By Ken Meju
A day of dialogue in memory of late iconic environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa tagged, “Conversation With Ken Saro-Wiwa” was hosted Thursday April 25 by Mother and Earth Health Foundation, HOMEF in Port Harcourt.
According to theorganizer, Nnimmo Bassey, “the aim ofthe intellectual event which held at 12Isiokpo St, D/Line, Port Harcourt was, “to examine the thoughts of greatthinkers according to Ken, “using them as a mirror to know if we are moving inthe right direction, ” noting,“We have lost the sense of social organizing andneed to put things aright. It was the young ones that liberated Africa fromcolonialism.
The executive directorof HOMEF pointed out that Thomas Sankara, former Burkina Faso leader andChiweizu who wrote, “the West and the Rest of Us”, were young revolutionaries ashe began an x-ray of the life Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni leader who wasassassinated on November 10 1995 by the military junta under the Abachagovernment.
Ken authored a poem,“Silence Would Be Treason” arising from a conversation between him and SisterAngela while in prison.
Nnnimmo said thedialogue session was like sneaking into Ken’s mind who he said fought for Ogonis first having it in mindthat the fight is for the general Niger Delta people.
The HOMEF boss said Kenwas taking the Ogonis on a journey on pages 90 and 92, with the aim to take them far onrevitalization until other people will take over in a good spirit, whileexpecting the worst but also for the best and not looking far from thecircumstances.
He advised, “You musthave your facts as activists, avoid some unnecessary exaggerations in order toget to your destinations,” as he warned activists to be careful of colonialdivisions which are suggestive of entrenchments in the system.
Raising fears oversuccession, the environment laureate asked, “What will happen to our struggleif I and Ledum have gone?” and suggested the training of people to take over tokeep the activism dream going.
Nnimmo also called forcollaboration among civil society members:“Give credit to be collective”, heemphasized. “If you want to go far, don’t go alone but with people.
He then asked, “What is it to go on ajourney?”
On page 23, Ken Saro-Wiwasaid he had signed his death warrant. “I am not worried about myself; I havesigned my death warrant”. And he was documenting events to help others. “Weshall all stand before history”. History will decide whatever we do, how far wehave gone.
He explained that inthe poem, ‘04, 1994’, page 10, Saro-Wiwa talked about ethnicism, a doctrine ofethnic autonomy, resource and environmental control and hoped that if it comesto pass, Ogonis would be free.
Ken was indeed anethnic minority activist who advised the use of different cultural ideas topreserve nature, Nnimmo point out. Citing use of Fire in page 148: “Fire in meburns all night and day; flares of injustice and oppression” and a stanza inanother poem titled ‘Ogoni’: “Agony oftrees dying: poison air- and warnings tokeep out of prison by his parents on page168, Saro-Wwa lamented that, “butwhile the land is poisoned, silence would be treason’ ( where the title of thebook was picked).
Considering the rage ofguns in protest to happenings in the Niger Delta today, Nnimmo advised thatintellectual militancy is better than carrying guns. “Intellectual militantstackle issues with intellect, reading of books and dissemination of ideas”, heposited pointing out that now is the time to do adopt that approach for the NigerDelta struggle.
The author and poetfurther charged activists to read his books, ‘Re-Source Democracy’ and the‘Resistance to the Military’ with regards to the adoption of the intellectualstrategy
The eco-justicechampion asked if Nigeria can be turnedinto another America or Europe to which he responded, ‘Impossible” as heexplained that we cannot replicate the injustice done to us by the two powersto get to their present powerful positions
Ken Henshaw hostof the conversation took up from therewith five quotes to illustrate and x-ray SaroWiwa as both Ken the writer and Ken the activist.
“Ihave used my talent as a writer. I have a moral victory”- Ken at 26, was anadministrator in Bonny and served as commissioner in the Rivers Stategovernment.
ToHenshaw, Ken the writer was more vital. Writers cannot be mere story tellersbut must be actively involved in the process of shaping the present and thefuture, he argued.
Attrial, he postulated that ,”those who did that charade were afraid of him and, statedthat writers write to entertain like in England but writing also has to be combative.“Thestory teller must e different from others it has to be a combination of actiontheory that makes up a practice.
Henshawquoted a stanza from Saro-wiwa’s poem, “As we subscribe to subnormal;criticizing the system we live in so by accepting higher standards we live tocheat”; “Ah love; let us be true to oneanother while describing the Biafran War” and “And we are here, a vast empty and; confused alarm, while ignorant armsclash at night”
Henshawexplained that every major event in life happens. They are tragedies and farcedrawing inference from Fredrick and Karl Max and concluded with a questionaddressed to all –“How do we change our own lives?”
