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A month and a day

A Month and A Day & Letters

Author Ken Saro-Wiwa
(Foreword by The Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka)

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ISBN: 978-0-9547023-5-9 | 240 pages | Weight: 0.25kg | Paperback | Published 2005 | Rights: World: All languages

Categories: African | Literature | History | Memoirs | Biography |

Synopsis

A Month and A Day & Letters includes an edited version of 'A Detention Diary' - Saro-Wiwa's own record of his arrest in July 1993, and the story of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the struggle against the multinational Shell and the Nigerian military dictatorship. Saro-Wiwa's criticisms and questioning of a corrupt regime eventually led to his execution with eight others on 10 November 1995.

This new edition has a Foreword by the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. It also includes a letter by Ken Wiwa to his late father 10 years on, and previously unpublished letters smuggled to and from Ken during his final imprisonment. Among these are letters from world leaders, writers and friends including Nelson Mandela, Nadine Gordimer, Ethel Kennedy, Anita Roddick and ordinary people from all over the world.

Recommendations

This book gives an insight into Ken Saro-Wiwa's ideology, his ultimate sacrifice for the Ogoni people and for all oppressed people, for a world that is sustainable, just and humane. Crucially, it highlights the central role that oil companies play in our daily lives. If you want to know why Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed, read his book.

'The writer is his cause, I am more and more convinced ... that the path of literature is the assured way to human salvation and civilisation. I hail the power of the pen.' KS-W, writing to the President of International PEN, 3 September 1993.

 

Reviews

 

A Month And A Day & Letters by Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Ayebia Clarke Publishing, Banbury, UK, 2005.

Pb. 221pp,

Reviewed by: Dr Patrick Wilmot in News Africa June 2006

 

In the summer of 1986 the annual meeting of the Association of Nigerian Authors was held in Abuja which, that at the time, was a glorified building site. Our host was general Mamman Vatsa, a poet who tried to express himself not by intrigue or killing his friends but through verse. Among the writers present were Chinua Achebe, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Festus Iyayi, Flora Nwapa and myself.

Vatsa took his writing seriously, identified with us and showed us a piece of land where he hoped to help us establish a writers’ village. He also showed us the Presidential Palace, now Aso Rock, which was then under construction. He knew Saro-Wiwa from the war and they engaged in animated conversation. We naively hoped that this collaboration between a military man and writers would help rescue the better class of soldiers from their well-earned reputation for barbarism.

Unfortunately, this was not to be, as the very worst type wasted most of the people gathered that day and to all that was precious in Nigeria including the military itself. Vatsa is dead, victim of Babangida, his ‘best friend’ from school days; Saro-Wiwa is dead, victim of Abacha, his former neighbour; Achebe was victim of a poor transport system which corrupt leaders failed to develop and now has to live abroad because these same leaders stole money meant to build hospitals.

Festus Iyayi was driven out of the University and I was abducted and expelled by a ‘Babangida boy’ who permanently damaged my wrists with tight handcuffs. All of us were not just writers but activists who strove to improve the people’s condition. In Europe they frown on ‘political’ writing because their political system works and the ruling class which owns the publishing houses resent ideological critics. They can afford the luxury of ‘art for arts sake’, where works are judged solely by artistic standards. They forget that Picasso’s Guernica was great art as well as the most powerful political statement in history.

In societies where politics and economics do not work, artists and trade unionists must necessarily be involved in the political and economic systems. A Month and a Day And Letters is a record of the political struggles of a writer engaged in improving the economic conditions of the Ogoni people. As a privileged Ogoni who was close to many of the rulers of his country, Saro-Wiwa could be said to have committed ‘class suicide’ as defined in the works of the assassinated Amilcar Cabral. He lived comfortably, made money from his writing and businesses and sent his children to the best schools.

But when he left the comfortable embrace of powerful ‘friends’, he found out what it was like to be in the hell the poor endured in Nigerian society. His letters show the horror of what it is like to be persecuted by a state whose officials are not constrained by institutions that protect the rights of citizens. He mentions the inhumanity of the ‘security’ forces, their total lack of reason and compassion. There is an incident where his file was thrown to the ground by one Tafa Balogun who later became IG, helped rig the 2003 elections and stole almost one hundred billion Naira.

There is an element of Kafka in the absurdity, alienation, inhumanity, irrationality and sadism of Saro-Wiwa’s letters. But while Kafka’s horror is very abstract and psychological, to be ‘enjoyed’ by literary cognoscenti, Saro-Wiwa presents the concrete, banal and terrifying aspects of a state out of control. The beauty of Kafka’s work for Western critics is that you can never point a finger at the source of the fear, alienation and uncertainty. You ‘enjoy’ the illusion that everyone suffers because that is the way the world is.

