Ken Saro-Wiwa / Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People

(1994, Nigeria)

...for their exemplary courage in striving non-violently for the civil, economic and environmental rights of their people.


Ken Saro Wiwa (1941-1995) was a member of the Ogoni tribe of some 500,000 people, living in densely populated Ogoniland in south-eastern Nigeria. He studied at the University of Ibadan and in 1973 he began to write books and articles and produced television programmes. He wrote 27 books and in 1994 received the Fonlon-Nichols Award for excellence in creative writing.

Contact Details

6 Otonahia Close
Off Olu Obasanjo Road
Port Harcourt, Rivers State



Ogoniland has produced US$30 billion worth of oil for Nigeria, mainly through a joint venture in which the government is a majority partner, with Shell the largest private partner (30%). The oil production has resulted in very severe pollution of Ogoniland. To combat these effects, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was set up in 1990, as the umbrella organisation for a number of broad-based organisations addressing the needs of Ogoni women, youth, churches, teachers, students and other professionals.

MOSOP has formulated two sets of demands: one directed to the Nigerian government, one to the Shell Corporation. The first of these were set out in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, drafted by MOSOP in 1990, which expressed Ogoni determination to secure their political, economic and environmental rights.

With regard to Shell, Saro-Wiwa demanded that the company bypass the central government, engage immediately in environmental impact assessments of its past activities and raise its standards to best practice.

Shell's response in 1994 was to cease production in Ogoniland.

In January 1993, to mark the start of the UN Year of Indigenous People, 300,000 Ogoni people demonstrated peacefully in favour of their demands, but the Nigerian government responded to the Ogoni mobilisation with brutal repression. In a military occupation that lasted more than four years, over 1,000 people were killed and many more were made homeless, refugees or were imprisoned without trial.

Saro-Wiwa was arrested several times in 1993, when he was adopted by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience and became MOSOP President. In May 1994 he was arrested again. The pretext for his arrest was that Saro-Wiwa had incited youth to murder four Ogoni politicians. After a trial, which was condemned by international observers, and described as judicial murder by the then British Prime Minister, Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his colleagues were executed on November 10th 1995.

Since the change in Nigerian government in 1998, MOSOP has been able to meet openly and there has been acknowledgement by government and oil companies of the acute lack of development in the Niger delta. More reluctant attention has been paid to the environmental damage done by oil exploration: as of mid-1999, no substantial action had been taken by the government, and MOSOP continued to demand that Shell conduct an environmental assessment of Ogoni and clean up the effects of its operations.

In 2004, following slow pace of progress/response by Shell and the government on the Ogoni decade of non-violent campaign, pockets of youths from the Ijaw ethnic nationality facing a similar situation like the Ogonis, decided to violently seize oil platforms thus disrupting oil production activities. This led to a very brutal reaction occasioned by heavy military campaign in the Niger Delta region, but forced the government to opening up discussions on environmental rights and resource allocation - the basic ingredients of MOSOP's agenda.

MOSOP still requires local as well as international support in dealing with what they call "a ground swell of an unholy alliance between the political class and transnational oil corporations."


Acceptance Speech by Ken Saro-Wiwa

December 9th, 1994

The speech was read in his name by Simeon Kpoturu.

Honourable Members of the Swedish Parliament,
ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and myself, I express my profound thanks to the Foundation of the Right Livelihood Award for honouring us with its 1994 prize. I also appreciate the rare privilege offered me to address this august Assembly on this momentous occasion.

The Award acknowledges, I understand, the efforts which MOSOP and I have made in striving non-violently for the civic, economic and environmental rights of the Ogoni people, thus setting a practical example for the solution of urgent social problems.
We appreciate this acknowledgement, coming at a time when, to say the least, all Ogoni people have been put under tremendous pressure by the military rulers of Nigeria who, over the last eighteen months, have declared war on Ogoni babies, pregnant women and unarmed men, devastated several Ogoni villages, murdered one thousand eight hundred people in cold blood, detained and extorted money from hundreds and driven an estimated one hundred thousand people into the bushes and forests. 

While these atrocities have not broken the resolve of the Ogoni people, the 1994 Right Livelihood Award has served to re-kindle our faith in our just cause and in our methods and has inspired many others to commence a struggle similar to our own.

In recognition of the sterling role which the members of the MOSOP-affiliated Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations (FOWA) have played in the Ogoni struggle, and in deep gratitude to my mother who, at seventy-three, is a leading member of MOSOP and an eternal inspiration in my quest for social justice, I dedicate the award to the Ogoni Woman.

I salute the Foundation of the Right Livelihood Award and its founder, Jakob von Uexkull for their generosity in establishing the prize and their wisdom and perspicacity in identifying, in far-flung parts of the world, worthy causes which would otherwise have gone unrecognized. By these actions, the Foundation is helping to make the world a much better place for all mankind.

The Ogoni have become a metaphor for the agony and exploitation of indigenous peoples and national minorities throughout Africa. Their non-violent struggle for their rights deserves the support of the international community because their success will inspire a multitude of despairing and disappearing peoples in Africa to the happy ways of peace and reduce the number of armed conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The questions raised by the Ogoni struggle include the global issues of the right of man to a clean and pure environment; sustainable development; the political and economic rights of the various peoples who make up the multi-ethnic states of Africa, states which were created primarily to serve European colonial interests and which are therefore largely irrelevant to the needs of their constituent peoples; democracy and military dictatorship in African nations; the role of multi-national corporations among indigenous African peoples. 

What has particularly interested me as a man of letters in the Ogoni question has been how the multinational oil giant Shell which discovered oil on the Ogoni plains in 1958 can complacently cart away 900 million barrels of oil estimated conservatively at 30 billion US dollars and insensitively leave the Ogoni people with a completely devastated environment, living in pristine conditions in mud houses, without pipe-borne water, electricity, medical care or schools, threatening the very survival of the people.

Of equal interest has been the alliance between Shell and successive rulers of Nigeria. Shell has often been accused of actively encouraging the latter in extreme acts of repression and brutality against defenseless ethnic minorities in oil-bearing areas such as Ogoniland. The rulers of Nigeria both through unequal laws and force of arms, have denied the Ogoni the right to the management of their affairs and the development of their culture and economy, effectively reducing them to paradoxical poverty, slavery and extinction. 

My experience is that we are face to face with a Modern Slave Trade similar in many ways to the Atlantic Slave Trade in which European merchants armed African middlemen to decimate their peoples and destroy their societies in return for intangible profits. As in the Atlantic Slave Trade, the multinational company reaps huge profits; the African middlemen - in this case the Nigerian nation-state - are debt-ridden and in chaos; their common victim, the Ogoni and similar resource-bearing communities face extinction. But what makes the Modern Slave Trade worse is that it has the capacity of destroying the environment as well and is thus omnicidal and affects all of man-kind.

I submit that we all have a responsibility to end this Modern Slave Trade and that all men of conscience and all Governments in the Western Hemisphere must not only condemn but fight it with as much energy and will as was used against the Atlantic Slave Trade. 

When, therefore, I mobilized the Ogoni people and called out 300,000 of them to stage a remarkably peaceful protest march on January 4, 1993, the people marched not only against environmental degradation, political marginalization, economic strangulation, slavery and genocide but also against the Modern Slave Trade. That the Ogoni have, on their own, sustained this struggle without recourse to arms is a testimony to their will to survive. 

To end the agony of the Ogoni, to ensure that the Ogoni have a chance of survival, I appeal to all people of conscience in the West to set up an International Rescue Mission to salvage the Ogoni environment and save the Ogoni people from slavery, genocide and extinction. This would be a worthy service to humanity and would serve notice to multinational corporations and their local military allies in all parts of the Third World that the twenty-first century will not tolerate disregard for human life and the environment in the pursuit of their ambitions. It would also serve the cause of democracy against thriving military dictatorships which continue to denigrate black African societies and dehumanize the people thereof.

I harbour the hope that in founding the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, in empowering the Ogoni people to fearlessly confront their history and their tormentors non-violently, that in encouraging the Ogoni people to a belief in their ability to revitalize their dying society, I have started a trend which will peacefully liberate many peoples in Africa and lead eventually to political and economic reform and social progress.

The inconveniences which I and the Ogoni suffer, the harassment, arrests, detention, even death itself are a proper price to pay for ending the nightmare of millions of people engulfed by the wasting storms of denigrating poverty on the sea of dehumanization.

I wish to thank my family for the wonderful support they have given me throughout this struggle, and all Ogoni people at home and abroad for their unwavering commitment to the cause of their upliftment. I thank all those who have assisted the struggle of the Ogoni people. In particular, I wish to mention The Body Shop International Plc, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, the World Council of Churches, the entire free press in Nigeria, Greenpeace, the Catholic Church of Nigeria, Civil Liberties Organisation, Amnesty International, International PEN, Human Rights Watch (Africa), the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of the British Parliament and the Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress.

Once again, I laud the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for kindling hope in the breasts of despairing peoples and pledge that I, MOSOP and the Ogoni people will live up to the expectations of the Foundation by continuing to struggle non-violently for Ogoni rights within the Nigerian nation-state.

I thank you all for patiently listening to me and wish you God's blessings.


Ken Saro-Wiwa vs Shell

Introductory video about the case against Shell: its environmental devastation in Nigeria, and its partnership with the Nigerian military government to violently suppress the growing human rights and environmental justice movement in the Niger Delta. Visit for more information

Fighting for rights against the oil industry



asked in 2005
answered by Batom Mitee

1. How have the circumstances of MOSOP's work changed since the end of the dictatorship and what has been the focus of your work in recent years? 

Not much has changed since the return to democratic governance in 1999. The response to Ogoni demands is still very slow. Oil companies still operate with poor environmental records blaming their activities on enabling legislation. However, human rights violations have been reduced by over 50 % of late.
Our present focus is to lobby or pressure the national parliament into reviewing the disempowering and outdated law on oil operation in Nigeria.

2. How strong is the international response to MOSOP's activities today?

The international response is presently getting weaker. It seems the focus of international pressure was just to get Nigeria under a civilian dictatorship.
Once the Nigerian leader started wearing a civilian dress, international pressure decreased not minding whether the ingredients of democracy are present. Evil oil practises are yet to change and there is increasing pressure in this regard.

3. How do Nigerians regard Ken Saro-Wiwa today? Is he well known in Nigeria?

Ken Saro-Wiwa is well known all over Nigeria today. Even though he was hanged along with others on the allegation of formenting trouble, people now see it as a decoy of scuttling the Ogoni struggle.
The present government has released his bones for proper burial and sometimes sends representatives to attend the annual MOSOP remembrance activities.

4. What is the relationship between Shell Oil Company and the Ogoni people today?

Since 1994, Shell was declared persona non grata in Ogoni land. Active oil operations by Shell are yet to return to Ogoni land. Shell has not been sincere in all negotiations and the Ogoni people were pleased with the national government to call in another oil company to exploit oil in Ogoni. The Government is yet to carve in because Shell wields enormous pressure and control over the government.

5. For the past 10 years, Shell abandoned oil activities in Ogoniland, what is the situation now?

Shell actually vacated active operations but their oil wells and ageing equipments are still there. The Ogoni people are very happy without oil activities because for 40 years no visible economic improvement has come from oil.
Rather carefree exploitation has led to the disruption of fishing and farming activities thus exacerbating poverty. Farmers no longer struggle for farm land with oil operations that have no direct benefit to the villagers. Military presence and human rights abuses are also reduced.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

At a time when the Ogoni non violent revolution was little known internationally, the RLA came as a booster. It created immediate international recognition, which led to much support and co-operation. Several foreign journalists managed to visit Ogoniland, which led to better understanding of the combat of trial and judicial murder of the Ogoni. It also subjected the activities of Shell Oil Company to local as well as international scrutiny.


Publications by Ken Saro-Wiwa

Silence Would Be Treason - Last Writings of Ken Saro Wiwa. Edited by Ide Corley, Helen Fallon and Laurence Cox. With a foreword by Nnimmo Bassey. Published by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), 2012.

Read extracts of the book.

Sozaboy. Longman African Writers, 1995.

Read what Die Zeit, a German newspaper, writes about this book and why it still worth reading today.


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