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The Legacy of Ken Saro Wiwa

In Nigeria and many other parts of the word, people are holding ceremonies, concerts and vigils to mark to 10th anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death.

The Nigerian writer and eight other Ogoni activists were executed for allegedly inciting violence that led to the deaths of four pro-government Ogoniland chiefs. Their trial before a Nigerian military tribunal and subsequent executions triggered an outcry from human rights groups and governments alike.

Mr. Saro-Wiwa was a founding member of MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. It accused the government and major oil companies of destroying the environment in the Niger Delta, while denying human rights and fair compensation to residents there.

One of today’s remembrances for Ken Saro-Wiwa is taking place in London’s Bernie Spain Gardens. There are readings from his writings and the unveiling of the design for a living memorial in his honor. Among those taking part is Ken Wiwa, son of the Ogoni activist. From London he spoke to English to Africa’s Joe De Capua about his father’s legacy.

“I think the legacy is very clearly that… the issues which he struggled to bring to both national and international attention have become the focus of national and international attention both in Nigeria and abroad. So, simply put, he put Ogoni on the map, on the world map,” he says.

Looking at Ogoniland today, Mr. Wiwa says, “My feelings is that many of the issues which he championed we still have to achieve justice. We still have to achieve environmental justice. We still have to achieve to win our rights to our resources. But that’s going to take some time. One of the difficult things is that the Movement was formed in 1990 and within three years it became the largest grassroots movement in Africa. It grew very fast and it became a victim of its own success. It’s going to take some time to reconfigure and consolidate that early growth.”

Asked whether there’s been progress overall in Nigeria since the end of military rule, he says, “Ah, it’s very, very hard to quantify that. But my feeling is that if we continue to work and push for some of the aims and ideals of the Ogoni Bill of Rights we will eventually get there because certainly the world is watching, the world is listening. And the people who’ve denied our rights for such a long time can’t act with impunity.”

Mr. Wiwa says his father had a big effect on people around the world, as reflected by Thursday’s commemorations. He says, “My father spoke to the needs of oppressed people seeking social justice…wherever I travel, I mean, I’ve met Burmese students, who were in detention in Burma, who told me that they cried when they heard about my father’s execution. And when you look at the list of countries holding events, obviously my father’s story has struck a cord….people come up to me and say I’m from Rwanda, I’m from Sudan, I’m from Bolivia, many of those things you speak about we have those issues, too. So when people read about what my father was able to achieve it speaks to their own issues, too.”