On this day, as we mark Twenty-Five years since the execution of the Ogoni Nine, the world surely deserves AFRICA: Seen & Heard (ASH) to bring to life and into the light, two long Hidden Voices™ .
ASH is honoured to ensure the memory and message of Ken Saro Wiwa (KSW) lives on eternally.
Today we are publishing excerpts from a never before released interview with Ken Saro-Wiwa in synergy with some contemporary unvarnished truths shared by his dear friend, the man he chose as custodian of his media legacy, Nathan Achim Sheppard (NAS).
This unconventional “exchange” is a natural and holistic call and response between eternal friends that transcends time and mortality.
It is based on the transcript of an interview Ken Saro-Wiwa gave to Nathan and Elaine Sheppard at his home in Ewell in the British county of Surrey around 1991-1992 and segments of a candid telephone conversation between Nathan and the Associate-Producer of his forthcoming film, RESURRECTION: Ken Saro Wiwa – Spirit of the Ogoni, AFRICA: Seen & Heard‘s Founder and Director, Winifred Adeyemi (WA) on 2nd November 2020.
The Hidden Voices™ interview concept was created and is owned by AFRICA: Seen & Heard and was licensed to the GV Media Group in 2013.
Hidden Voices™ became a popular, illuminating and circulation boosting fortnightly column within The Voice newspaper.
In 2021, ASH would like to explore reintroducing the column in print media or evolving the unique interview concept into further literary, radio or TV broadcasting projects.
Until then, we share memories of a martyred statesman from one of his closest friends and give voice to a deceased leader of the Ogoni struggle.
His words are as valid in death as they were when first spoken…
WA: “It is really hard to believe that five years have passed since we commemorated 20 years remembrance of the Ogoni Nine executions.
In some ways with the current #EndSARS social movement, the mass protests in Nigeria and the solidarity and support from the wider world, it could almost be the 1990s again.
It feels as if the progressive changes called for will soon come.
There is a strong momentum and positive spirit that defies repression.
The awakening of consciousness and goodwill from global personalities, the know-how of Nigerian citizens and those supportive internationally throughout the Diaspora.
And of course, the great work being created by so many diverse artists – musical, performing and Fine Art. “
NAS: “Indeed. If you remember, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and Fried Egg Productions commissioned my mother Liz Sheppard to produce a monotype of an Ogoni headdress for your exhibition celebrating the 25th Anniversary of MOSOP [held at The Underdog Gallery, Crucifix Lane, SE1 on 14th November 2015].
The original mask featured in her 1957 Fine Art dissertation –“African Masks” by Elizabeth Pierce.
She met my father [the British sculptor Clive Sheppard who began his career as an assistant of Henry Moore OM CH FBA ] at St Martin’s School of Art so it was published with her maiden name.”
NAS: “Do you know what a monotype is?
– It’s where one gets a piece of glass puts black ink on it and then does a print off the black glass and that is it.
It is called a monotype as it is the only one.
I think my mother made two or three for AFRICA: Seen & Heard‘s fine art exhibition, each was unique.
The strange thing is, it was to do with fertility.
It was a celebration of the fertility of the land which the Ogoni have worshipped since settling in the Niger Delta in ancient times.”
KSW: “Here in Britain, I see Shell adverts saying what they do to valleys, what [that] they [protectively] prospect for oil, this is entirely opposite to what I find in Ogoni.
Pipelines crisscross the Ogoni countryside.
All we have are warnings: ‘look don’t come around here‘, we have high pressure oil pipeline passing through, you can see the pipelines.
Shell does not care, its habits are racist.
They know what to do.
It’s only in Ogoni, Nigeria, they have flared gas for 33 years [now 61] in the middle of villages, why is it they do not at all [commit these ecological and human rights abuses in other territories]?
The government in Nigeria and Shell meet and for that reason Shell is able to get away with murder.”
NAS: “My mother informed me that the whole idea of the mask was about the fertility of the Ogoni countryside.
I believe that many of the Ogoni dance structures and musical compositions are celebrations of their land.
Once upon a time it was untouched, pure and a source of great abundance – crops, fish, clean water – a natural paradise that bountifully sustained the Niger Delta communities until the British discovered oil in 1957.”
KSW: “We now have a devastated environment in the [Niger] Delta among the ethnic minorities.
Nothing has been done to mitigate the harm to the environment.
The fact is the resources from oil have been used to ameliorate the harm during the search for oil.”
NAS: “From what I understand, there are no longer any bumblebees in Ogoniland to cross pollinate crops and ensure viable agriculture.
