Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa

November 10th, 2015, 5pm

It was 14°C with few clouds. There was moderate breeze.

Twenty years ago tonight I was in the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, watching Wole Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy.

Around that time, many people, especially those of us who were friends of the writer Jack Mapanje, had attended events and protests about the Nigerian Government’s imprisonment of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Saro-Wiwa campaigned for the rights of the Ogoni people and against the destruction of their environment by western interests, particularly the Shell oil company. He was arrested by the Abacha regime in 1994 and on the day Soyinka’s Playhouse run opened in Leeds, Saro-Wiwa was sentenced to death in Port Harcourt.

There was hope. There was a good record of international action getting writers, like Jack Mapanje imprisoned in Malawi, freed. But on that night, November 10th 1996, at the end of the play, the mainly Nigerian cast came on stage and announced Ken Saro-Wiwa had been hanged.

It was a complex stunned moment, of connection and helplessness, of power and total loss. If I sit still I can still feel its physicality. And then?

There is lots to think about here, how as artists, theatres and protesters we move on like the media, the NGOs and most aid agencies. How our collective cultural memories are as short as artistic regimes and social media attention spans.

But tonight no more, just memory, for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other members of the Ogoni Nine who were murdered with him.

Adrian and David Wade said thanks.

Share this moment

Steve Dearden

Writer, producer and Director of The Writing Squad -

Create a free account

Have an account? Sign in.

Sign up with Facebook