After the Death of Ken Saro-Wiwa

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« Continued from The Death of Ken Saro-Wiwa

‘In recent months since the anniversary of the judicial murder of, ...Ken Saro-Wiwa, ...a frightening wave of state terrorism has been unleashed on the area with the deployment of over 2000 armed soldiers. ...Ogoni stands in the threshold of complete extinction.’ MOSOP Statement 1997
‘In recent months since the anniversary of the judicial murder of, …Ken Saro-Wiwa, …a frightening wave of state terrorism has been unleashed on the area with the deployment of over 2000 armed soldiers. …Ogoni stands in the threshold of complete extinction.’ – MOSOP Statement 1997

Just days after the murder, Shell announced that it would press ahead with a $3.8 billion liquid natural gas project in Nigeria. “There have been suggestions that the project should be deferred or cancelled because of recent events in Nigeria. But you have to be clear who would be hurt,” said Shell. Greenpeace criticized the move as sending the strongest possible message to the military regime that it was “business as usual”.

The next month, Brian Anderson, the Managing Director of Shell Nigeria admitted to the Sunday Times that a “black hole of corruption” existed in Shell’s Nigerian operations. Ledum Mitee interviewed by the newspaper recalled that, “He [Okuntimo] admitted he was being paid by Shell”. Mitee also explained that, “Shell provided vehicles for military operations”.

In January the following year thousands of Ogoni celebrated Ogoni Day, despite a military clampdown. Soldiers and Mobile Police fired tear gas and live ammunition killing four youths. Two months later, The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 1,000 Ogonis had fled to Benin since Ogoni Day. Though the numbers were relatively small the UNHCR called the rate of increase “worrisome”. That month, the US State Department declared that Nigeria constituted a “classic picture of human rights abuse”. The report described Saro-Wiwa’s trial “completely lacking in respect for due process”. In May, the European Parliament condemned Nigeria’s “appalling human rights record” and said the European Union should impose an oil embargo.

In May 1996, Ken Saro-Wiwa was posthumously elected to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global 500 Roll of Honour for advancing the cause of environmental protection. “At all stages of his campaign, Saro-Wiwa advocated peaceful resistance to the forces that would deprive the Ogoni people of a say in the development of their region”, UNEP said in a statement.

Also that month Shell offered a “Plan of Action for Ogoni”, where the company offered to clean up all oil spills in the region and rehabilitate some of its community projects. But Shell suffered a PR setback when Bopp van Dessel, Shell’s former head of environmental studies in Nigeria, spoke on the TV programme, World In Action, saying that Shell ignored repeated warnings that its oil production operations in Nigeria were causing widespread environmental damage. “They were not meeting their own standards, they were not meeting international standards. Any Shell site that I saw was polluted. Any terminal that I saw was polluted. It is clear to me that Shell was devastating the area”, he said.

Also that May, MOSOP reported that Major Obi, the new Head of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, had summoned two secret meetings of chiefs in the Ogoni villages of Kpor and Bori, during which they were forced to sign documents calling for Shell’s return to Ogoni. By July Lt. Col. Komo, the Military Administer of Rivers State was said to be in consultation with Shell over the company’s return to Ogoni. Komo “expressed pleasure that his talks with Shell have been positive as the company will soon return to Ogoniland”.

By September Shell had held a meeting with the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force and certain groups in Ogoni but not MOSOP: “Our plan is to return to Ogoniland and clean up the pollution in the area, start community assistance projects, take stock of our facilities and when the time is right, start production again” said Shell. MOSOP accused Shell of employing “divide-and-rule tactics” and accused the oil company of paying N50,000 for signatures of Village Chiefs and Community Development Committees on a Memorandum inviting the company back into Ogoni.

In the run up to the first Anniversary of Saro-Wiwa’s death, armed soldiers and mobile policeman raided Ogoni communities and detained activists. They were also told to arrest church ministers that mention Ken Saro-Wiwa’s name. Thousands of Ogoni defied heavy military presence to hold remembrance church services at designated locations. Women were raped at Saro-Wiwa’s home town and protestors shot.

Also in the run up to the Anniversary, Shell paid for a number of journalists to visit the Niger Delta. After the international condemnation and adverse publicly of the year before, Shell wanted to regain some of the PR initiative. So it flew journalists to the Delta to put its side of the story. It was not long before articles started appearing in the international press, dismissing the claims of the Ogoni and various human rights and environmental organisations. One journalist was Richard D. North, who has made a living out of attacking environmental activists, and whose article in The Independent newspaper also accused Saro-Wiwa of incitement to murder. In response Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken Wiwa wrote: “I resent the spin put on the piece. Surely, as the title of your paper suggests, journalists are instructed to form an opinion without undue influence by interested parties. Yet Mr. North flew in Shell helicopters and was shown around by the company”.

In January 1997, over 80,000 Ogonis celebrated Ogoni Day in spite of the increased repression. Four people received gun shot wounds whilst 20 people were arrested, tortured and detained. According to MOSOP: “in recent months since the anniversary of the judicial murder of, …Ken Saro-Wiwa, …a frightening wave of state terrorism has been unleashed on the area with the deployment of over 2000 armed soldiers. …Ogoni stands in the threshold of complete extinction”.

