State Murder: Saro-Wiwa, 8 Kinsmen Hanged in PH

20 YEARS AGO: On November 10, 1995, environmental rights activist and author Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were executed in defiance of international appeals for leniency. They were hanged like common criminals in their prison in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

Their “offence” was that four other Ogoni leaders had been attacked and killed by a mob in Ogoni-land. Evidence of their wrongdoing was lacking, but Gen. Sani Abacha and his gang in the Provisional Ruling Council knew where they were going.

 In late October 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight others  were sentenced to death by a military tribunal set up by the Gen. Abacha regime. Six of the 15 defendants were released, including Ledum Mitee, vice-president of  the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP.

Saro-Wiwa wrote for his closing testimony at the trial: “I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.”

As leaders of the Commonwealth gathered in Auckland, the Nigerian government’s Provisional Ruling Council confirmed the death sentences. Despite Shell’s repeated claims it could not get involved in the legal process in Nigeria, the company issued a statement in response to the confirmation of the death sentences which acknowledged that a letter had been sent to Abacha asking for clemency.

There was international condemnation and outrage against both the military junta and Shell. The condemnation led to the strengthening of limited sanctions, and Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth. UK Prime Minister John Major described the trial as “a fraudulent trial, a bad verdict, an unjust sentence. It has now been followed by judicial murder”.

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