Dear Sr. M,
Seems like ages ago since I last heard from you. I have seen your work & your pictures in the Irish Times though and I think you yourself might be surprised how far these Ogoni bells are ringing now, and how you have become the bellman? I thank God for your presence among us. Ledum keeps asking if you’ll be able to return to Nigeria. And I say “yes” because I’m certain that the present regime will fall and it will also be because people like you did so much to alert the world to the danger it has been to the ordinary people of Nigeria.
I have never really felt I was in danger. The sure knowledge of my innocence gave me that feeling. I thought that I’d remain in captivity until God should have used that fact to make the Ogoni cause better known and pave the way for solving some of the many problems which confront the Ogoni people and similar groups in Nigeria, if not the African continent. Big thought. Big assignment. But I have not wavered in my belief. Now, seeing how things are going, I’m even stronger in my belief and in my faith in the ultimate success of my dreams.
It would appear that the British and the Americans are at last waking up to the danger posed by Abacha and his men. Really, Nigeria has not had it so bad. The denigration of the people is unimaginable. We have to be thankful that Wole Soyinka and his friends went abroad to alert the rest of the world. And that people like you are also out there to bear testimony independently. Ogoni bells. I’m in good shape. A touch of the flu now and again but otherwise, nothing serious on the health side which is a good thing. The “trial” is on, although no one is in doubt that the judgement has been written. What will ruin their plan is the fall of the Abacha regime, although one has to be careful then what Shell does next. I did let you know that Shell are represented by Counsel holding a “watching brief” at the trial. When that got embarrassing, they got the Counsel who is also Chairman of the Rivers State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association to publicly withdraw from the Tribunal while secretly representing them through the Bar Association which can legitimately be at the Tribunal.
The one problem I’m now facing is financial. I’ve had to take responsibility for everyone of the 36 people held. And also the MOSOP men and women who are underground. Gani Fawehinmi and his team fly into Port Harcourt for the trials and have to be accommodated in a hotel. And that has increased costs dramatically. He is not charging fees but there are two other Port Harcourt lawyers who are charging fees. One cannot object to that seeing that the Tribunal is so time-consuming. I did obtain permission from the Right Livelihood Award Foundation to use the prize money for our defence. I regret this a lot as I had hoped to spend the money on Ogoni women. The annoying thing is that it does appear that all the Prize money will be spent, along with even the Goldman Environmental Prize money (47,000 USD). The fact of these prizes has sent everyone to my doorsteps and imagination is running wild as to what money I can spend on even the most minor of errands etc. I feel terrible about this sometimes. I have sent word abroad that we need funds for our legal defence so it’s possible either Glen or my son will have gotten in touch with you in this regard. If you can assist to raise funds, it will help.
You’d be amazed at the level of harassment and extortion that Ogoni people are facing at the hands of the military. The point is that the Internal Security Force is an illegal body. So there is no limit to what it can or cannot do. And when Nigerians get this sort of carte blanche, it is sure to drive them to bestial levels. The surprising thing is that the Ogoni are holding out so well. We need funds to continue to organise them for the resistance and to shore up their morale. As usual, the women have been wonderful.
I should also mention that a plus factor of the trial is the presence of Ledum Mitee who is not only a very good lawyer, but knows the story better than anyone else except perhaps myself. He was able to rubbish the testimony of Dr G.B. Leton and Miss Priscilla Vikue and to show them up as liars. Two other witnesses have also sworn to affidavits confessing that they were bribed to testify against me. In normal circumstances, that should have ended the trial. But ours is an extraordinary “Nigerian” situation and so the hangman must wait at the door for the man whose neck is wanted! Last week, the same charges were filed in two batches of 5 each against the other detainees. Each batch of 5 was accused of having committed the murders at the instigation of “Ken Saro-Wiwa, President of the Ogoni nation”. You haven’t seen such a farce. My lawyers insisted that I should be included in the charge and the prosecution found themselves in a quandary. Since there are going to be six batches, it would mean that I would be charged 7 times for the same “offence”! Indeed, under the law, I could be found guilty behind my back, if any of the suspects is found guilty. Besides, the same Tribunal could not try me and also all the others, using the same prosecution witnesses. Now we’ll see how the Nigerian in these judges gets over these legal obstacles. I’m really in for the belly laughs! If only it were not so tragic.
