NELSON Mandela, global human rights icon and first Black President of South Africa, pleaded with Sani Abacha, former Nigerian military Head of State, to pardon Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Niger Delta activist who was executed by the government in 1995.
Saro-Wiwa, a vocal critique of the Nigerian government over its inability or refusal to sanction the international oil companies that were causing environmental degradation to the Niger Delta region, was arrested in 1994 alongside eight others on the allegation that they were responsible for the murder of some Ogoni chiefs. Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues, popularly referred to as The Ogoni nine, were later found guilty and hanged in 1995.
According to Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s immediate successor as President of South Africa, Mandela, during his visit to Nigeria in 1994, pleaded with Abacha to release the political prisoners including M.K.O Abiola, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Yar’Adua and the Ogoni nine.
“President Mandela had visited Nigeria in 1994 and engaged General Abacha on the matter of the release of Mr Abiola,” Mbeki narrated in 2016.
“In July 1995 I led a small delegation of our Government to Nigeria to meet General Abacha. This time our focus was on the two matters of persuading General Abacha and his Government to release the Ogoni leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and his co-accused, as well as to release Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Yar’ Adua, who were detained for allegedly having been involved in a planned coup d’etat.
“We met General Abacha at 02.00 hrs (2 a.m.) at his offices. Having heard us out, he told us that he would reflect on what we had said and would respond to us before we left Nigeria.
“A day or so later, then Chief of Defence Staff and effective Deputy to Abacha, Lt Gen Oladipo Diya, invited us to lunch. During this lunch he gave us General Abacha’s response to the issues we had raised.
“This response was that with regard to the matter of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-accused, Gen Abacha could not intervene to stop a legal judicial process which involved murder charges. However, if the accused were to be found guilty and sentenced to death, he would use his prerogative as Head of State to reprieve the accused so that they would not be executed.”
According to Mbeki, Diya also assured him that should Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, whose cases were ongoing at the military tribunal, be sentenced to prison, Abacha would intervene and used his powers as head of state to free them.
Mbeki added that when Mandela heard the news of the execution of the Ogoni nine, he “was truly surprised and genuinely outraged that Gen Abacha could evidently so easily betray his solemn undertaking in this regard”.
He said the news came on the very first day of the 1995 edition of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and consequently, Mandela joined other world leaders to strongly condemn the Abacha Government and followed it up by approving the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth.
Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95, would have been 100 years old today, Wednesday, July 18. The whole world celebrate his centenary birthday, remembering him as a model of statesmanship and leadership.
In celebration of this centenary birthday, Barack Obama, former President of the United States of America, urged African and world leaders to imbibe the late icon’s ideals of freedom, respect for human rights and charity.
“It shows a poverty of ambition to just want to take more and more and more, instead of saying, “Wow, I’ve got so much. Who can I help? How can I give more and more and more?” That’s ambition. That’s impact. That’s influence,” Obama said at Mandela’s centenary event in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday.