Maynooth University publishes book and audio archive to mark 18th anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 00:00

Oil companies continue to seek strategies to evade their liabilities and responsibility while Nigeria's leaders continue to squander his legacy to the region.’ Dr Owens Wiwa7 November, 2013:
A book of letters and poems written by Nigerian environmental and human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa, published by Daraja in Collaboration with CODESRIA and Action Aid (India) was launched at Maynooth University today by his brother, Dr Owens Wiwa, to mark the 18th anniversary of his execution by the then Nigerian military regime.

The book, ‘Silence Would be Treason, last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa’ features the private letters written by Ken Saro-Wiwa to Irish missionary nun Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) while he was on death row, as well as a selection of his poems.  The letters, smuggled out of his detention centre in bread baskets, document the writer’s painful transition from political activist to political prisoner, his courageous efforts to protect the Niger Delta, and an enduring friendship with Sister Majella.  The letters also address the growing political instability in Nigeria, the writer’s hopes for peace in Northern Ireland, and his passion for peace and justice throughout the world.

The letters were donated by Sister Majella to the University two years ago, on foot of Maynooth University sociology students’ involvement in environmental campaigning.  The book was edited by Dr Íde Corley, Helen Fallon and Dr Laurence Cox of Maynooth University. The University also unveiled a new Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive in the John Paul II Library. The audio archive, a joint initiative between Maynooth University Library and Kairos Communications, features a collection of recordings including extensive interviews with Sister Majella, speaking of her childhood in County Fermanagh, her decision to join a religious order, working in Nigeria and meeting Ken Saro-Wiwa, and her efforts to save his life and the lives of the Ogoni Nine. 

Dr Owens Wiwa, an internationally renowned human rights activist and globalization expert, spoke today at the launch of the book and audio archive:“I am grateful to Sister Majella and Maynooth University for reminding us all that ‘Silence is Treason’. In many ways Ken was a man ahead of his time who envisaged that unchecked and unregulated global corporations are a threat to people and the planet. His ideas spoke to the anxiety of millions who feel disconnected and disenfranchised by the agenda of politics and big business. While millions of people around the world embraced his message and continue to hold a light to his memory, his family remains disappointed that despite the attention focused on the Niger Delta and the Ogoni, very little has changed. The oil companies continue to seek strategies to evade their liabilities and their responsibility to the people and the planet, while Nigeria's leaders continue to squander his legacy to the region. We remain convinced that his time is yet to come and a better more peaceful and prosperous world is still possible. This book opens Ken's heart and thoughts for all to read and see.”

Also in attendance was Sister Majella McCarron who said: “It is impressive that 18 years on, there is an event of such importance happening in Ireland.  I kept these letters for 16 years, not knowing exactly what to do with them, but knowing that they could someday be of value.  When I donated the letters to Maynooth University I felt that I was referentially putting them into the safety of an archive so I was surprised and delighted when they decided to edit the letters and bring the voice of Ken Saro-Wiwa back to the public.”

Addressing attendees, Professor Phillip Nolan, President of Maynooth University, said: “Ken Saro-Wiwa’s bravery and dignity in the face of death has proven an inspiration to all those working toward the recognition of human rights.  The issues for which he fought are especially close to our hearts at Maynooth University, where social justice, conflict resolution and environmental expertise are core areas of our curriculum and heritage. We are proud to play a part in bringing Ken Saro-Wiwa’s inspiring story to a wider audience.”

The web-based audio archive is on open access at
The book Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa is available from all good bookshops giving the reader access to the letters and the poems. The original archive will be open to the public on International Human Rights Day 10 December  from 12 pm to 4 pm.

For further information and images, please contact:
  Maynooth University, Communications Office 01-7086160

Notes for editors
Ken Saro-Wiwa  - Ken Saro-Wiwa was the author of poetry, short stories, novels, children’s books and various pieces of journalism. He produced work for radio and wrote a topical television series that satirized the get-rich-quick mentality of his countrymen and women. Much of his fiction addressed current Nigerian socio-political and economic issues. He was a member of a small ethnic group, the Ogoni, numbering over half a million who inhabit a small region in the South East of the Niger Delta. Over 100 oil wells, a petrochemical complex and two oil refineries were located in the area. Saro-Wiwa was leading a non-violent campaign against the environmental destruction of his homeland and was seeking to secure basic rights for the Ogoni people. He was an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government. He was executed by the then Nigerian military regime on the 10th November, 1995. 
Audio archive - In addition to extensive coverage of Sister Majella’s life and her friendship with Ken Saro-Wiwa, the audio archive includes coverage of her work in Ireland as a table observer of the Garvahy Road conflict in Northern Ireland and the Shell to Sea campaign.  It also includes Dr Owens Wiwa, and speakers on social movements, African literature and archival collections.  It is hoped that the archive will be a valuable resource for research and learning.