Owens Wiwa
Monday Owens Wiwa is a medical doctor and human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 activist. He is the brother of executed Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Kenule "Ken" Beeson Saro Wiwa was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize...

, and the son of Ogoni chief Jim Wiwa
Jim Wiwa
Jim Beeson Wiwa was a chief of the Ogoni people of southern Nigeria, and the chairman of the Council of Chiefs of Bane. He was born in Bane. He was the father of executed playwright and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and of doctor and human-rights activist Owens Wiwa, and the grandfather of...

. Wiwa is an internationally renowned expert on the effects of globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

, especially as it relates to the highly controversial business practices of Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell plc , commonly known as Shell, is a global oil and gas company headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and with its registered office in London, United Kingdom. It is the fifth-largest company in the world according to a composite measure by Forbes magazine and one of the six...

 in the Niger Delta
Niger Delta
The Niger Delta, the delta of the Niger River in Nigeria, is a densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil...

. Vice chairman of the Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

 chapter of the Sierra Club Canada and an active member of Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

, Wiwa is frequently called upon to advocate for development programs in Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and abroad and to campaign for increased corporate responsibility. This work has taken him to Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, which he visits in support of the Shell to Sea
Shell to Sea
Shell to Sea is a campaign based in Cill Chomáin parish, Erris, County Mayo, Ireland which opposes the proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline through the parish and the ongoing construction by Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil and Vermilion Energy Trust of a refinery at Bellanaboy intended to...

 campaign. Currently, he is the Country Director for the Clinton Foundation
Clinton Foundation
The William J. Clinton Foundation is a foundation established by former President of the United States Bill Clinton with the stated mission to "strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence." The Foundation focuses on four critical areas:...

 in Nigeria.


Wiwa graduated from medical school at the University of Calabar
University of Calabar
The University of Calabar - also known as UNICAL - is a university situated in Calabar, Cross River State, southeastern Nigeria. It is one of Nigerian's second generation universities. The University of Calabar was a campus of the University of Nigeria until 1975...

 in 1985 and completed his internship at the University of Port Harcourt
University of Port Harcourt
The University of Port Harcourt is a university in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt. It was established in 1975 as University College, Port Harcourt, and was given university status in 1977.-Faculties:...

 Teaching Hospital. In 1989, he founded his own private clinic in the Ogoni town of Bori.


The six kingdoms of the Ogoni—Gokana, Ken-Khana, Nyo-Khana, Eleme, Babbe and Tai—are situated in the southeast corner of Nigeria's Rivers State
Rivers State
Rivers State is one of the 36 states of Nigeria. Its capital is Port Harcourt. It is bounded on the South by the Atlantic Ocean, to the North by Imo, Abia and Anambra States, to the East by Akwa Ibom State and to the West by Bayelsa and Delta states...

 in the heart of the Niger River delta. A tribe of fishermen and farmers, the Ogoni are a small ethnic group, numbering no more than a half million.
In 1958, Royal Dutch Shell discovered petroleum in Ogoniland
Ogoni people
Ogoni people are one of the many indigenous peoples in the region of southeast Nigeria. They share common oil related environmental problem with the Ijaw people of Niger Delta, but Ogonis are not listed in the list of people historically belonging to Niger Delta...

. Over the next few years, Shell identified a total of six oil fields in the Ogoni territory which it began exploiting through a joint venture with the government. Over the next 35 years, this venture—in which the government was a majority partner and Shell the largest private partner—produced 634 million barrels of oil worth US$30 billion. Chevron
Chevron Corporation
Chevron Corporation is an American multinational energy corporation headquartered in San Ramon, California, United States and active in more than 180 countries. It is engaged in every aspect of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industries, including exploration and production; refining,...

, ExxonMobil
Exxon Mobil Corporation or ExxonMobil, is an American multinational oil and gas corporation. It is a direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil company, and was formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon and Mobil. Its headquarters are in Irving, Texas...

, Texaco
Texaco is the name of an American oil retail brand. Its flagship product is its fuel "Texaco with Techron". It also owns the Havoline motor oil brand....

, BP
BP p.l.c. is a global oil and gas company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the third-largest energy company and fourth-largest company in the world measured by revenues and one of the six oil and gas "supermajors"...

, Agip
Agip is an Italian automotive gasoline and diesel retailer established in 1926. It is a subsidiary of the multinational petroleum company Eni.In 2003, Eni S.p.A...

 and Elf Aquitaine
Total S.A.
Total S.A. is a French multinational oil company and one of the six "Supermajor" oil companies in the world.Its businesses cover the entire oil and gas chain, from crude oil and natural gas exploration and production to power generation, transportation, refining, petroleum product marketing, and...

 also have operations in the delta and offshore, but their combined presence is dwarfed by Shell's.

