Immortalizing Ken Saro – Wiwa, Sexual Harassment And Other Matters

Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa

By Nkechi Jane-Frances Odinukwe

For Ogoni people and human rights activists in Nigeria, August 2015 has earned itself a pride of place in Nigeria’s environmental dateline as a month of action. This is the month President Muhammadu Buhari approved several actions to fast-track the long delayed implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, Report on the environmental restoration of Ogoniland.

Revisiting the UNEP report has yet again put the suffering and struggle of Ogoni people on the front burner of public discourse, twenty years after the brutal hanging of Kenule “Ken” Beeson Saro Wiwa (Ken Saro-Wiwa) and the “Ogoni 8” by the Sani Abacha military regime.

The name Ken Saro Wiwa is almost one and same with Ogoniland and its people; a minority group in Nigeria’s Niger Delta which has repeatedly experienced human rights violations since commercially viable oil field was discovered on their land by Royal Dutch/Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 1958.

As is the case with highly oppressive conditions, the Ogoni story has been one of woes amid plenty; the story of a people ruthlessly exploited and denied their right to peaceful and healthy existence. The Ogoni struggle and Ken Saro Wiwa’s part in it is a clear representation of  how power imbalance affects society’s helpless and creates unfair suffering  for people with no voice.

The history of exploration and drilling of crude oil in Ogoni is all about human rights violations. Activities of oil multinationals in Ogoniland have only produced extreme environmental degradation from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping – a clear denial of the rights of natives to live in freedom and safety.

August 2015 is doubly special as the month Rivers State government took steps to immortalize the man who lived and died an environmental activist, writer, spokesperson and president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). In his non-violent campaign against environmental degradation of Ogoni land and waters by the operations of oil multinationals, Ken-saro Wiwa was an outspoken critic of government institutions seen to be perpetrating human rights abuses.

Though Ken Saro Wiwa was hanged on 10th November 1995 over trumped up charges of allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting, history continues to hold him up as the voice of Ogoni voiceless, a man who lived all his life fighting a cause he believed in and eventually died for.

In recognition of his selfless service to his people, Rivers State House of Assembly recently passed a bill renaming Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori after the late environmentalist. Record has it that while the honourable lawmakers were debating the Executive Bill sent by Governor Nyesom Wike  for the amendment of Section 1, Sub-section (1) of the Rivers State Polytechnic Law, No 2, 1989 to reflect the change in name, they unanimously agreed that Ken Saro Wiwa’s service to old Rivers State as Education Commissioner helped improve the state education system and encourage non-violent struggles for the emancipation of the entire Niger Delta. Everyone who knows or has read about Ken Saro Wiwa and his passion for education would understand the need to name a tertiary institution after this literary giant and great activist.

The renaming of Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori after Ken Saro-Wiwa is indeed very significant as Bori serves as the birth town of the activist and traditional headquarters of Ogoni ethnic nationality.

Many would wonder why so much energy should be dissipated rehashing the Ogoni struggle especially now when government appears to be taking serious actions towards ameliorating the plight of Saro Wiwa’s people.

With recent activities around Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Ogoni struggle, timing may be right to open up discussions on a serious human rights issue within Nigeria’s tertiary education system that Saro Wiwa would have fought against had his life not be prematurely snuffed out.

Perhaps for helpless parents in Nigeria who may not have the wherewithal to embark on oversea tertiary training for their children, Ken Saro – Wiwa’s memory may once again draw government attention to certain happenings in some of our tertiary institutions that are gradually eroding the dignity or self-worth of Nigerian youths and disempowering them.

With the renaming of Rivers State Polytechnic Bori after Ken Saro-Wiwa, there is an urgent need to for the Institution’s governing body to address the oppressive and psychologically dis-empowering treatment female students suffer in the hands of male lecturers. A close friend and lecturer in one of the federal universities recently shared harrowing stories from her niece, of how female students of this citadel of learning are sexually harassed, recklessly molested and made to engage in transactional sex with lecturers in order to earn marks, pass courses or graduate from school.

The stories which initially sounded like something out of a Nigerian home movie were eventually confirmed when my friend interviewed several other students who were friends of her niece from the Polytechnic.

These stories become more discomforting when facts available reveal that most of the students who suffer victimization in the hands of these lecturers are children of poor voiceless parents whose families had to scrimp, save and beg in order to give their children good education. Students are not only denied the right to reject such unfair sexual advances but are stripped of their human dignity by same people who should be seen protecting and promoting such rights.

Opportunities for complaints over lecturer’s misconduct are virtually non-existent and where they exist, they make no room for victim protection or confidentiality. Rejection of such sexual advances adds up to more years of failure, frustration and humiliation for students.

As heart rending as the stories from Bori Polytechnic are, they are not peculiar to that institution alone as most institutions of higher learning in this country have same negative trend of sexual harassment and pressure on students to engage in transactional sex in order to pass exams. The plague has eaten deep into our educational system that even male students sometimes face same dilemma from some of their female lecturers.

One wonders at this point whether institutions of higher learning in Nigeria are not regulated in any way and if they are regulated, what falls under the regulatory radar of relevant authorities. Most Nigerian parents will definitely be interested to know how our children and wards can be shielded from the philandering clutches of some lecturers who by their conduct are not only destroying the excellent work so many of their colleagues are doing but also have no business training the nation’s future leaders.

So many of our tertiary institutions are named after Nigerian citizens who have distinguished themselves through their selfless service to the country, question to ask is how many of such institutions actually hold up the  qualities of the personality whose names they bear? How many have structures that could be termed ‘safe’ enough to encourage our wards speak out against sexual harassment from their teachers and not suffer victimization from the system?

The wind of change is still blowing across government institutions; Change in government in Rivers State is already blowing good tidings into Ogoni land with the renaming of the State Polytechnic. Perhaps re-naming this citadel of learning after an Ogoni son and one of Nigeria’s foremost human rights icons is providential.  Late Ken Saro Wiwa fought for the rights of the oppressed all his life. He left a legacy that speaks on need to protect the dignity of all human beings especially the vulnerable among us.



    An institution that is honoured with Saro-Wiwa’s name has the social responsibility of ensuring that nothing Saro-Wiwa stood against takes root within its walls. Indeed, no person (student or lecturer), in any of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions should have their dignity or freedom compromised.

    Perhaps the time has come for the Institution’s governing boards, regulatory agency and Government to take a close look at this plague that is softly eating up our tertiary institutions.

    It took twenty years to immortalize Saro-Wiwa, it is my earnest hope that it will not take that length of time also for Nigerian government to focus some attention on plagues that encourage our children to graduate half baked or take up prostitution at an early age.

    Nkechi Odinukwe, a lawyer and gender activist, works with Solidarity Center AFL-CIO in Abuja. Email: [email protected]



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    1. It is disheartening the time it takes to get anything thing done in our clime. We shall keep trying until we get it right.


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