Why Saro-Wiwa Turned Down Abacha’s Ministerial Appointment (FLASH BACK)

History of political and historical figures in Nigeria is so warped that each passing springs up its own surprise. It may indeed amaze many to note that the late tyrant, Gen Sani Abacha and the Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose execution he sanctioned along with eight others in 1995 had something in common.

According to Dare Babarinsa, a veteran journalist, their friendship dated back to the era of the Civil War (1967 – 1970) days when the latter was a commissioner in the old Rivers State government headed by the military governor, Alfred Diette-Spiff. On the strength of that friendship, Abacha had sent a presidential jet to fetch Saro-Wiwa from Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State.

Relieving his meeting with Saro-Wiwa when he paid them a visit at TELL Magazine office in Ogba shortly before his arrest, the poet confided in them that he was not surprised about the royal treatment for Abacha had been a generous friend.

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Abacha made his offer to the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Would he like to be the Minister of Petroleum Resources? Saro-Wiwa declined. What he wanted, he told Abacha, was for the head of the ruling junta to help him implement the Ogoni Bill of Rights. The meeting ended as a fiasco. Abacha threw the Ogoni Bill of Rights into the waste bin. No more presidential jet for Saro-Wiwa. He was asked to find his way home. They were never to meet again. About 24 months later in 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight of his compatriots in the MOSOP leadership were executed in what was called “judicial murder.”

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It was for the sake of the long run that Saro-Wiwa waged his war for justice with so much eloquence and audacity. He believed that Nigerians need to learn to discuss and negotiate peacefully the future of their great country. He was a tireless advocate because he had witnessed the futility of war.

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Saro-Wiwa wanted the future of Ogoni to be negotiated. He believes in the potency of the written word and with this weapon, he pursued the oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, the main oil company in Ogoni, to the end of the earth over the pollution of his homeland. He wanted a national conference that would debate the future of the Nigerian federation and grant some level of self-determination to his Ogoni. Unfortunately, Abacha did not have a listening ear and Saro-Wiwa ended up at the gallows.

Dare Babarinsa is now a columnist with Guardian Nigeria

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