This amounts to ecocide, as livelihoods and the ability to meet the basic human need of Food have been destroyed.
Ken Saro Wiwa likened the assault on the physiological needs of the Ogoni as genocide.“
KSW: “Basically, people who live on oil bearing lands suffer a great deal by having oil and it is right and proper they should be paid rights and [receive] royalties.
Actually even before the land [Nigeria] became independent it had been decided if you had resources, 50% rent and royalties should go to the region of origin and 50% to the federal government.
This works beautifully, when the areas of resource were in the ethnic majority. When oil was found in the area of ethnic minority, the majority changed the rules animal farm style and seized all of the resources from the small groups.”
NAS: “The Ogoni land has been desecrated in the worst environmental catastrophe in human history that has not been accounted for and still goes on today.
The ongoing destruction of the Niger Delta, specifically Ogoniland far surpasses the Deepwater Horizon industrial disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. [2010 catastrophe considered the largest marine oil spill in the petroleum industry’s history].”
KSW: “The majority of [Nigeria’s] oil is in Ogoni [.We have] been producing oil and gas since 1958 and the rest of the Niger Delta as well.
We have different groups: the Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Isoko [and several others].
We have a lot of oil. Because we aren’t numerous [in national terms], the oil has been impounded by the Hausa, Yoruba and Fulani and to some extent the Igbo.
Under the Nigerian constitution [it] justifies this robbery, because each time we have a constitution the minority groups have never been protected.
Decisions being made in favour of the majority and thrust down the throats of the minority by these people arguing they have the majority vote.
The majority cannot have the vote if the minority are not protected.”
NAS: “There is documentation of the massacre of livestock, destruction of property, rape of women and children and entire villages flattened by the Nigerian military under the command of General Okuntimo in the early 1980s.
He was paid by Shell to commit these atrocities.”
KSW: “Over the last 33 years [now c.61 years] the Ogoni environment has been totally destroyed by the search for oil.
And other Nigerian people have not been able to protect the Ogoni people.
If they had their own regulation they would be able to control the rampaging oil companies such as Shell/Chevron who have jointly destroyed the Ogoni environment.”
NAS: “Four of the wives of the Ogoni Nine are now being represented in The European Court of Human Rights in The Hague.
It has become apparent legally that Shell executives have been and are complicit in the destruction the Ogoni and and are financiers of the murders, massacres, rapes and many other atrocities and human rights abuses against the Ogoni.”
KSW: “Shell and Chevron who prospect for oil in the area.
They are taking part in the [destruction] of the Ogoni people.
One can not sit back and see a whole, a whole [country] destroyed by human greed: avarice (Ken laughs).
(Ken lights the pipe he was later buried with and draws in the smoke).
I think the Nigerian government recognises what I’m saying is the truth, they would wish this truth was not exposed to hoodwink the public.
Because the people who are running the government this time are just a cabal not interested in the progress of the country, but what they can [loot] from the resources of the Ogoni people and the other Delta Minorities.”
NAS: “This is like a great white shark swimming around a sea for the corporates and the Nigerian government and Buhari to eat up these people there.
When Ken told me, he said this is going to be “an extinction of my people”.
KSW: “The federal government has the right to tax the people on whose land the oil is found on.
This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, its only Nigeria, domestic colonialism [has] taken away the rights of most people who live on the oil bearing land.
It’s most unusual and not right, because people have lost farmland so that oil may be found. Well what are you going to give back to the people?
I find the Ogoni people are going extinct, there are no schools, hospitals there is nothing and yet this is a very rich area.
I cannot accept this paradox, it is not right or morally defensible.”
NAS: “When I did the initial interview, I was a 26 years old and a bit wary of getting involved in the murky world of African politics, I was thinking “yep, yeah, yeah” this is a bit weird. But myself and Ken we were on the same level creatively and intellectually.
I could not deny the truth of the matter, that the oil companies Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and the like, they completely destruct the society and they have done that over many, many, many years.
Big oil literally makes trillions of pounds during this process.
Ken Saro Wiwa was a marked man.
The oil companies had a metaphorical gun to his head.
They had to take him out as he was causing too much disturbance.
Do you know that Ken was the Vice Chair of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) General Assembly from 1993 to 1995?
Can you believe that on the day he was to receive the 1995 Goldman Prize for Africa, the executions were announced!
The next thing he was in line to receive was the Nobel Peace Prize, but Abacha robbed him of that glory because he was assassinated.
(Nathan broke down tearfully) .
