September 2003


On the 10th of November 1995, Ken Saro Wiwa was hanged at Port Harcourt in Nigeria. He committed no crime–he was hanged for his ideas. He was appalled by the poverty of his people, the Ogoni tribe, whose land was exploited for oil by the Shell Petroleum Company. One hundred billion US dollars went to line the pockets of Western nations.

He brought this issue to worldwide attention through his writings and protests in the streets. But a military dictator controlled Nigeria, and dictatorships have never been known for honesty in government. A military tribunal found Ken Saro Wiwa, together with eight other protesters “guilty of killing four Ogoni chiefs.”

What would have saved Ken Saro Wiwa?

On This Day: 10 November 1995
Biography: Ken Saro Wiwa
Greenpeace: Ken Saro Wiwa
Ken Saro Wiwa’s Final Statement to the Military Tribunal

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I watched a thought-provoking movie in France this summer. It was on Arte, the television channel that airs some programmes in English. I missed the part where they showed the title so I can’t tell you what it was, but I can tell you what the film was about.

The story was set in Ireland, and everything takes place in an old house for unwed mothers. The pregnant girl would arrive in a dark car, dumped on the front steps like an unwanted being, and set in front of a vat to wash linen all day, every single day, day in and day out. So they showed us the life of this one girl, and the nuns shouting and hissing orders left and right. At this point, I wondered what Christian virtues they were trying to portray here.

Then they showed that guy… the one with the microscopic thing that got the girl in trouble. You could hit me with a feather and I’d fall off the chair. This guy was happily living in the countryside with another girl he picked up from some bar. Where’s the justice? Where’s the right and wrong in all of this? Who’s the criminal? What’s the crime? Let’s turn the table around, and think hypothetically that it’s the man who gets pregnant. I’d like to see him in front of a vat of dirty linen, and the girl living happily in the countryside with a dude she picked up from a bar.

The story doesn’t have a really happy ending. The only time this guy went to that house of unwed mothers was to sign a paper, and get this–a paper allowing her to be released from that house. And that was it. The guy gets a pat on the back.

Amina Lawal’s pregnancy out of wedlock is not a crime, and this is the real issue. Goodness, you can find bastards in any city around the world and no one has gone to jail for it, much less to a firing squad. But her cruel and unusual punishment caused such a public outcry that this became the issue. Many women around the world suffer punishment for this religious sin, but punishment that does not bring such public attention. And so for some people, the issue is not the pregnancy but the stone-throwing. If it were a vat of dirty linen instead, these same people would probably think that there’s no issue at all. You won’t see them carrying placards saying, “No more dirty linen-washing.”

So the real issues are: “Adultery is not a crime–it is a religious sin” and “Separate the Church and State.” And there’s also another issue: “Biblical punishments are outmoded.” But you won’t see those “no more stone-throwing”-people bearing placards saying “no more hangings/electric chairs/firing squads/lethal injections” for Amina Lawal. People do get confused in the hysteria of public outcries.

As for the man who gave no thought to her going through the hell and terror of being tried and potentially punished by stone-throwing–he was thoughtless, callous and irresponsible–but there are worse adjectives to describe men like these.

Amnesty International: Amina Lawal

“I’ve just come from the market, Yaw,” Dulmog announced to his friend who was having breakfast, as he started to put away his purchases, “and I saw this poor man sitting on the pavement with an apple–probably given to him by a kind stall keeper. Then along came this well-dressed kid who grabbed the apple before the old man could take a bite, then ran munching away. Where’s the justice, I ask. What’s a few centimes to that punk?”

“Aaah, Mog,” Abayaw sighed, as he put his coffee cup down on its saucer. “Rare are people like you who still harbour naive illusions of the existence of a utopian state where the right conquer the wrong, and everybody lives in peace and harmony. The rich and powerful have exploited the poor for centuries and centuries. The First World abuse and the Third World cower or protest…A sense of justice among Homo Sapiens? Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“What is life, Yaw, if one does not have ideals to strive for?”

“But, Mog, you can never be in a position to dissent with someone who is armed. Power really comes down to that…”

Just Capuchin Monkeys