Armed forces seize books

September 19, 1997

Lagos. ARMED Nigerian security police have swooped on a university lecturer and his students as they tried to buy books by executed civil rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa in the oil city of Port Harcourt.

The police, attached to the Rivers State internal security task force who took part in Saro-Wiwa's hanging in November 1995, accused lecturer Steven Fiberesima and his students of encouraging the growth of subversive literature and seized the books at gunpoint.

After the hanging, state security personnel warned booksellers not to display or sell Saro-Wiwa's books.

But Mr Fiberesima, a creative writing lecturer at the Federal University of Port Harcourt, recommended the books for a new course titled Nigeria's New Creative Writings. He took some students by car to try to buy books from pavement booksellers in the city. Just as they were about to give up, one student found someone selling a selection of the books.

Mr Fiberesima recognised the book vendor as Boniface Douglas, who had been in the same trade since he was a graduate student. As the students were about to collect the books, the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force intervened.

"Stop selling books by this idiot called Ken," Major Obi Umahi, the officer commanding the unit, told the bookseller. "If you love your life, heed my warning. If not, you will regret it."

The seizure was condemned by students and staff at several universities. At the department of English and literary studies at the Lagos State University, the incident was greeted with disgust and repulsion. After Saro-Wiwa was hanged at the Port Harcourt maximum security prison in November 1995, the military authorities banned his books from study by African literature students. According to department head Ojo Olorunleke, "the confiscation of Ken's books should be condemned by all lovers of unrestrained civil liberties. Since the judicial murder his death has become an albatross round the necks of the Nigerian military hierarchy. This latest assault on Ken's works simply means that his ghost still haunts his murderers."

Tokunbo Ilesanmi, a philosophy student at the Lagos State University, said: "Nigeria is governed by a dictatorship that abhors intellectual culture. If Plato was to live again, he would have been murdered or at least sent to permanent solitary confinement in Nigeria." Taiwo Awodeji, an English student, said: "The government has no right to stop the sale of Ken's books. The soldiers cannot kill Ken's ideas."

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