Alsocontributing, a participant at the dialogue, Arochukwu said used word carefullyand has taught humanity lessons.
“KenSaroWiwa picks his words to match his ideas. Ken has taught us how to use ourprofession to address societal cause. Read Ken quietly, consistently andseriously. He has taught us how you can use his ideas to reach out and helpothers. His death is an advantage to us”.
Accordingto Georgewill Enefa, another participant at the conversation session, Saro-Wiwa is a character who was able to workand talk, painting the picture of an activist with ability to understand hispeople and the environment without mobilizing them with money to achieveresults.
“Weshould remodel our style to Ken’s”, he suggested.
Butto Comrade Celestine Akpobari, of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Ken Saro-Wiwashould be remembered for three things-sincerity, truthfulness and courage.
Akpobaridescribed the late Ogoni leader as a prophet noting that 24 years after hisassassination, all he said have stood the test of time.
“UNEPcame and validated everything Ken lived and died for”, he said and chargedactivists to be the torchlights to the people.
Akpobaridrew attention to Saro- wiwa’s courage by refusing gratification in form ofappointment from Abacha at an Abuja lunch with the junta. “When I decided to take my write-up to thestreet , I know where it will take me. Best but hopeful for the worst”, hequoted.
Hesaid that was prophetic as Ken knew exactly he would die.
Akpobariadvised activists to be visional and picture where they are going from wherethey are starting, adding, “If you want to travel with Ken as an activist, belike him. You can kill the messenger and not the message.”
Hesaid Ken was taken to the gallows three times but he was not afraid. He wasencouraging inmates instead of crying and urged all to speak the truth and becourageous.
Akpoaripointed out that Ken led a struggle in which no stone was thrown.
Worriedabout the state of affairs in MOSOP Ejit had a poser for the speakers, “Do youstill think the Ogoni struggle will be achieved in the face of existingdivisions?’’ But Akpobari said it is possible and urged the warring MOSOPcontenders to go back and form a formidable youth wing. “Look for men withcharacter, the struggle is alive,” the Ogoni Solidarity Forum presidentreiterated.
QuotingKen, Akpobari explained, “Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP is afront to propagate ideas. MOSOP was scrapped; it is only a vehicle for thestruggle. Ogoni struggle is far beyond MOSOP”.
Anotherparticipant, Michael urged the dialogue organizers to produce a documentary onKen Saro-Wiwa while a student, Amadi Praise George demanded for theintroduction of a students’ movement to ensure sustainability in the struggle.
FromAnthony came the, “When do we become consistent to form a neutral force to dothe extraordinary against a calculated attempt to steal the will of the peopleby government and politicians?”
Nnimmoresponded with the advice, “Listen to our key leaders to emancipate yourselffrom slavery-mentality, economic slavery and others. We must think ourselves.Life is short, if you cross 30 years, you have crossed a generation”.
Aparticipant who said he was 11 years old when Ken died wanted to know who Kenwas.
PatrickInemite quoted Mother Theresa, “When you invite me for trouble, I will not bethere but when you invite me for struggle I will be there”, and asked to knowthe immediate solution to problems in the Niger Delta.
Hewas told to go deep into Ken Saro-Wiwa (through his works) and see the result,interrogate things as Saro-Wiwa foresaw and addressed this in his Bassey andCompany Comedy with a character known as Mr Big who, was pretending to beunAfrican and looking for money.
Accordingto Nnimmo, Ken foresaw this current craze for quick money; he was a man aheadof his time.
Anotherparticipant, Silas advocated the use of social media to educate the militantsto adopt better living and encourage youths to embrace digital technology.
Summingup the conversation, Nnimmo Bassey stressed the need for us to know our heroesand urged all to look for Ken Saro-Wiwa’s books, read and share them in thesocial and traditional media as well as encourage everyone to celebrate theideals he advocated. He also charged everyone to question things normally takenfor granted and redefine their steps as away of nurturing a better society.
Writestories and poems, he instructed. “Perfect it knowing what you are doing. Alsoraise people to takeover for the sake of continuity”.
KenHenshaw closed the conversation with a parting shot, “Whatever you have chosenas your endeavor, find a voice to define and change your own world”.
Inall, it was an intellectually re-awakening conversation bringing Ken Saro-Wiwaback to the minds of Niger Deltans with the silent message that the cause forwhich his blood was shed is yet to be achieved.