I find the proceedings of the Tribunal boring or farcical or tedious. Often, I read newspapers. Sometimes I write letters — I actually was caught by Mr Mitee writing to Hauwa. A love letter when you are in a Tribunal facing a death sentence? It seemed incredible. He has been teasing me no end. Yet I do feel contempt for the Tribunal and there’s no better way to express it than what I’ve done. I’d rather not have appeared before it. That was my gut feeling from the beginning, but it was felt that the lives of younger people were at stake and that we should give them a fighting chance.
We challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. Under the law, there should have been an Investigative Committee preceding the setting-up of the Tribunal. This was not done. Yet the Tribunal felt it had a right to proceed.
In rejecting our application for bail, the Tribunal actually said that we had killed the deceased. This is going to serve as a basis for challenging the right of the Tribunal members to continue the trial at all. I expect they will also throw out the motion. Then we’ll go on to make a “No Case Submission” after the prosecution shall have concluded their case.
And so the farce goes on. I’m trying to perfect some of the manuscripts I’ve completed during my incarceration. The pity is my computer has been seized and my work is therefore stymied. However, I hope to complete the diary of my first detention and to send it off to the U.K. in the hope that I might find a publisher. Also a collection of short stories A Kind of Festival & Other Stories which I believe to be the best of the three collections I’ve done so far. I don’t know if my new-found “fame” or notoriety translates to the sale of my books. Anyway, my books are badly distributed in the U.K. and elsewhere. I’m not so sure that I should have allowed Longman to reissue Sozaboy and A Forest of Flowers in their African Writers Series. They tend not to distribute well and their advertising is rather below the mark while their main interest is in educational publishing.
I don’t know if I’ve told you about Shell’s “Major Environmental Survey” of the Niger Delta for which they’ve put up 2 million USD. How that amount can conduct a “major” survey is to be seen. Gamaliel Onosode is said to be the Chairman of the team in charge of the survey. He has said some good things about me in the past. I wrote him, including The Drilling Fields and my other publications and asking him not to allow himself to be used by Shell. I’m yet to hear from him. But Owens will be looking him up next week.
Richard Boele of UNPO was here and has done a report which should be of interest to you. African Watch were also down here. One of them, Melissa, is said to have stumbled on a report by military intelligence absolving me of all suspicion. Melissa took up the matter with Philip Umeadi, the prosecutor. The latter is reported to have said, “Nigeria is a primitive country” so innocent people can be charged before a kangaroo court and sentenced to death.
I expect I’ve done a run-down of the situation as it is. Oh by the way, I understand Bodyshop have given us fifteen thousand pounds for our defence. A group of Nigerians in Australian have also sent a token sum. The Goldman Environmental Prize is to be awarded April 17. I’ll be sending Meschack Karanwi who handles MOSOP publicity to represent me. I hope that Ken Jnr. can also go down there at my cost. I hope that some publicity follows it in the U.S. and helps to embarrass the Abacha Govt.
I hope that your health is holding out and that we’ll be able to see you again in due course.
God bless you.
- See the letter dated 30/7/94, n. 26. ↵
- Director General of the Ministry of Education in Port Harcourt. ↵
- Human Rights Watch Africa: Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a nongovernmental organization which monitors and promotes the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. ↵
- Probably Melissa Crow who was a Sophie Silberberg Fellow at HRW from 1994-95. ↵
- The world’s largest prize honouring grassroots environmentalists. Founded in the U.S.A., the recipients are selected by an international jury. The prize money amounted to 47,000 USD. ↵