By Martin Banham (University of Leeds)
A Month and a Day & Letters. Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ayebia Clarke Publishing, Banbury, 2005. 221pp. ISBN 0 954 70235 2 (pb). £9.99, $17.50
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s extraordinary detention diaries were first published (by Penguin) in 1995. This new edition published ten years after Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni colleagues were executed by the vicious Abacha regime in Nigeria, contains previously unpublished letters from Saro-Wiwa to friends, colleagues and family, and to his son Ken Wiwa after his father’s killing. There are also two moving posthumous letters from Ken Wiwa to his late father written in 2000 and 2005. The correspondents range from Nelson Mandela and the Prime Ministers of Canada and New Zealand, to family friends and supporters. The Foreword by Wole Soyinka achingly recounts the desperate attempt to lobby the Commonwealth Heads of State in Auckland in November 1995, to deter Abacha from his murderous course. Ken Saro-Wiwa was always larger than life: I have fond memories of his personal and academic qualities as a student at Ibadan. His novels and writing for television were brilliantly satirical and politically astute. At a time when Nigeria was subject to dangerous political tensions, and intolerant of criticism, Saro-Wiwa remained outspoken and – more dangerously – witty. But his wit was never a substitute for passion, and his fierce advocacy of the rights of the Ogoni people was carried on fearlessly. It is impossible not to be moved by this book. Ken Saro-Wiwa’s own words forcefully recreate his wonderful pugnacious presence. Tributes to him from friends and colleagues give ample evidence to the affection and respect in which he was held. The genre of the prison diary is all too familiar in African writing: Jack Mapanje’s moving poem written for Ken and Wole Soyinka’s tormented recollections recall these horrors only too graphically. What all this collection does is offer a testament to Saro-Wiwa’s humanity and courage.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 68 (2006), pp. 106-107]