Disturbing evidence of collaboration between Shell and the British government emerged last week. Shell used its position of power to share British intelligence secrets with Nigeria’s notorious military dictator, General Sani Abacha, who ordered the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues in 1995. This article first appeared in the Private Eye on Tuesday 7th July:
New documents have emerged showing the British government and Shell colluded with senior figures in the Nigerian military junta against activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in the early 1990s.
Secret papers, uncovered in the recently settled US legal action, show intelligence collusion between the British high commission and Shell here in Abuja, and between Shell and our former dictator Sani Abacha.
At the time Saro-Wiwa was leading a campaign against the environmental devastation of Ogoniland and for a greater share of oil wealth. By 1994, the Ogoni people were suffering a violent military backlash and called for international help.
Your Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, tried to set up a fact-finding tour. In April 1994, the British high commission here secretly wrote to Shell informing it that Body Shop “will not get their way”. Later that month the commission again passed information to Shell, saying visas for the visit had been refused.
A month later, four Ogoni elders were murdered, the crime for which Saro-Wiwa would later be tried and hanged in what was widely condemned as a sham trial. The day before the murders, Brian Anderson, head of Shell here in Nigeria, told colleagues in London he had tried to get Abacha on the phone to talk about the Ogoni issue. Anderson, who had Abacha’s two private telephone numbers, said: “I think it is important that we are seen by him to be assisting the state by giving him the requisite intelligence as it comes to us… it is a delicate issue and needs to be carefully handled.”
Just weeks after Saro-Wiwa’s arrest, Anderson noted: “I saw the British high commissioner and also his man from Abuja and we discussed the Ogoni issue. Reports from their intelligence support the view that the Ogoni leaders were brutally murdered by Ken Saro-Wiwa’s militant MOSOP youth wing. They believe that the government has good reason to arrest him and those who may have been involved… It shows the sort of actions that this so-called peace-loving man is capable of.”
Later that month, the British high commissioner over here, Thorold Masefield, and his wife accompanied Anderson on a two-day tour of the Niger Delta. Anderson noted: “This went well, and I believe that he was happy with what he learnt. He is prepared to assist us in dealing with the government on economic and the Ogoni issues.” Elsewhere in the document, Anderson wrote: “I am in touch with the British Secret Service representative in Lagos. He has agreed to keep me informed of any developments that might be of interest to Shell.”
Shell, meanwhile, met the Nigerian ambassador back in London, who complained “about the Body Shop and their activities among the more militant NGOs”. The ambassador offered to help Shell in its anti-Ogoni propaganda film if Shell “encountered any difficulties” with permits, and offered to “use his influence” to sort things out. He told Shell there was “every chance that [Saro-Wiwa] would be found guilty”.
The British continued to keep Shell informed of their intelligence, which changed by early 1995 to thinking Saro-Wiwa was innocent. In April, some seven months before Saro-Wiwa’s execution, Anderson wrote: “The British high commissioner believes that although the charges should not stick the government will make sure he is found guilty. He would be then sentenced to death, and reprieved after giving in to pressure from outside, but be incarcerated for a very long time.”
Shell and the British continued to push for “quiet diplomacy”, a stance many believed contributed to Saro-Wiwa being hanged in November 1995 to international outrage. Your then PM John Major called it “judicial murder”.
Maybe he should have looked at what his own spooks had been doing to see if he too had blood on his hands.