23 October 2013

If you venture up to the Liverpool Guild of Students, you’ll find a bar named after the Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.  In the early 1990s he was an early member of the non-violent Movement for the Survivial of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).  The organisation’s goals are not too dissimilar from those of MEND, although MEND’s tendency towards violent means distinguishes the two. 

So why would Liverpool Guild of Students name a bar after a Nigerian activist? Ken Saro- Wiwa was openly critical of the environmental damage that companies like Shell were inflicting on Ogoniland, as well as the government for allowing it to happen. He was held without trial for several months in 1992 before leading peaceful marches in 1993. In the same year the Ogoni Nine, including Saro- Wiwa and eight others, were suspected of murdering four Ogoni chiefs. A special tribune set up by the military government in 1994 found them guilty and sentenced them to death.  With the trial so obviously rigged, many doubted that the execution; but in 1995 the Ogoni Nine were hanged to widespread international condemnation.

The Saro- Wiwa story ended in 2009 when Shell paid out $15 million to the families of the Ogoni Nine, as a “goodwill gesture” to settle a lawsuit accusing them of fabricating evidence for the murder trial. So as far as naming bars goes, the Liverpool Guild of Students could have done far worse than honouring a peaceful environmental activist, executed for standing up for what he believed in.

In FACT’s Mark Boulos exhibition, All that Is Solid Melts into Air looks at M.E.N.D, an armed resistance group who are based in the same areas as MOSOP and Ken Saro-Wiwa. The exhibition is open until 21 November and more information is available on the Mark Boulos project page.