November 11, 1995 in Nation/World

Nigerian Playwright, Eight Others, Hanged World Leaders, Human Rights Groups Protest

Frank Aigbogun Associated Press

Defying international appeals for clemency, Nigeria’s military rulers hanged playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa on Friday, along with eight other anti-government activists.

The White House, European governments and human rights groups reacted with outrage. President Nelson Mandela of South Africa and British Prime Minister John Major demanded that Nigeria be kicked out of the 52-nation Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies.

Saro-Wiwa, 54, was convicted in the deaths of four men during a May 1994 political rally. He maintained that he was framed because of his opposition to the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha and to the oil industry that earns 80 percent of Nigeria’s export income.

“This heinous act by the Nigerian authorities flies in the face of appeals by the world community for a stay of execution,” Mandela said Saturday in Auckland, New Zealand, where the Commonwealth was meeting.

The United States recalled its ambassador to Lagos and broadly extended a ban on granting visas to Nigerians.

“The United States deplores the gravely flawed process by which Mr. Saro-Wiwa and his associates were convicted and executed,” a White House statement said.

An ethnic Ogoni, Saro-Wiwa campaigned on behalf of the 500,000 Ogonis who live in Nigeria’s oil-rich south and say their land and water are being destroyed by oil industry pollution.

A recent nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize, Saro-Wiwa received Sweden’s $250,000 Right Livelihood Award last year, and the Goldman Prize from a San Francisco foundation this year, recognizing him as one of Africa’s leading environmentalists.

He wrote plays, children’s books and two novels critical of the military government - “Sozaboy,” the story of a cab driver who finds himself in the army, and “Prisoner of Jebs,” which poked fun at the ruling elite.

Saro-Wiwa also wrote and produced a popular television series, “Basi and Co.” which satirized the rich and famous, as well as the government.

A tribunal in the southern Nigerian oil city of Port Harcourt convicted Saro-Wiwa and the other eight men, all Ogonis, of murder on Oct. 31. The ruling military council upheld the death sentences Wednesday.

The mens’ wives tried to bring them a meal late Thursday but were turned away.

“Oh God, what am I going to do? He is the only thing I have in the whole world,” sobbed Hauwa Saro-Wiwa, the playwright’s wife.

On Friday, with a large crowd of sympathizers had gathered around her home, she told reporters: “It is all over.”

The men were executed at about 11:30 a.m. and taken for burial inside the Port Harcourt cemetery, which was surrounded by armed soldiers and tanks. The junta announced the executions eight hours later, and released no details.

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