In 1990, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a popular writer, television personality and businessman, founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People
Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People is a campaigning organization representing the Ogoni people. Ogoniland is situated north-east of Niger Delta...

 (MOSOP), a non-violent action group which called for Ogoni political self-determination
Self-determination is the principle in international law that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or external interference...

 and a greater share of petroleum revenue from the Nigerian government, as well as the ownership of the petroleum beneath their land. MOSOP claimed that pollution resulting from Shell's oil extraction turned their once abundant kingdoms into an ecological wasteland, their air reeking of sulphur, their water holes and creeks poisoned with petroleum, their night sky turned by burning gas flare
Gas flare
A gas flare, alternatively known as a flare stack, is an elevated vertical conveyance found accompanying the presence of oil wells, gas wells, rigs, refineries, chemical plants, natural gas plants, and landfills....

s into a perpetual twilight.
For its part, Shell insisted that allegations of environmental devastation in Ogoniland were not true. "Any industrial enterprise, including oil operations, has an impact on the environment, and this is true in Ogoni," Shell said in an official statement. "A further impact on the lives of people in the area comes from the rapidly expanding population which has caused deforestation, erosion and over-farming leading to degraded soil."

At his clinic in the heart of Ogoniland, Owens witnessed an increase in cases of asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the large bronchi in the lungs that is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and may last several days or weeks. Characteristic symptoms include cough, sputum production, and shortness of breath and wheezing related to the obstruction of the inflamed airways...

 and skin disease caused by the deteriorating environment. To address the social and environmental issues affecting his patients, Owens joined his brother’s movement in 1992, becoming the chair of MOSOP's Social Welfare and Health Committee.

As MOSOP's spokesman, Ken brought the plight of the Ogoni people to the world stage. Throughout 1991 and 1992, he spoke at environmental conferences and high-profile world events, most notably addressing the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

. In December 1992, MOSOP issued an ultimatum
An ultimatum is a demand whose fulfillment is requested in a specified period of time and which is backed up by a threat to be followed through in case of noncompliance. An ultimatum is generally the final demand in a series of requests...

 to Shell, Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation is the state oil corporation through which the federal government of Nigeria regulates and participates in the country's petroleum industry.-History:...

, calling for $6 billion in rent and royalties and $4 billion in compensation for environmental devastation—and all within 30 days or it would be assumed that they intended to quit Ogoniland. There was no reply.
A month later, a Shell worker was rumoured to have been assaulted and Shell announced it was pulling out of Ogoniland to avoid placing its workers at risk. In February 1993, Shell held a meeting in London to discuss what it should do about the situation in Ogoniland in general and Ken Saro-Wiwa in particular. The government of Nigeria was also working on the "Saro-Wiwa problem".

On April 28, 1993, a US contracting firm accompanied by Nigerian military personnel was laying pipelines for Shell in Ogoniland. When a number of farmers complained about the bulldozing of their crops, ten thousand Ogonis held four days of peaceful demonstrations to protest the construction. The government responded by bringing in soldiers to suppress the crowds and, on the last day, one of the protesters was shot dead. Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

 issued an alarm over this incident.

Tensions in the delta increased in June 1993 after Saro-Wiwa was arrested and charged with sedition. After extensive pressure by Amnesty International and other groups, he was released a month later on bail. During this period, the government dispatched soldiers to seal off Ogoniland from the outside world, but on July 30, the police were mysteriously removed from the area.

Five days later, the Ogoni town of Kaa
Kaa is a fictional and exceptionally long Python molurus from the Mowgli stories written by Rudyard Kipling. Kaa is one of Mowgli's mentors and friends. He, Baloo and Bagheera sing for Mowgli "The Outsong" of the jungle. First introduced in the story "Kaa's Hunting" in The Jungle Book, Kaa is a...

 was attacked and destroyed. More than 100 people were killed and 8,000 were left homeless. The military described the incident as an "ethic clash" between the Ogoni and their neighbours, the Andoni
Andoni is a Local Government Area in Rivers State, Nigeria. Its headquarters are in the town of Ngo.It has an area of 233 km² and a population of 211,009 at the 2006 census.The postal code of the area is 504....

. Both tribes denied any involvement or that they even had a dispute. In the autumn of 1993, ten more Ogoni villages were attacked. Seven hundred and fifty people were killed and thirty thousand were left homeless in these military-style assaults. Amnesty International believed the military supported these attacks and MOSOP accused Shell of complicity.

Because of his involvement with MOSOP, Owens was arrested and imprisoned in December 1993 and April 1994, as well as July of that same year.

In early 1994, Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha
Sani Abacha
General Sani Abacha was a Nigerian military leader and politician. A Kanuri from Borno by tribe, he was born and brought up in Kano, Nigeria. He was the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998....

 launched a full assault on Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni. His military's agenda was set forth in a memo drafted by Major Paul Okuntimo stating: "Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence." The document goes on to ominously recommend "wasting operations coupled with psychological tactics" during MOSOP gatherings.

