Weyinmi Okotie in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.

By Careen Joel Mwakitalu

It is often a devastating loss when an active voice of change is silenced. To the communities, it means a weakened drive to change. To their respective families, it means a total reshaping of the dependants’ lives. However, to a generation, it marks a remembrance of the possibility that change is achievable and your single voice matters!

This 10th November 2022, we remember a critical voice silenced 27 years ago at Port-Harcourt. Today, on the celebration of his life, renowned Nigerian environment and political activist Ken Saro Wiwa’s story is still a torch of light for environmental justice. As a martyr of his people, ‘the Ogoni’ of the Niger Delta, Ken Saro Wiwa fought against the oppressive regime of General Sani Obacha to protect his land that was exposed to petroleum waste dumping because it is an area picked out for crude oil extraction since the 1950s.

One of the critical highlights of Ken Saro Wiwa’s work was the non-violence strategy and what it achieved. He employed a non-violent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland, putting to play the media as an integral partner for change. The above may speak volumes to climate and environmental activists today with the diverse world of technology tools at their disposal and the unlimited capacity to communicate empowered by innovation. If he did, we could!

The current times, however, can draw more than one lesson from Ken Saro Wiwa as an activist. With modern-day activism growing more complex due to the intersectionality of issues, it is only fitting to highlight the unwavering commitment to ‘Saro Wiwa’s’ strategy of using his voice to advise the government and influence policy change. 

Foregrounding a very timely example is the extensive negative impact on the environment and livelihoods of people the Royal Dutch Company ‘SHELL’ has succeeded in destroying. Since its operation started in 1937, Shell has existed at the expense of communities and lands in the Niger delta through onshore, shallow and deep water oil exploration and production.

Relevant to modern-day activism, present activists can not only rally campaigns on virtual and physical platforms but also climb the political ladder and influence change through systems in place. The reason for the prior narrative being social, economic and political systems are very much interlinked, and decision-making for the benefit of the ordinary person can be jeopardized.

Resilience and sacrifice echo the loudest in the inspiring story of Ken Saro Wiwa. Today does not only translate to a remembrance of the fallen general Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni nine but also many other vital voices of change from Africa that were silenced in lieu of justice and social development of the African people. This piece is a note of celebration carting other voices of fallen African environmentalists like Fikile Ntshangase of South Africa with the list going on.