KSW: “I want self determination, autonomy for the Ogoni people, Ogoni political affairs run by Ogoni people, Ogoni resources for the the Ogoni people, and pay what ever they have to pay the federal government, responsibilities to the federation to keep the federation going which is to say, people have come together to run their country in their common interests, that means each group has certain rights and obligations.
So I want the Ogoni people to fulfil those obligations to Nigeria and themselves, I want the Ogoni people to be in charge of their environment.”
NAS: “Ken was the one that stood up like a peaceful David to the savage Goliath named Royal Dutch Shell.
He took on one of the biggest motherfucking rampaging colonial companies with a grassroot group of people from a minority tribe and said:
“No! You’re not going to do that to my people!”
KSW: ” Shell and those who run the Nigerian government for the past 20 years [now 45 years] have a common interest that is to exploit the weak and powerless in Nigeria for their own profit.
It is only Shell and those that run the Nigerian government that have made money from oil.
They have destroyed Ogoni people, [and] other ethnic minorities in their pursuit of oil and it suits both organisations.
Actually you have a cabal determined to ruin an environment, determined to dehumanise the people, that is not acceptable to me.”
NAS: “This year over 600 people in the Niger Delta have been kidnapped and held to ransom.
The ones that can’t pay the ransom just get shot.
Nigeria is a place which, I think one of your forefathers or uncles said, of which I’ve seen interviews with: “Nigeria’s a very difficult place to govern”. [Nathan refers to Pa Adedapo Aderibigbe Adeniran Esq (1924-2018) author of The Case for Peaceful and Friendly Dissolution of the Artificial Entity Christened Nigeria by the British Colonial Imperialists].”
KSW: “Life is hard in Nigeria at this time largely because the Government is bad.
Where you don’t have a democratic government [Nigeria is now a democracy, but has a grave disequilibrium in the distribution of income, wealth and regional opportunity] and people are forced to do things against their will you cannot have social justice, economic growth, for these reasons Nigeria is the 8th [ranked 11th in 2020] largest oil producer in the world and the 13th poorest [Nigeria is ranked the world’s 20th poorest nation in FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast for GDP per capita from 2019 – 2023].
It is this paradox that is unacceptable to me, it is this injustice because the people that have seized the resources of the minorities and they know it’s not their own money. Where as if each group was left to fend for its own resources there would be a lot more fairness and not just sit back and think they have won the lottery.”
NAS: Because you’ve got – and as Ken Saro-Wiwa said to me – its 350 different groups all with different identities and unique cultural properties.”
KSW: “In Nigeria there are 3 major ethnic groups, basically what I have found is that the 3 x major groups are fighting for the resources…
I’m not advocating tribal separatism.
I’m actually asking for the rights of the minority groups to be properly protected.
Each ethnic group has a different culture and in the past it has been presumed in Africa just because we are blacks everybody is the same but that’s not true.
In Europe, the Belgians are different from the French, the French are different from the Spaniards, Spaniards are different from the Portuguese, the Italians are not Germans and all of these have been clearly identified.
In Eastern Europe particularly in the Soviet Union it was assumed that Communism would put everyone together.
But we have seen what has happened in Yugoslavia.”
NAS: “Nigeria is also the most vibrant, vibrant place, so culturally diverse and just so incredibly blessed with exceptional talent and enormous resources but it is hell on earth.”
KSW: “This is what happened in Africa with one party states. Dictatorships have ruined people and no one has made appreciable progress.
As of now [1990s] most of Africa is heavily in debt and that’s because bad systems of government that have been established all over the continent where colonialism has put people in charge that do not have the same interest.”
NAS: “It is easy to forget when we look at the present economy and global trade, that at the end of the Second World War, Nigeria was known as the “bread basket of West Africa”.
When the United Kingdom had no food and the country was living on ration tickets, Nigeria through the Niger Delta was growing all of the crops that were feeding the British population and saved us from rickets, malnutrition and starvation.”
KSW: “A house that is divided against its self, there cannot be peace and will not be able to live together and even if they do they will not manage their affairs successfully.”
NAS: “I’ve been doing so much research, I spend my day and night thinking about this.
Nigeria is a country that the British made by gunboat diplomacy just to raid the resources and it’s still going on.
They used to call it “hammering”.
Do you know what hammering was?
“Hammering” – Jesus Christ almighty – was at the turn of the last century – I’m an English bloke, but I’m an African guy.
They used to turn up on the coast with their fucking gunpowder and cannon balls and hammering was just basically blowing the villages off of the side of the world.
