22 February 2007


Excerpts from Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa

Nobody knows exactly what happened on that bloody Saturday, May 21, 1994 because no proper police investigation was conducted and no forensic evidence was offered at the subsequent Tribunal. According to the unremittingly antagonistic prosecution witnesses, it seems that the chiefs were holding a meeting in the palace of His Royal Highness, Chief James Bagia, the Gbenemene of Gokana, when one of the commercial motorcycles popularly known as okadas pulled up sometime before noon and said that Saro-Wiwa had told his followers that the people at the meeting ‘were sharing money given to them by Government and Shell’ and that ‘they [the youths] should come to the venue of the meeting to deal with you [the chiefs]’. A few minutes later, the palace was invaded by a mob of up to two thousand youths, some on okadas, three or four to a machine, others on foot armed with clubs, machetes, bottles, iron rods, broken blocks, stones and a garden rake. The leader of the mob shouted ‘E-sho-be’ to applause and directed that they kill one Celestine Meabe, who was set upon and ‘the whole crowd impounded around me and beat me to a state of complete coma’. Meabe survived to become one of the chief prosecution witnesses.A second witness, Alhaji Mohammed Kobani, younger brother of Chief Edward Kobani and the main source of the events that day, said that he was himself attacked but was rescued and taken into a room in the palace, where he was able to shield his brother. Someone outside then directed the mob to go and bring the chiefs. Four of them were marched out, including Chief Albert Badey and the Orage brothers. They were set upon. They managed to stagger back into the palace but were attacked again as they huddled in a corner. Chief Badey made a bid to escape and was pursued; Chief S. N. Orage was beaten to death ‘on the spot’. Chief Edward Kobani and Chief T. B. Orage, whose right eye had been pierced in the first attack outside, were stripped nearly naked and the latter led out of the palace. Alhaji Kobani said that his brother, whom he tried to help, was sliced on his back and hands with a broken bottle by one of the assailants while another buried the teeth of the garden rake in his skull. A third shoved a pole up his anus. Later, somebody was heard to say, ‘Rise up now and go and contest the election with Ken Saro-Wiwa.’Seeing that his brother was dead, Alhaji Kobani fled to the shrine behind the palace because, as he later told a British journalist, ‘I am an Ogoni man and I know churches are just window dressing.’ He said that if he had entered a church or a mosque ‘they would have killed me there’ but that their ‘fetish belief’ made them afraid that the repercussions ‘would be on their families for generations’. However, he was helped in no small part by the courage of the Gbenemene, who hurried from his sick daughter’s bedside when he heard ‘crying and wailing of people around me’ and refused the mob's demand that he make a libation for attack. He made a libation for peace instead and then entered the shrine to await help. That was at about 2 p.m. Unknown to them, soldiers at a nearby checkpoint, as well as police in Bori, the main Ogoni town, refused to leave their posts when they were told what was going on because, they said, there was no senior officer around to order them to do so.Chief Albert Badey, meanwhile, who had last been seen fleeing the palace, almost made it to a waiting taxi in the company of another intended victim, Chief Francis S. Kpai, but the mob proved too much for them. They then headed for the Methodist Church but found that way also blocked. A woman offered them shelter and locked them in an inner room but gave them up after being threatened. A sympathiser then apparently helped Chief Badey to a bench but the mob circled around him saying that they were going to kill him and then proceeded to beat him to death with ‘all types of things such as bottles, stones, sticks, blocks and any other things they can lay their hands on’. Chief Kpai fared better. According to his own testimony, he was beaten, stripped and dragged back to the palace, where he was left for dead. When he came to, he saw Chief Edward Kobani being beaten as his brother tried to rescue him. He then followed Alhaji Kobani into the shrine and confirmed that the Gbemenene made a libation for peace but added that some members of the mob fetched fuel to torch the shrine until one of their number prevailed upon them to desist.As some of the mob assailed the shrine, others commandeered a white VW Beetle. Two witnesses on their way back from a fishing expedition said that they saw a large group of people pushing the car and were made to kneel down and swear never to reveal what they had seen. One of the witnesses said that he saw the naked corpse of a fat man inside the car and the corpses of two others being carried on an ‘improvised stretcher’, one of which he identified as that of Chief T. B. Orage, the only victim whose killing was not apparently witnessed by anybody. The car was then set alight. Meanwhile, Chief T. B. Orage’s daughter, who was staying in the family house two-and-a-half kilometres away, was informed by a breathless okada driver that ‘they have beaten your father [and] you need to rescue him’. She hurried over but was unable to gain access to the palace for the crowd. She noticed a car burning in the distance. Someone in the crowd, recognising her, advised her to leave. She was set upon but managed to reach the okada; as she sped off, she heard someone shout, ‘Slit her throat!’ The scanty police report the following day observed that the car was pushed into the thick bush and that portions of flesh suspected to be the remains of the murdered chiefs were found at the scene. A relative of the Orage brothers later claimed that ‘some parts of their bodies were eaten’.

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