On May 24, 1994, a massacre occurred at the palace of the Chief of the Gokana. Four Ogoni leaders sympathetic to the government and Shell were set upon by a mob chanting "vulture, vulture." They were beaten to death with clubs and burned. The military accused Ken Saro-Wiwa of inciting the attack even though he had been barred from entering Ogoniland earlier that day at a police roadblock. Nevertheless, Ken was arrested along with 15 others. They were held without charge, clamped in leg irons and tortured.

When Owens learned that Ken had been arrested, he travelled to Nigeria's largest city, Lagos
Lagos is a port and the most populous conurbation in Nigeria. With a population of 7,937,932, it is currently the third most populous city in Africa after Cairo and Kinshasa, and currently estimated to be the second fastest growing city in Africa...

, to confer with Ken's lawyer. When he arrived, he saw that the arrest of Ken Saro-Wiwa had made the front page of every Nigerian newspaper. The papers also listed the names of suspects the police were looking to apprehend for the same crime.

Owens Wiwa was number one on the wanted list. He went underground.
Even though he was a fugitive, Wiwa met with human rights groups, environmental groups, church leaders, and western embassies in Nigeria frequently, informing them of the situation and requesting that they put pressure for Ken's release. The response to the campaign was overwhelming. The media reacted with a clamorous condemnation of the Nigerian military. Groups such as PEN International, Amnesty International, Greenpeace
Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, The Netherlands...

, the Sierra Club
Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892, in San Francisco, California, by the conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president...

, and Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo,...

 turned the arrest of Ken Saro-Wiwa into their cause célèbre. Royal Dutch Shell was vilified and boycott
A boycott is an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for political reasons...

ed around the world.

In February 1995, after being imprisoned for nine months without charge, Ken Saro-Wiwa was finally brought to trial. Bypassing normal legal procedures, Abacha set up a special military tribunal to try Ken and the others for the murder of the Ogoni chiefs. The international community condemned the trial as a sham.

On October 31, 1995, Ken and eight other Ogoni activists were sentenced to death. They were hanged less than two weeks later, on November 10. International reaction to the executions was swift. The Commonwealth
Commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has sometimes been synonymous with "republic."More recently it has been used for fraternal associations of some sovereign nations...

 suspended Nigeria. More than a dozen countries, including the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, recalled their ambassadors.


Owens moved swiftly. With his wife and infant son in tow, he escaped the country with his life. With the help of Anita Roddick
Anita Roddick
Dame Anita Roddick, DBE was a British businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner, best known as the founder of The Body Shop, a cosmetics company producing and retailing beauty products that shaped ethical consumerism...

 and her socially conscious cosmetic empire, The Body Shop
The Body Shop
The Body Shop International plc, known as The Body Shop, has 2,400 stores in 61 countries, and is the second largest cosmetic franchise in the world, following O Boticario, a Brazilian company...

, the Wiwas found temporary safe haven in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Among those who gave the refugee Wiwa family temporary shelter was British novelist Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing
Doris May Lessing CH is a British writer. Her novels include The Grass is Singing, The Golden Notebook, and five novels collectively known as Canopus in Argos....

. After several precarious months in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, Owens was able to relocate his family to permanent safety in Canada with the aid of Greenpeace Canada and Toronto's Bloor Street United Church
Bloor Street United Church
Bloor Street United Church is a United Church of Canada church located at 300 Bloor Street West in downtown Toronto, near the intersection with Huron Street. It is just north of the University of Toronto, and between the Spadina and St. George Subway Stations.As with many of the downtown Toronto...


Wiwa resides in Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, Ontario
Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

, Canada, with his wife, Diana Barikor Wiwa, and their three children.

The search for the bones of Ken Saro-Wiwa

Canadian author J. Timothy Hunt
J. Timothy Hunt
James Timothy Hunt is an American-Canadian author and journalist.- Biography : Hunt was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and attended university in Montana, receiving a B.S. in Economics and Business Administration from Rocky Mountain College in 1981...

's biography of Wiwa entitled The Politics of Bones
The Politics of Bones
The Politics of Bones: Dr. Owens Wiwa and the Struggle for Nigeria's Oil is a book by Canadian journalist J. Timothy Hunt. It was published by McClelland & Stewart in September 2005 just before the tenth anniversary of the controversial execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa.On November 10, 1995, Nigeria’s...

documented Wiwa's personal battle against the Nigerian government to locate his brother's remains after they were buried in an unmarked mass-grave. Over the torturous course of ten years, Wiwa finally succeeded in locating and properly burying his brother in the summer of 2005.

External links

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