Saro-Wiwa, like the victims of Nazism, could point to the sources of their pain – Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Roehm, Heydrich, the SS, Gestapo, Abacha, Balogun, the SSS. His children played with Abacha’s when they lived next door. As a senior official on the Federal side during the war he knew them all – Babangida, Akilu, Shinkafi. He knew how the ‘security’ men, soldiers and police worked, though not from personal experience. His book, however, brings to the general public just how immediate and concrete the suffering is when one comes up against power exercised by the most corrupt and unaccountable individuals in society. In condemning military rule, one must take into account the quality of the soldiers who exercised it. Gowon was a decent, honest soldier with some compassion and conducted the Civil War with integrity and a level of humanity.

When he outstayed his welcome he was shown the door by young officers with some patriotism, who handed over to Murtala Muhammed, an exemplary man and soldier, who honoured his word, his uniform and his office. Babaginda and Abacha were pathetic men and soldiers who lacked the personality, intelligence and physical stature to be in the army and were recruited on political grounds.

They failed as statesmen because they were poor soldiers who should have been court marshalled and imprisoned or shot. Saro-Wiwa’s writing shows what Kafkaesque horrors are produced when you give power to unintelligent thugs with guns. Had he been called to write a posthumous obituary, he would not have been surprised that his incompetent executioner had to hang him several times.

Review of A Month and A Day & Letters by Ken Saro-Wiwa

in the New Internationalist: April 2006

 

A decade has passed since Ken Saro-Wiwa was judicially murdered on trumped-up charges by the military dictatorship of the Nigerian ruler Sani Abacha. He was hanged, together with eight other campaigners, for defending the rights of the Ogoni people, despite worldwide condemnation and a concerted campaign led by his fellow writers and prominent world figures.

To mark the anniversary of this barbaric act and to celebrate the life of a remarkable man, the estimable Ayebia Clarke Publishing house has brought out a new edition of the ‘Detention Diary’ Saro-Wiwa wrote in July 1993. Also included in this volume are a series of clandestine letters to friends, written during Saro-Wiwa’s imprisonment, his final statement to the military tribunal that condemned him (which he was not allowed to read out) and movingly, two letters written by his son Ken Wiwa to his late father.

In his writing and his activism, Ken Saro-Wiwa was steadfast in his defence of the oppressed and dispossessed Ogoni people. He is scathing in his contempt for the brutal and corrupt dictatorship and the complicity of the oil transnational Shell, whose pursuit of profit has left Ogoni lands polluted and despoiled.

This excellent book outlines for the general reader the struggle of the Ogonis against global corporate power allied to military tyranny. It also gives us a glimpse into the daily life of a man whose commitment to honesty and justice so irked Nigeria’s despots that they were obliged to murder him.

Four Star rating ****

A Month and A Day & Letters by Ken Saro-Wiwa

Absurd Tales of oil, greed and death

Reviewed in 'THES (UK Times Higher Education Supplement)' 23 December 05, by Mandy Garner

On November 10, 1995, I was sitting in my office at the writers' organisation International PEN when the phone rang. It was a friend with a report from a "reliable source" close to the prison in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, that the official executioner had been seen entering the premises. Despite months of international action and pleading, it seemed that the Nigerian Government was going ahead with its plan, following a farcical trial by a military tribunal, to execute the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight fellow Ogonis on trumped-up charges of inciting murder. All through the day, we waited for confirmation of the execution and at last it came. In defiance of world opinion and with no right of appeal, the nine men had been hanged. For Saro-Wiwa, it had reportedly taken more than one attempt.

And yet, as Wole Soyinka says in his foreword to this book, there had been a terrible inevitability about the outcome, despite official assurances that we should trust in international diplomacy. The Abacha regime in Nigeria was reliant on an oil industry whose injustice had been highlighted by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and its spokesman, Saro-Wiwa; an injustice that saw Nigeria's oil wealth siphoned away from the areas where it was drilled -- which were left to deal with the environmental fallout -- and into the pockets of Nigeria's military and corporate elite.

Ten years later, although Nigeria has faded from the world headlines, this book shows that Saro-Wiwa's legacy is still important. His diary previously published, tells of his detention for a Month and a Day in 1993, but there is additional material from the later detention that resulted in his death.

Several times, Saro-Wiwa says that he would like to have been an academic and this book is aimed partly at students on African Studies courses.

For a man who crammed so much into his life -- he was a businessman, politician (a commissioner of education, no less), a populist national leader and a prolific writer/journalist -- it seems almost unsurprising that he managed to direct the campaign for his release while in prison.