That’s what “hammering” was.
Now I’m not responsible for that as an Englishman, but that’s what used to go on, that’s how excuse me – fucking rawkus – the British were.
That’s what went on, that’s what my relatives [the English imperialists] did.”
KSW: “When you are fighting for the rights of the people you cannot stop to think if you’re going to be killed or sent to jail.”
At our first meeting in 2015, Nathan had invited me discuss co-producing some work with him, keen to take up the opportunity I had rushed back to London from Bristol to make the appointment.
As was my usual gesture of diplomacy, I gifted him a befitting book picked up in my favourite Clifton bookstore.
He was awed to receive a copy of Chris Abani’s poetry collection “Kalakuta Republic” – which I and my father had been reading that Spring – Nathan too, lost a few nights immersed in it and when he fed back to me, it was clear we were both on the same page and could do great work together.
The book was a dark recollection of the haunting experiences that Nigerian political prisoners were subjected to during their 1980s military detentions.
As traumatic as the memories were, the paean to the men lost and the indestructible spirit of those who survived is timeless and unforgettable.
Nathan who has been writing his memoirs and recently transcribed all of the interviews that he did with Ken Saro-Wiwa in the 1990s, shared details with me some footage he shot of Ken directing his teenage daughter Zina:
“I have footage of him directing his 15 year old daughter’s reading of one of the passages from his book “Prisoner of Jebs”.
It prophesised his demise.
He knew he was going to die.
It’s dreadful, he went to Nigeria never to return.
Ken gave me hours of footage which he shot in Ogoniland way back.”
Nathan’s voice broke down with emotion as he relived the pain of the loss of his dear friend and ruminated on the pall of inheriting the media legacy and his responsibility as a custodian.
“I have a duty of care to Ken. I would like to make a movie out of it, but I actually don’t know as my emotions are so mixed – short breaths – I spent the last year going through all the papers that Ken gave me, all his research material about what was going on in Nigeria in the early 1980s with Abacha.”
We broke off and ruminated on many things both humanitarian and existential concerning the past, the present and our futures.
“I actually said to Ken a few hours before he flew back to Nigeria, ‘Are you not worried that you’re going back to Nigeria and that Abacha might take you out?‘
Ken had no fear, he said, ‘No, no, I’m not worried about Abacha. I went to boarding school with him.‘
You know after all these years, what I’m still hearing in my ears, is what Ken always said:
“What is right is right, what is just is just and what is wrong is wrong.”
FOREVER REMEMBER: The life and story of Ken Saro Wiwa documented by his friend and archive custodian, Nathan Achim Sheppard.
VIEW: Platform‘s 2015 commission of their partner Onyekachi Okoro of Media Justice Project, Nigeria, to commemorate the 20 year “Anniversary of a Struggle”.
REVIEW: The Wiwa v. Shell Campaign Video from coldmtn on Vimeo.
STUDY: Ken Saro-Wiwa: The Victory in Loss | Harvard Reflection paper by Ebenezar Wikina https://medium.com/@ebenezarwikina/ken-saro-wiwa-the-victory-in-loss-harvard-reflection-paper-566ededccc4c
LEARN: More about Jon Daniel, whom ASH creatively directed to create the 20 Year Commemoration invitation. Jon Daniel was an independent creative director, designer, activist, Design Week columnist and Design Week Awards judge. He died in 2017 and was inducted into the Design Week Hall of Fame in 2018. https://www.designweek.co.uk/microeventpeople/jon-daniel/
Nathan Achim Sheppard/Winifred Adeyemi © November 2020
© W. O. Adeyemi/ AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd and africaseenheard.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to W. O. Adeyemi, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and africaseenheard.wordpress.com or for excerpts/quotes from Ken Saro Wiwa‘s interview to Nathan Achim Sheppard/Fried Egg Productions with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
1st JUNE 2021 STAKEHOLDER UPDATE: Since publishing this blog post Winnie frame-worked an investigative segment which she would have directed and co-produced in the Bodo Community, Ogoniland, Nigeria with the support of MOSOP.
She also secured the engagement of two African Nobel Prize winners residing in Nigeria and South Africa.
They were keen to be interview subjects in Summer 2021, preserve their first hand testimony and as elder statesmen, share contemporary insights on Niger Delta matters that would be invaluable in both the present and future fight for environmental justice and human rights protection.
At the beginning of our new financial year, ASH would like to inform our readers, Associates and clients that we are no longer involved with this film project due to production and schedule management of Fried Egg Productions.