Not much has ever been revealed regarding how a retired Nigerian Major General, Obi Umahi who is the brother of current Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, superintended over the last-minute torture and execution of foremost enviromental activists– Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 others.
Apart from Umahi and the man at the centre of it all, the late brutal dictator Gen Sani Abacha, there are others.
At least two of those who played ignoble roles in the killing of the activists are currently in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who last week hinted about granting state pardons to the late activists.
Others who connived with the Abacha regime to murder the activists include Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Chief of Staff to President Buhari; Hameed Ibrahim Ali, Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service; President of Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu and Justice Ibrahim Auta, retired Chief Judge of Nigeria.
A retired Nigerian Major General, Obi Umahi, who is the brother of Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi oversaw the torture and execution of the Ogoni activists, including Saro-Wiwa.
Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were tried by a secret military tribunal and executed by hanging on November 10, 1995, a tragic end to their non-violent campaign against the Royal Dutch Shell Company and the Nigerian government over the economic injustices and the pollution of Ogoni land that arose from oil exploitation.
Saro-Wiwa was accused, alongside the eight other Ogoni leaders, of being responsible for the murder of five Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting.
Known as Ogoni 9, the executed activists were outspoken author and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine.
SaharaReporters learnt that Umahi was the Head of the Internal Security Force in Ogoni land under the junta of the late General Sani Abacha – a time when he was a Major.
An eyewitness, Ibrahim Abdullahi, who was a prisoner when the activists were killed in 1995 said the soldiers who carried out the execution were led by the retired Major General.
Abdullahi said the Umahi-led soldiers took their corpses to a bush and poured acid on them before dumping them in a shallow grave.
“I was in the cell one day in 1995 when they brought the late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (retd.), Senator Shehu Sani and Sanusi Mato. Sani and Mato were transferred to Aba and Owerri prisons respectively on the following day but they left Yar’Adua in Port Harcourt,” Abdullahi had said in an interview with journalists at the African Centre for Peace and Development, Abuja in 2019 after the governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade granted him a state pardon.
“One day in 1995, soldiers brought Saro-Wiwa and three others from the military barracks and chased away everybody who was not a prisoner. Saro-Wiwa, who was chained on the legs and hands, was marched to the condemned cell which was directly opposite the gallows where he and others would be hanged. They met the five others who were already in the cell.
“One Major Obi, who led the operation, made sure that no warder witnessed the execution. They serviced the gallows which could execute two people at a time. The Attorney-General of Rivers State then came with a file that contained the charges preferred against the Ogoni leaders.
“The AG went straight to their cell and read the charges to them and went back. One of them, a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, was crying, lamenting that his wife had just given birth to a new baby and that he was observing a dry fast on that day.
“Saro-Wiwa maintained that he did not ask anybody to kill anyone but that the Federal Military Government just wanted to kill him. He then said there would never be peace in Ogoni land forever because of the innocent souls that Abacha wanted to sacrifice. After this, the soldiers marched him to the gallows.
“They brought out his corpse and put him in a slab and they invited a medical doctor who certified him dead. They called four of us to take his corpse. That was how they executed them one after the other. One of them was even calling the name of Jesus until he was pushed to the gallows.
“After the execution, Major Obi collected the films of the hanging from the photographer and the tape from the video man and asked us to put all the corpses inside a tipper which was used to covey them and four of us to the bush where they were buried.
“The soldiers then poured raw acid on Saro-Wiwa and others when we got to the place called Bolokiri and their bodies melted instantly inside a single pit where they put all of them.”
Corroborating Abdullahi’s submission, one of Saro-Wiwa’s brothers said, “Governor David Umahi’s brother, Rtd Major General Obi Umahi was personally responsible for the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa when he was a Major in the Army.
“He carried out the execution which did not follow the usual process. He was also very physically abusive of Ken before the execution.”
Speaking with SaharaReporters, the retired Major General however denied being involved in the execution.
He said, “No court can tell a soldier to do that, and if you check all the executions done by the military, they were decisions or judgments given by a tribunal. So how could a court give a soldier an order to do that, is it in the constitution?
“It was not possible for a soldier to execute Saro-Wiwa when a court sat and gave a judgement, how can a soldier do that? Is it possible? It’s not possible.
“It’s is the prison authorities that do that; the prison has armed men.”
On how he heard about it, Umahi said, “I heard about the court order, and I heard the execution was done by the prison authorities.”
Regarding the roles played by others in the executions, Sah
Others who connived with the repressive Abacha regime to murder the activists include Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari; Hameed Ibrahim Ali, Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service; President of Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu and Justice Ibrahim Auta, retired Chief Judge of Nigeria.
In 1995, Gambari openly backed the killing of Ogoni activist during the ruthless Abacha military regime.
Gambari had informed the United Nations that the killing of Saro-Wiwa was legal as it was done in line with the law and constitution of Nigeria.
The UN General Assembly had condemned the arbitrary execution of Saro-Wiwa after a flawed judicial process, emphasising that everyone charged with a penal offence had the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law in a public trial with all guarantees necessary for defence.
But Gambari accused the UN General Assembly of dancing to the tune of some individuals trying to challenge the sovereignty of Nigeria.
He labelled Saro-Wiwa a “common criminal”, who had engaged in the murder of some Ogoni elders.
Auta was the Judge handpicked by the Abacha regime to head the kangaroo tribunal that sentenced Saro-Wiwa and others to death by hanging.
The Abacha regime had set up the Auta Tribunal after it falsely accused the activist and 8 others of orchestrating the death of some Ogoni leaders.
After prolonged abuse, torture and intimidation of Saro-Wiwa's counsel by the regime, the retired Judge pronounced him and other activists guilty of a crime they never committed and sentenced them to death by hanging.
The Abacha regime swiftly ratified Auta’s verdict and thereafter murdered all the activists before the period allowed for an appeal had elapsed.
Daudu was the legal aid of Abacha, who ordered the execution of the activists while Ali was a member of the Abacha tribunal that sentenced the “Ogoni 9.”
Ali was the only military officer in the kangaroo tribunal that sentenced the activists to death after being handpicked by Abacha to be a member.
Ali was quoted by some reports as saying he had no regrets when asked if he regretted the role he played in the process that led to the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the other activists.