A single diplomatic cable from Wikileaks has sparked a public relations disaster for Shell in Nigeria. Following a frontpage story in The Guardian on Thursday 9th December, Shell’s vice-like grip on Nigeria’s oil resources has been exposed.
The leaked cables are highly revealing. Shell executive Ann Pickard boasts about infiltrating the Nigerian government with informants, and describes how Shell “knew everything” in “the relevant ministries”. There are no surprises here for Niger Deltans, as Ogoni activist Celestine Akpobari points out:
Shell is everywhere. They have an eye and an ear in every ministry of Nigeria. They have people on the payroll in every community, which is why they get away with everything. They are more powerful than the Nigerian government.
The story is having a real impact. Shell has issued strong denials, claiming that the statements made by its own executive and reported verbatim by the US Ambassador are “untrue, false and misleading”. But the cable tells a different story – it shows a company dominating a nation and abusing its power. Fifty years after “independence” from colonial rule, Nigerian government institutions are widely exposed to corporate exploitation. And both the Nigerian government and the oil multinationals should come under intense pressure for the dire consequences they have imposed on local communities.
The story also raises further questions about Shell’s complicity in ongoing human rights abuses by government security forces, corruption and the executions of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists. As colleagues from Justice in Nigeria Now (JINN) commented:
Put this together with the newly revealed witness accounts that were to be used in evidence in the case of Wiwa v Shell, brought by Ken Saro-Wiwa’s family, and you have a sinister picture of the devastating effect of corporate influence in the Nigerian government and military. New evidence suggests it was the military that killed the four elders in Ogoni for which Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP activists were framed and hanged. And, that Lieutenant Colonel Paul Okuntimo, infamous for bragging about his wasting operations in Ogoni, was in the pay of Shell.
Did Shell really do “everything they could” to stop these atrocities taking place? As cablegate continues, I hope we will see some more answers.
For an excellent summary of the background, watch this Al-Jazeera News broadcast:
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