In the diary, there are many scenes that highlight the absurdity of military regimes, such as when Saro-Wiwa goes to a restaurant with a guard. "I thought you were in detention?" says a fellow diner. "So I am," says Saro-Wiwa, pointing out his guard. The man asks him why he is in detention. "Election offences," says Saro-Wiwa. “But the election has been nullified,” the man responds.

The book, though, is more than the tale of Saro-Wiwa's detention. It is an outline of his political ideology, a potted history of Nigeria and especially the Ogoni, whose right to self-determination Saro-Wiwa championed and a behind-the-scenes look at politics in Nigeria.

The new material highlights the prescience of some of the comments made by Saro-Wiwa while in detention in 1993 and also shows how he managed to ignite international attention for his cause.

Here too the tangled relationship between Saro-Wiwa and his son Ken Wiwa, who lives in the shadow of a daunting father and who, in campaigning for his father's release and propagating his legacy in books such as this, has shown that he is no mean operator himself.

Mandy Garner, features editor
The Times Higher Education Supplement

African Business Magazine Review: June 2006

A Month and A Day & Letters includes an edited version of ‘A Detention Diary’ – Saro-Wiwa’s own record of his arrest in July1993 and the story of the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the struggle against the multinational Shell and the Nigerian Military.

Saro-Wiwa’s criticisms and questioning of a corrupt regime eventually led to his execution with eight others on 10 November 1995.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was sentenced to death with other Ogonis after a trial by a ‘kangaroo’ court, during which he was allowed no legal representation and denied the opportunity to deliver his final statement (included in this book) to the military-appointed tribunal.

Sanctioned by the General Sani Abacha dictatorship, the sentence was carried out in the face of international condemnation. This book contains letters smuggled to and from Ken during his final days of detention in1995. Among these letters are words of encouragement (and later condolences to his family) from world leaders, writers and friends, including Nelson Mandela, Nadine Gordimer, Ethel Kennedy, Gordon and Anita Roddick et al.

But there are also letters from ordinary people from all over the world, moved by his plight and the injustice of his detention, who wrote to express their support for him and his cause while he was in prison.

These letters have not been seen before and speak volumes for a man moved by a quest for justice for his Ogoni people through his writings and non-violent means of protest through MOSOP.

This book focuses on the Ogoni struggle and highlights his ideology, his cause, his ultimate sacrifice and the injustice of his death. The story of Ken Saro-Wiwa is a story that illustrates the consequences and dangers of living in a global economy powered by fossil fuel. Saro-Wiwa gave his life for the Ogoni people and all oppressed peoples of the world but ultimately for a world that is sustainable, just and humane.

If you want to know why Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged, read this book!

Review 2006: Lucas Leeds University African Studies Bulletin
A Month and A Day & Letters
. Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd.

Ken Saro-Wiwa’s extraordinary detention diaries were first published (by
Penguin) in 1995. This new edition published ten years after Saro-Wiwa and
eight Ogoni colleagues were executed by the vicious Abacha regime in Nigeria,
contains previously unpublished letters from Saro-Wiwa to friends, colleagues
and family and to his son Ken Wiwa after his father’s killing. There are also
two moving posthumous letters from Ken Wiwa to his late father written in
2000 and 2005. The correspondents range from Nelson Mandela and the Prime
Ministers of Canada and New Zealand, to family friends and supporters. The
Foreword by Wole Soyinka achingly recounts the desperate attempt to lobby the
Commonwealth Heads of State in Auckland in November 1995, to deter Abacha
from his murderous course. Ken Saro-Wiwa was always larger than life: I have
fond memories of his personal and academic qualities as a student at Ibadan. His
novels and writing for television were brilliantly satirical and politically astute.

At a time when Nigeria was subject to dangerous political tensions and
intolerant of criticism, Saro-Wiwa remained outspoken and - more dangerously
– witty. But his wit was never a substitute for passion and his fierce advocacy
of the rights of the Ogoni people was carried on fearlessly. It is impossible not to
be moved by this book. Ken Saro-Wiwa’s own words forcefully recreate his
wonderful pugnacious presence. Tributes to him from friends and colleagues
give ample evidence to the affection and respect in which he was held. The
genre of the prison diary is all too familiar in African writing: Jack Mapanje’s
moving poem written for Ken and Wole Soyinka’s tormented recollections
recall these horrors only too graphically. What all this collection does is offer a
testament to Saro-Wiwa’s humanity and courage.

Martin Banham

About the Author

'Many people still remember how they felt when Ken Saro-Wiwa was judicially murdered. Some of us have spent the period trying to forget, as a strategy to mask our pain...' Ken Wiwa from a speech at the Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa Commemoration London, 22 March 2005.

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