Nigerian Playwright Convicted of Murder, Is Sentenced to Death

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A playwright who fought for the rights of a minority ethnic group was convicted of four counts of murder Tuesday and immediately sentenced to death.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, 54, a member of Nigeria’s minority Ogoni tribe, was found guilty in the deaths of four electoral opponents who died during a melee at a political rally last year. Saro-Wiwa was to have addressed the crowd.

“Although Mr. Saro-Wiwa was not directly involved in the killings, it was established beyond all doubt that he set up the machinery that consumed the four Ogoni leaders,” said Justice Ibrahim Auta, who chaired the military-appointed tribunal that convicted him.

Death sentences in Nigeria are usually carried out in public. The convicts are either shot or hanged.


Three other people were sentenced to death Monday in the incident; a fifth was acquitted. The four victims had challenged Saro-Wiwa in a May, 1994, election to pick delegates to a constitutional conference.

Saro-Wiwa blamed government troops for the deaths and said he was framed. He is one of dozens of activists jailed in the last year by Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime in its bid to crush political opposition.

The Ogoni people live in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta state and complain that the oil industry has polluted their land and water. They are seeking compensation from the government and international oil companies.

Oil accounts for about 80% of Nigeria’s export income, and critics of the industry are dealt with harshly. A Human Rights Watch-Africa report earlier this year quoted Nigerian soldiers as admitting that they had killed and raped Ogonis to intimidate them.