Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa, born in Bori, Rivers State, Nigeria, was a writer of satirical novels, children’s tales, and plays. At the age of 13, Saro-Wiwa won a scholarship to Government College in Umuahia, where writer Chinua Achebe had also studied. Saro-Wiwa edited the student magazine, The Horizon, and wrote articles. After graduating from the University of Ibadan, Saro-Wiwa worked as a teacher at the University of Lagos. He soon became involved in the political turmoil going on during the time of the Biafran civil war. He advocated for the Nigerian side. He then served in the Rivers State Cabinet as a regional commissioner for education. In 1973, however, he was dismissed, due his opinions regarding autonomy for the Ogoni people. Oil had been found in the region in the late 1950s, and the resulting economic growth had created an entangled web of political intrigues, environmental problems and corruption. Through his writings, Saro-Wiwa drew international attention to the campaign of the Ogoni people. He first achieved fame with the award-winning radio play, The Transistor Radio, in 1972. His novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English (1985), brought about his breakthrough as a writer. The story concerns a teenage boy, Mene, who serves as a soldier during the Biafran War. The story was based on his own experiences during that war. “Sozaboy” means “soldier boy,” and the book is a veritable anti-war novel, written in “pidgin” English, a dialect spoken by many Nigerians.

In 1994, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned under orders from the dictator, Sani Abacha. Saro-Wiwa had strongly defended the rights of the Ogoni people, and had criticized the government’s oil policy with Royal Dutch/Shell. On November 10, 1995, after a show trial in Port Harcourt, and despite protests from around the world, Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged, along with eight other Ogoni rights activists.