. And there is this sense of immediacy – they are a direct account of the events which led to the execution of the Ogoni 9.
These letters and poems of Ken Saro-Wiwa show him uncomfortable at becoming a disembodied, iconic figure. He plays down the martyred saviour narrative in favour of a more fluid sense of self as ‘voice’. A globally resonant voice, which still has relevance today.
Voiced by Ben Arogundade and presented by Noo Saro-Wiwa.
Producer: Bairbre Flood
(Photo: Ken Saro-Wiwa addressing Ogoni Day demonstration, Nigeria. Credit: Tim Lambon/Greenpeace)