Saro-Wiwa’s tribe, the Ogoni, numbers about half-a-million people living in an area of four-hundred square miles in the delta of the River Niger. Unfortunately for them, their land of forests and creeks was discovered in the 1950s to be oil-bearing. According to Saro-Wiwa, the oil companies —principally Shell—have extracted $30 billion worth of oil from Ogoniland in the last thirty years, in the process degrading the soil, polluting the water, and causing the Ogonis to live under the eternal light of gas flares. And the Nigerian federal government to which Shell paid enormous royalties has spent none of them on Ogoniland, which remains without proper roads, schools, clinics, or facilities of any kind. Instead, the royalties have lined private pockets and built an extravagantly luxurious new capital at Abuja.
“The rascals, the rascals!,” Saro-Wiwa exclaimed, and shook the room again with his laughter. Rascal is a word that is generally used with a degree of affection, so what Saro-Wiwa said next was all the more shocking. “They’ll kill me, you know. They’ll kill me.”
He was right, too. Dalrymple on the Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.