8th July, 1995.
Dear Sr. M,
I got your diary of 5/5 to 16/6, and many thanks. As you never tell me which of my letters you have got and which you have not, I can only hope that you have got all the letters I have sent you. Like you, I only hope that my letters do arrive.
I did get the book, GETTING TO YES, and many thanks for it. You must have known that the exploratory talks with Shell petered out even before they began. I have a feeling that Shell thinks they can sit all this out and carry on as before. I think they are wrong. All it means is that we have to work harder. It may even work in our favour that we do not negotiate just now, but that the situation in the country goes bad enough to make a total resolution of the contradictions necessary. In which case, we will also be negotiating for other peoples who are not up to it at this moment.
You know of the Niger Delta Environmental Survey. Claude Ake sits on its Steering Committee, representing the “stakeholders” i.e. the local communities. He is constantly in touch with us, and has, indeed, held two meetings with us here in the detention camp. He confirms what we all knew: that Shell had wanted to do a “greenwash”. However, it does appear that they won’t be getting their way, it being that Claude is very clear as to what should happen, and is receiving support from one other member of the Committee—the chap from the World Conservation Fund who comes in from London and who is determined to ensure that his organization is not misused by Shell. There is a stakeholders meeting in Port Harcourt, 24th to 26th August and I will let you know what goes on there. In the meantime, could you please check with Glen if it’s true that the Head of the Environmental Division of Shell at the Rotterdam office resigned rather than be a part of the grand deception which Shell planned in instituting the survey? The position paper appears to have sought for a way of using the survey to create communal dissension and for buying over local leaders. Check this out please.
Just as you were leaving for Rome, Dr Leton and Dr Birabi were flown to London by the federal government to try to undo some of the publicity the Ogoni campaign had put out. It would appear that Shell hosted them to dinner but I cannot say that they met with much more success than that. Ojukwu was on that same trip but I understand that they were booed when they spoke to their first audience and their first press conference was similarly a failure. The behaviour of the Ogoni politicians has been roundly condemned at home.
The trial has been adjourned to July 31. Our lawyers have now withdrawn and the Legal Aid Council of Rivers State has provided a lawyer for each of us. They now need to obtain all the proceedings and study them before the trial can recommence. We expect that they will get the proceedings from the Tribunal but we are not giving them any of our own papers. In short, we will not be co-operating with any of the defence counsel. We would like it known that the State are judge, prosecuting and defence counsel all rolled into one so that the true intent of the State is no longer masked.
Our lawyers withdrew after the Tribunal ruled that the failure of government to produce a video-cassette and transcripts of a press conference addressed by the military administrator and one of the prosecuting witnesses a day after the murders, was “reasonable”. The government said they had wiped all the tapes for lack of funds. But they had in fact distributed the same throughout Nigeria and their embassies abroad in an attempt to calumniate me. So much for the trials.
The situation around us in the detention camp is a lot more relaxed now. “Delta Force” forced Okuntimo out of his positions as Camp Commandant and Commander of the Internal Security Task Force and he has now been thrown to a harsh position in Minna. Consequently, we are now in ostensibly more civilized hands, although this is only relatively speaking. For a greasing of palms (you cannot avoid that in Nigeria— everyone’s trading), people have access to us and can spend thirty minutes to one hour. This has been most relieving.
We have met with the youths and the women of Ogoni, and have been able to get more accurate pictures of what is happening at home. The military harassment has been most frightening, and most people are scared to death. It has been impossible to hold meetings, and it does appear that the only meeting that is currently being held once a month is that summoned by my mother. She is patron of the organization—BIAKA (GLORIOUS WOMEN)—and the last meeting was attended by 200 women from all over Ogoni. The next meeting holds on August 1 and I will be arranging for a video of that. I will also encourage them to watch Delta Force and Drilling Fields. They are surely in the vanguard of the resistance. I feel so proud of my mother! And she does it all so naturally! She’s always at the Tribunal. So also my father who spent more than an hour with me here in prison a few days ago.
The men and the youth who seem to be the target of the military are more wary, but I expect that now that they have access to us, we will be able to motivate them. It is sad that all those whom we were training are now underground or in detention. This has left the people leaderless and am worried that should this go on much longer, we may lose momentum. However, we are now trying to encourage a new leadership, but this is not going to be easy. The harsh economic condition has placed too many burdens on people and resistance in the circumstances, especially where government is so very powerful, is a clear difficulty. We need a lot of money to organize the people, support those who are underground or are detained and pay legal fees. I must tell you that I’ve been under considerable pressure but I’m soldiering on with great faith in God and in my ultimate destiny.
I believe that a settlement will come with the resolution of the national crisis. In that sense, the recent coup trials which have outraged the international community are welcome. The point, though, is will the world watch hands akimbo as they did in Idi Amin’s Uganda while the best men are murdered? I fear that that might be the case, as the people in government who should act on these things are normally moved by every consideration but the preservation of human rights. More so when the crimes are being committed against people in the Third World and commercial and industrial interests are involved. Zaire comes readily to mind.
I did receive a laptop computer from Junior through my younger Sr. [sister], Comfort, the Zaria-based lawyer who was in Britain for a fortnight or so. This has eased my pain a great deal, and am beginning to write again, after a lull of seven months. Seven wasted months! I’m encouraging Ledum and John Kpuinen to also learn how to use the computer so they can keep themselves busy.
You will be telling me about your month-long stay in Rome in your next letter, no doubt. And also let me know how you settled into your new situation. I can’t just reconcile myself to the fact that we will not be seeing you in Ogoni again, at least not in the foreseeable future. But then, I’m not in Ogoni either. What is comforting is that you are well and that you will always be in touch, quite apart from the fact that spiritually, we are together.
I got the photographs of the march, and was very pleased to see your seraphic person looking tense in one or two of them. Some lawyer from Ledum’s chambers grabbed them to make photocopies, so as I write, I’ve not really had time to look at them closely. I’ll do so in due course.
Please give my regards to members of Ogoni Solidarity Ireland and say how grateful we are for their care and concern. Also give my thanks to Mairéad Corrigan. I cannot believe that anyone should think me fit to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. I also hate to think that I’ve not been able to travel to receive any of the prizes I’ve won save the Fonlon-Nichols award. The joy lies in the recognition. To think that I should be the Nigerian with the greatest number of international awards. And that I should be an Ogoni! What’s that about the stone rejected by the builders? God is good, as we say over here.
I must stop here and wish you the best of luck. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
- Roger L. Fischer, William L. Ury, Bruce Paton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (London: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.; London: Penguin, 1982). ↵
- Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, military governor of the Eastern region who led the break-away Republic of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970. At the end of the war, he received political asylum in Côte d'Ívoire but returned to Nigeria in 1982. Although imprisoned for a period between 1983-84, he was eventually released and held various political roles in Nigeria until his death in 2011. Saro-Wiwa characterized him as misguided and opportunistic in his memoir, On a Darkling Plain: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War (London; Lagos; Port Harcourt: Saros International Publishers, 1989). ↵
- The lawyers for MOSOP withdrew because of the unconstitutional way in which the trial was being conducted. The state then appointed lawyers to each of the nine accused but they decided not to co-operate. ↵
- Deputy President of MOSOP’s youth wing, the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP). He was among the “Ogoni nine” who were hanged in November 1995. ↵
- Most likely, this refers to the annual Afri Famine Walk which McCarron attended in Mayo, Ireland, in 1995. Afri is an Irish Non-governmental Organization whose activities revolve around human rights and peace and justice issues. Photographs of this walk are held in the Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. ↵
- A Northern Irish peace activist and co-recipient with Betty Williams of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1976. The two women co-founded Community of Peace People, an organization dedicated to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Corrigan nominated Saro-Wiwa for the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1995. ↵
- An award conferred annually by the U.S.-based African Literature Association for work promoting human rights. ↵