Sister Majella McCarron was a nun from rural Derrylin in County Fermanagh. Ken Saro-Wiwa was a writer, environmental activist and inspirational leader in the Niger Delta. It seems an unlikely friendship, but Sister Majella and Ken corresponded regularly from 1993 to 1995.
Silence Would Be Treason contains Ken’s letters to Sister Majella, as well as his poetry, part of a personal collection that Majella donated to the Library of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Many of their letters were written while Ken was in military detention. The last ones before his execution were smuggled out in food baskets.
The two met while Majella was lecturing in education at the University of Lagos. She researched the cause of the Ogoni people during a period of strikes and sought out Ken to consider with him how best to advance their cause. What developed was a strong friendship. In the letters, Ken shares not only his thoughts on the Ogoni struggle but also his love for family and friends and his passion for writing, giving a unique insight into his state of mind in the last years of his life.
At the heart of this collection is the idea of solidarity. Majella helped Ken internationalise the Ogoni struggle and ignited Irish campaigning against Shell. Majella was also active in the Shell to Sea campaign in Rossport. Introductory essays note the mural in Erris in County Mayo remembering the Ogoni 9, executed by the Nigerian government, and the nine white crosses at the Shell terminal at Ballinaboy.
In his poem to Sister Majella, Ken writes:
‘What is it, I often ask, unites
County Fermanagh and Ogoni?
Ah well it must be the agony,
The hunger for justice and peace.’
The poem ends with the words ‘your Ogoni, my Fermanagh’.
Nnimmo Bassey’s introduction grounds the book in present realities, lambasting Shell for its failure to clean up its oil spills in the Niger Delta. 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the executions. Silence Would Be Treason makes an important contribution to keeping Sister Majella’s and Ken’s memory alive and will strengthen the hand of those demanding justice.