The State and a State- A Review of “Silence Would be Treason”

Title: Silence Would Be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa (Second edition)
Edited by Ide Corley et al
Published: Daraja Press
Year of Publication: 2018
Reviewer: Olutayo Irantiola
At 52, I think I’ve served my time and, come to face it, I’ve lived a charmed life. A few more books, maybe, & the opportunity to assist others would be welcome. But, it’s okay” Ken Saro- Wiwa
The life of Ken Saro-Wiwa keeps resonating in the annals of the history of Nigeria. He had become a renowned name in the environmental and ecological literature across the globe. In my study of Saro-Wiwa, I have come to appreciate a selfless man who gave up a life of comfort to stand for a cause that he believed in and he alongside other eight-person paid the ultimate price. Unfortunately, we are currently in a generation where many people do not stand for anything. The cause he stood for brought him international acclaim in the process of his eventual death.
The text can be divided into three parts namely- essays on Ken Saro-Wiwa; The letters to Sister Majella McCarron and his poems. The prolific nature of Saro-Wiwa is no more in doubt because of the number of publications that he wrote while he lived. His writings cut across non-fiction, fiction, children’s literature, television and stage plays and poetry. His love for writings made him establish a publishing firm, Saros International Publishers so that the world can have access to his creative insight.
The State and her apparatus were used to fight Saro-Wiwa. The state was being instigated by an oil and gas company, Shell Exploration that has polluted the Ogoni Communities. Interestingly, the third party to the whole crisis, Shell Exploration Company Limited, eventually agreed that they have polluted the Niger-Delta. The State used his kinsmen against him; a documentary was used to tell a false tale about them, the state incarcerated them as they were considered too powerful, the state even went as far as frustrating the lawyers of the Ogoni 9 and counsels were provided for them. According to Saro-Wiwa-
“Our lawyers have now withdrawn and the Legal Aid Council of Rivers State has provided a lawyer for each of us.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 give 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 is judge, prosecuting and defence counsel all rolled into one so that the true intent of the State is no longer masked.” Pg 133.
In it all, Saro-Wiwa was conscious of the fact that the state wants him dead. In-Page 74, he said, “The Military Administrator, Lt Col. Dauda Musa Komo, has ignored the recommendation which makes me believe that he wants me dead.” Eventually, it all played out till his eventual death.
The state of mind was Ken Saro-Wiwa was that of someone who knew what he was up to and he also used all that was within his reach to fight the State. He used his financial withal, he used his network within people, such as Sister Majella and the media, he used his international exposure and he used his writing ability and this gave birth to the piece of work that is being studied. He wrote about himself and how he got to this point-
“My preparation for this struggle was a long one and it was made simple by the fact that I do not know that the Divine Hand was preparing me all the time. It is only now that when I look back and begin to put the pieces together that I can see the progression from Administrator for Bonny; Commissioner in Rivers State, businessman (of some success), television producer, publisher, writer to activist as preparation for a task that would have been daunting if I had, for one moment, stopped to think or analyse its implications…”
As regards the protagonist, Ken Saro-Wiwa was in a state of mind that experienced tranquillity. He was in good spirits pg 127 & pg139; he also said, “I am not worried for myself” pg 78; “all in all, I’m in high spirits and my time is well used” pg 88. The sure knowledge of my innocence gave me that feeling. … I am even stronger in my belief and in my faith in the ultimate success of my dreams pg. 121. I am not careless of my safety, but I do recognize and have always recognized that my cause could lead to death, pg 130.
The state of worry about his family, his newly born son, his marriage to his estranged wife, Maria; his new wife, Kwame; his older children and their A-level results amongst others. Despite all that was happening, his brother, Owen, took the message to the world and his Sister, a lawyer stood by him. His parents, 90-year-old father and 73-year-old mother also stood by him. The mother became a rallying point for womanism across the fourteen surrounding villages, pg. 116, as many men had gone underground.
Prizes became a memorable part of his incarceration as he attained global acclaim. He got prizes and monetary reward from much international organization. He was sending other Ogoni compatriots and his son to collect the awards on his behalf. They used the opportunity to share the story and various documents of their communities to the world. The prizes he won included Right Livelihood Award, pg 97; 1995 Goldman Prize awarded by the Goldman Environmental Foundation of California, pg 120.
It is also worthy of note that Saro-Wiwa was not left to rot in incarceration, he got the support that made him boisterous. He got support from the Bible, his faith soared; the Catholic Church through Sister Majella, International Communities and an organization, BodyShop. Some of the local and international media that made his voice resonate included Suunray; The Guardian, Voice of America, BBC World Service; Independent of London; The Observer and Irish Times. He felt a sense of accomplishment, “The Voice of America also carried it fully. I heard myself described as ‘renowned writer and environmentalist’. Very supportive, I think, and I hope it goes on that way.” Pg 120.
Of a fact, we are reading the works of Ken Saro-Wiwa but the diaries of Sister Majella to him would have opened up the discourse further, it would have shown us some of the inner workings that inspired Ken’s responses. It would have been an opportunity to see through the whole spectrum of communication.
Unfortunately, Ken Junior too has joined the ancestors, but his siblings can get some of the great preserved materials by Maynooth University and turn one of their father’s properties into a museum. Just like it has been done for Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Equally, Saro International Publishers should be revived by fellas and associates of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. We need a completed work of Ken Saro-Wiwa in Volumes, it might not be more than 5-10 volumes but it should be republished just like the family of the late Yoruba writer, TAA Ladele did by re-publishing his works years after his demise.
I am proud to say, I have met Ken Saro- Wiwa on the pages of books and I am excited to have studied him. Many thanks to Sir Nnimmo Bassey who gifted me with this text. Let’s stand for something and stop falling for everything. Either we stand or we don’t we will all die someday somehow. May the Ken in us never die!

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