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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 18 April, 2019
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NUIM dedicates book and audio archive to activist 'ahead of his time'

Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Nigerian military 18 years ago.

imageSister Majella McCarron with Dr Owens Wiwand Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Chair of the University’s Governing Authority (Image: Keith Arkins).

A BOOK OF letters and poems written by Nigerian environmental and human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa was published by NUI Maynooth today and launched by his brother Dr Owens Wiwa.

The launch today was to mark the 18th anniversary of the writer and activist’s execution by the Nigerian military regime.

The book published today, ‘Silence Would be Treason, last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa’, features private letters by the activist to Irish missionary nun Sister Majella McCarron while he was on death row and a selection of poems.

Peaceful activism

Saro-Wiwa was a member of a small ethnic group, the Ogoni, numbering over half a million who inhabit a small region in the South East of the Niger Delta.

There are over 100 oil wells, a petrochemical complex and two oil refineries in the area and Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent campaign against the environmental destruction of the area. His group struggled in particular with oil company Shell.

He was executed in 1995 with eight other activists who were found guilty of the murder of four Ogani chiefs. The case sparked an international outcry and Nigeria was subsequently suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations for a number of years.

The letters contained in the book, smuggled out of his detention centre in bread baskets, document the writer’s painful transition from political activist to political prisoner, his courageous efforts to protect the Niger Delta, and an enduring friendship with Sister Majella. The letters also address the growing political instability in Nigeria, the writer’s hopes for peace in Northern Ireland, and his passion for peace and justice throughout the world.

Sister Majella donated the letters to the university two years ago, on foot of its sociology students’ involvement in environmental campaigning.

imageSister Majella McCarron with Dr Owens Wiwa and Prof Philip Nolan, President NUI Maynooth (Image: Keith Arkins).

Today the university also unveiled an audio archive which includes extensive interviews with Sister Majella, speaking of her childhood in County Fermanagh, her decision to join a religious order, working in Nigeria and meeting Ken Saro-Wiwa, and her efforts to save his life and the lives of the Ogoni Nine.

Sara-Wiwa’s brother today spoke at the launch of the book and archive of how “grateful” he was to the nun and the university.

In many ways Ken was a man ahead of his time who envisaged that unchecked and unregulated global corporations are a threat to people and the planet. His ideas spoke to the anxiety of millions who feel disconnected and disenfranchised by the agenda of politics and big business.

Oil companies

He said his family remains disappointed that very little has changed in the area, despite the attention focused on it and the Ogoni people.

“The oil companies continue to seek strategies to evade their liabilities and their responsibility to the people and the planet, while Nigeria’s leaders continue to squander his legacy to the region,” he said.

Also speaking at the launch today, Sister Majella said she kept the letters for 16 years but did not know exectly what to do with them.

“I felt that I was referentially putting them into the safety of an archive so I was surprised and delighted when they decided to edit the letters and bring the voice of Ken Saro-Wiwa back to the public,” she said.

Read: Amnesty: Shell made ‘false claims’ on oil spills>

Read: Russia switches Greenpeace activists’ charges from piracy to ‘hooliganism’>

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