In the Shadow of a Saint

ISBN 13: 9780552777131

In the Shadow of a Saint

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9780552777131: In the Shadow of a Saint
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In late 1995, the little-known Ogoni region in Nigeria became a fable for our times. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a renowned poet and environmentalist, was campaigning to protect his Ogoni people against the encroachments of Shell Oil and a brutal dictatorship. He was imprisoned, tortured, brought to trial on trumped-up charges, and executed.

At the heart of the public campaign to save Ken Saro-Wiwa was another Ken Wiwa—the author's son—who travelled the world lobbying world leaders and mobilizing public opinion, so that his father was recognized as a hero and a symbol of the struggle for environmental justice. The Saro-Wiwa name became global currency for righteousness.

Ken Wiwa has embarked on a book that tells the story—from a human, anecdotal perspective—of what it means to grow up as a child in the shadow of such extraordinary men and women. In the end, it's about Ken's attempts to make peace with himself and his father—following his journey as he reaches toward a final rendezvous with the father who was snatched by the hangman.

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About the Author:

Born in Nigeria and educated in England, Ken Wiwa now contributes to newpapers, including The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the Observer. Internationally his journalism has appeared in South Africa, Holland, Germany and Spain and in a weekly column for Vanguard in Nigeria. Ken was also Internet editor for The Guardian for nearly two years. He now lives in Canada with his family and is Senior Resident Writer at Massey College in the University of Toronto.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

My father. Where does he end and where do I begin? I seem to have spent my whole life chasing his shadow, trying to answer the questions that so many fathers pose to their sons. Is my life predetermined by his? My future defined by my past? Is his story repeating itself through me, or am I the author of my own fate? Is he my father, or am I his son? Where does he end and where do I begin?

I was always my father's son. His influence was visible in just about everything I did: my career, the woman I chose to marry, why I shortened my name, the books I read, the way I speak, the way I write, my politics. I used to fantasize about his death, imagining it as the moment when I would finally be free to be my own man, to make my own way in life without having to consider how he would react.

He was hanged in Nigeria on November 10, 1995. On the morning of his execution, he was taken from his prison cell in a military camp in Port Harcourt, on the southern coast of Nigeria, and driven under armed escort to a nearby prison. It took five attempts to hang him. His corpse was dumped in an unmarked grave; acid was poured on his remains and soldiers posted outside the cemetery.

Ken Saro-Wiwa's execution triggered a tidal wave of outrage that swept around the world. John Major, then British prime minister, described my father's execution as "judicial murder" and the military tribunal that sentenced him to death as a "fraudulent trial, a bad verdict, an unjust sentence." Nelson Mandela declared that "this heinous act by the Nigerian authorities flies in the face of appeals by the world community for a stay of execution." World figures, including Bill Clinton and the Queen, joined the worldwide condemnation of Nigeria's military dictator, General Sani Abacha. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth; countries recalled their diplomats, and there were widespread calls for economic sanctions. There were candlelit vigils and demonstrations outside Nigerian embassies and at Shell Oil stations and offices. My father's death was front-page news around the world. Letters and tributes poured in from every continent, and Ken Saro-Wiwa was canonized in hastily prepared obituaries that were often littered with errors. A man whom few people had heard of twenty-four hours earlier was suddenly invested with a mythic quality, and his campaign against Shell Oil and a ruthless military regime was being touted as a morality tale for the late twentieth century.

But there were ugly footnotes to the saga. The quicklime had barely calcified around my father's bones when dissenting voices began to question the public's perception of Ken Saro-Wiwa. In The Times, one commentator wrote, "People are comparing Ken Saro-Wiwa to Steve Biko, which of course he isn't." A society columnist in The Sunday Times insisted that "Ken Saro-Wiwa may have got the short end of the stick but he was no angel." Shell Oil, the company my father had accused of devastating the environment and abusing the human rights of our people, responded to questions about its role in the affair by launching a public-relations campaign that spread doubts about his character and his reputation. The multinational distanced itself from the execution, insisting that it was being used as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the real issues in the trial. In a television interview, the head of its Nigerian operations claimed that Ken Saro-Wiwa had been executed for murder.

General Abacha declared war against Ken Saro-Wiwa, spending $10 million to counter the negative publicity his regime was attracting because of the execution. Washington lobbyists and public-relations consultants were hired to sell the line that Ken Saro-Wiwa had incited his followers to commit murder. An advertisement in the Washington Post graphically illustrated the sequence of events leading up to the trial and the execution. In London, the Nigerian High Commission took space in The Times to explain "the truth about Ken Saro-Wiwa." Newspaper editors were pressed to report "the other side of the story," and in The Guardian, where I was working at the time, one of my father's former associates described him as a "habitual liar." Punch magazine claimed that Ken Saro-Wiwa had duped gullible liberals and had used his friends in the media to "fool the world."

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