Helen Fallon, Íde Corley & Laurence Cox

MUCH HAS HAPPENED since Sr. Majella McCarron (OLA) donated her collection of material relating to Ken Saro-Wiwa, including letters, poems, artefacts and recordings, to Maynooth University in November 2011. Work on the conservation, preservation and cataloguing of the archive has been completed and the digitised letters are now available on open access. Links to the letter and other materials, including photographs, YouTube videos, articles, blog posts and records of various events, can be accessed online via the Maynooth University Library Ken Saro-Wiwa Library Guide.

In 2013, we had the privilege of welcoming Ken’s brother, Dr Owens Wiwa, to the university to launch the first edition of Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa. During his visit, he viewed the archive in the Library Special Collections Reading Room and was deeply moved to read the letters and see the MOSOP cap his brother had worn.

In November 2015, to mark the 20th anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s untimely death, the university also hosted a visit by his daughter, the renowned travel writer, Noo Saro-Wiwa. While at Maynooth, she presented a reading from her award-winning book, Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria to a large audience and was interviewed for the Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive,  an innovative open access sound archive which is described in a new chapter in this second edition. Noo has generously contributed a foreword to the second edition.

Funds from the sales of the earlier edition of this book were used in the establishment of a research award in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s name. On the 10th November 2015, Noo presented the inaugural Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Postgraduate Award to history PhD candidate Graham Kay. His PhD thesis explores the role of oil in Anglo-German geopolitical competition in the lead-up to the First World War — a context which has continued to shape Nigerian and Ogoni history.  His research is outlined in a new chapter in this second edition.

That history has not stood still. Since the first edition of these letters were published, agreement has been reached with Shell and other oil companies on a five-year programme cleaning up areas in Ogoniland devastated by oil spills, with controversy raging as to why the programme has not yet (2017) taken place. In Ireland, Shell’s pipeline in Mayo has been completed, but popular pressure has forced a legal ban on onshore fracking.  In the wider world, the political and economic centrality of oil has come under question as never before, with declining prices, the growth of renewables and increasing recognition of the reality of climate change. The role of the Ogoni struggle in this historical transition makes these letters an important document far beyond the borders of Rivers State or Nigeria itself.

In November 2017, Mark Dummett from Amnesty International (London) gave the keynote address at the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar. He outlined the key findings of Amnesty International’s 2017 report on Shell’s activity in the Niger Delta.[1] Mark’s afterword to this volume gives an insight into the current situation in Ogoni.

It was with great sadness we learned of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken Wiwa, in October 2016. Maynooth University is indebted to Ken Jr. for his support for both this book and our other endeavours to highlight the issues his father and eight colleagues (the Ogoni Nine) campaigned and died for.

In the same month as Ken Jr.’s sudden death, the first international exhibition of material from the collection opened at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. This was one of many initiatives to create awareness of the collection and the issues it embodies. Similarly, at Maynooth University, items from the collection have been regularly exhibited to mark key events and coincide with conferences and seminars with an environmental or conflict resolution theme. A local public library selected Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa as their reading club book and children from nearby schools have visited the library, viewed the letters and discussed the issues surrounding the conflict over natural resources in class.  In July 2016, 25 schoolchildren with Nigerian backgrounds visited the Maynooth Special Collections to learn about Ken Saro-Wiwa and the issue of environmental rights. The children were intrigued to learn that his letters to Sister Majella were smuggled out of military detention in breadbaskets.

Commenting on the event, Sister Majella remarked:

I wanted the archive to be available to activists and researchers.  This the Library is doing very well. Making it available, in an accessible way, to the schoolchildren today, is another great way of ensuring the Ogoni story is told; and it was all great fun too!

As the second edition goes to press, plans are underway for a Ken Saro-Wiwa travelling exhibition in Ireland. The university library is working with local schools to run a competition for a poem that embodies the ideals of Ken Saro-Wiwa and a filmmaker is actively exploring using the book in a forthcoming film about the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

In a letter dated 1st December 1993, Ken Saro-Wiwa advised Majella McCarron:

Keep putting your thoughts on paper. Who knows how we can use them in future. The Ogoni story will have to be told! [2] 

In this second edition of Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa, we continue to tell the Ogoni story and publicise the Ogoni cause. We are particularly pleased that this volume will also be available on open access and thank our publisher, Firoze Manji and Daraja Press for facilitating this. Maynooth University is particularly indebted to Firoze for his valued contribution and ongoing dedication to this project.

  1. Amnesty International (2017). A Criminal Enterprise? Shell’s Involvement in Human Rights Violations in Nigeria in the 1990s. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AFR4473932017ENGLISH.PDF
  2. Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive PP7/2 


Silence Would Be Treason Copyright © 2018 by Helen Fallon, Íde Corley & Laurence Cox. All Rights Reserved.

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