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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 00:44 GMT 01:44 UK
Symbolic funeral for Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa: Revered by the Ogoni people
By Barnaby Phillips in Abuja

Thousands of people in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria have attended the symbolic funeral of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the writer and minority-rights activist who was executed by the former military government five years ago.

The killing of Mr Saro-Wiwa, together with several other ethnic Ogoni militants sparked off international condemnation and drew attention to the plight of the indigenous people of the Niger Delta.

His surviving family had asked that this be a private, intimate affair - but it was no surprise that thousands of Mr Saro-Wiwa's native Ogoni people turned up to pay their respects to the man they revered.

Recent divisions between various Ogoni factions were forgotten for the day, which passed off peacefully.

Empty coffin

However, the coffin that was lowered into the ground was empty.

This was because Mr Saro-Wiwa's family was unable to agree with the families of other Ogoni activists who were executed with him as to how their bodies should be exhumed.

All are believed to be buried together in a military graveyard in Port Harcourt, but this has never been officially acknowledged by the authorities.

The executions sparked international anger and led to Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth.

Mr Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Wiwa, said his father's legacy was enduring and that his struggle continued.

After a sombre church service, there were celebrations by the graveside.

But Mr Saro-Wiwa's father, who is in his nineties, was too emotional to attend.

He said that in Africa, it is correct for a child to bury his father but not for a father to bury his child.

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Killings in Nigeria's Ogoniland
05 Jun 99 | Africa
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