In November, it would be twenty years since the death of writer and environmentalist, Kenule Saro-Wiwa. In 1995 when he was killed, he was not alone. His friends, some of whom were invited from their endeavours abroad were hung with him too. The international community has done so much in keeping the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa alive but it has not been same in Nigeria.
This year, to mark the twenty years, Bura-Bari Nwilo, a writer from Ogoni would be gathering letters and tributaries to make a small book in remembrance of Ken. Part of his plans is to erect a mild statue of Kenule in Bori, the traditional headquarters of the Ogoni people and Ken’s birth place. According to Nwilo, the only way to raise funds for the project would be selling something – the book, and that’s where the project become equally important among other things as reintroducing Ken to the present generation.
SABINEWS spoke with Bura-Bari who is an undergraduate student of English and Literary Studies at the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria. He is the coordinator of the project entitled: The Road to Dukana.
Why the choice of project?
To many people, Ken would continue to represent courage. His dauntless approach towards the military government in questioning the unfair treatment is enough to teach a whole life lesson. His selflessness has to teach something. And if his memory is left to die, those who should be inspired would be made to create alternative forms of inspiration. But I personally think the Ken’s effect is still worthy of emulation and so we decided to embark on this project.
It’s called ‘the road to Dukana’, why is that?
Dukana is a fictional representation of the Ogoni community which appeared in some of Ken’s fictions. While our project is not fictitious, we felt using Dukana – a term in Ogoni which loosely translates as “the Ogoni’s market” was going to be identifiable by the locals. And the project is like going back to looking for Ken; a hero to many and writer to others. The book is of tributaries and reflections by anyone, despite race and colour, who has been affected by his courage, his writings and maybe his television series, Basi and Company.
You said “we”, who are those that you are working with?
A lot people have indicated interest to be part of the project. When we started, we needed a particular photograph to use for the cover design of the book and Ken’s daughter, Zina who has very enviable collection of photos taken in Bane, the hometown of Ken was the first point of call. We couldn’t reach her but when we finally did, through a third party, she approved of the use of the image. Though no other form of partnership has been reached, we hope more would come.
Another lady who has been gracious with her time is Zoe Valery, a lady I met during her post graduate programme at Oxford. A conversation with her brought about this idea. And Ms Timi Nipre of Mangrove House publishers too has agreed to consider the manuscript for publication when it is ready. This is beautiful. We also have a couple of offers to publish the electronic copy. People are eager to assist and that’s just cool. Ms Amanda Madumere and a couple of other young people like Barieeba Adolphus and Waamene Peculiar are contributing one idea at a time to assist. It is a whole collection of energy. Though I am the face of the project, a lot of people are behind me.
20 years down the line, has there been physical improvement in Ogoni?
Yeah. The improvement has been individualistic. People who had no idea they would be given governmental appointments have had the opportunity to improve the lives of the locals and some haven’t done much. As for government presence, there has been some atom of projects but it is so limited. The roads are same. Maybe a bit of rework, but there has not been any fundamental changes.
What do you mean?
I mean, the mind of the human is where the biggest development must take place. Once a man is developed from the mind, his environment can’t hold him. Ogonis have grown tremendously along the path. The young people are getting education around the world like every other human. The horror of the past may still hang over everything that is done, but there has been a mind leap and this is what I particularly feel excited about.
The Ogoni oil?
It is still there in the ground. I don’t have much information about it but I think what the people outlined as requests have not been met. Maybe once that is addressed the oil exploration can begin. But part of my project includes sensitisation. Ken was an entrepreneur. While I think thinking along the shores of oil is necessary, exploring other part like agriculture would be worthy. The young people have a lot to study from the life of Ken. Literature is key. Since Ken’s death I haven’t seen much improvement in the writings of the people. This shouldn’t be. But that’s part of the project though, to make people know a lot can be achieved using narrative as a tool for social reconstruction.
How is MOSOP fairing?
Personally, I think it is all a sham. It is so political now than ever. Its relevance in Ogoni only thrives on past glories. I guess lack of commitment and other things are responsible. I don’t know how the organisation funds itself because that determines if it would be able to be outspoken of reduced to rubble.
I know a couple of young men who were called to serve on the platform and they fled due to challenges that rotate around insincerity and witch-hunting.
How can people participate in the project?
First, we are interested in the entries. Participants are to write letters addressed to Ken Saro-Wiwa based on their knowledge of him and his many personalities. The content could be anything, ranging from all that has changed since his death. This could also be in form of poetry. It should be within 700 words. The email address is [email protected]. All submission should be accompanied with a brief profile of the writer.
Any other form of assistance can be channelled to that address too.
Interview was conducted by Onyeka Dike for Sabinews.
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