The World Council of Churches issued a report confirming the dire situation in the Delta: “A quiet state of siege prevails even today in Ogoniland. Intimidation, rape, arrests, torture, shooting and looting by the soldiers continue to occur.”

Through 1996-1998 other ethnic groups mainly Ijaw, were in violent confrontations with Shell, Chevron and Texaco, resulting in the deaths of some 200 people and causing estimated damage worth some $50 million. Increasingly protestors were forced to occupy off-shore drilling rigs. The magazine of Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria) reported in 1998 that, “it has come to light that Chevron played a major role in the killing of two Delta activists earlier this year. The corporation facilitated an attack by the feared Nigerian navy and notorious Mobile Police on a group of villagers who had occupied one of Chevron’s off-shore drilling facilities.”

In September 1998, 20 Ogoni who had been imprisoned since May 1994 on the same charges as Saro-Wiwa were finally released, when all charges against them were dropped. Amnesty International had reported how the ‘Ogoni 20’ had suffered from ill-treatment, torture, and denied access to lawyers and families. One of them, Clement Tusima, died in detention due to medical neglect, another had gone blind through torture.

Two months later, in November 1998, Shell issued a four-year “Ogoni Workplan”, including inspection and repairing of facilities, as well as provisions for “new oil”. The following month, the neighbouring Ijaw tribe adopted the ‘Kaiama Declaration’, which demanded an end to oil production. “We are tired of gas flaring, oil spillages, blowouts and being labelled saboteurs and terrorists”, said the declaration. The military crackdown against the Ijaw was both predictable and brutal. There were deaths of, “possibly over 200 people; the torture and inhuman treatment of others; and the arbitrary detention of many more”, recorded Human Rights Watch. Girls as young as 12 were raped or tortured.

In 1999, Human Rights Watch issued a major report The Price of Oil examining the human rights violations in the Delta. Whilst recognising the increasing threat to oil company facilities from protestors, including the use of hostage taking, the report noted that “the oil companies share a responsibility to oppose human rights violations by government forces in the areas in which they operate”.

In March 1999, US Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich and several members of Congress called for a congressional investigation into the killings of civilians, human rights abuses and harassment of by the Nigerian security forces with the help of Chevron. Six months later, human rights groups filed a suit against Chevron in the US for summary execution, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, violation of the rights to life, liberty and security of person and of peaceful assembly and association, consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights, wrongful death, battery, assault, civil conspiracy, and unfair business practices.

Civilian rule was restored in Nigeria in 1999. But if the Niger Delta communities thought that the ending of military rule would bring stability and the withdrawal of the military from the Delta they were wrong. The abuses continued. As the fourth Anniversary of Saro-Wiwa’s death approached, the Nigerian military destroyed Odi, a town of 15,000 in Ijawland in November 1999, demolishing every building, except the bank, the church and the health centre. As many as 2000 people were killed. Human Rights Watch called on the government to withdraw its troops from the Delta.

In January 2000, a report by US NGOs Essential Action and Global Exchange who had toured the Delta concluded “that oil extraction and the related operations of multinational oil corporations pose a serious threat to the livelihood of the people of the Niger Delta”.

In April 2000 there was a symbolic burial for Saro-Wiwa after the authorities blocked the release of his remains. Placed in his coffin were two of his favourite novels and his pipe, requests that he had made in his will. Over 100,000 Ogonis attended ceremonies in the week-long events to mark the occasion. In October, according to the Ijaw National Congress, 10 activists were killed protesting against the Italian oil company, Agip.

Early the following year, in 2001, the Niger Delta Development Commission began operating. The commission had been set up by President Obasanjo in response to community demands for greater ownership of oil resources, but its formation did not stop the violence . Nor did it change the behaviour of the oil companies. In October 2002, the commissioner for the environment in Bayelsa State in the Delta told Human Rights Watch that: “The situation of Shell is abysmal. It has not changed and we do not believe there is a possibility of change … As far as relations with communities are concerned we have not seen any changes at all. The flow stations are protected by armed soldiers, they don’t give any employment to the youth. As commissioner of the environment I have not seen any changes in corporate philosophy”.

Six months later, in April 2003, Human Rights Watch wrote to Shell and other oil companies expressing their, “concern regarding recent violent clashes in Nigeria’s Niger delta … since March 13, 2003, clashes around Warri have resulted in the deaths of scores of people and the destruction of dozens of villages.” The groups called on the Nigerian government and oil companies to take immediate measures to prevent further violence and abuses around Warri, where scores of people had been killed . However over the next couple of months, hundreds were killed, thousands displaced, and hundreds of homes destroyed.

The violence continued through 2003 and 2004. In December 2003, a report by WAC, consultants to Shell on “Peace and Security in the Niger Delta” was leaked. The report argued that it was clear that Shell was “part of Niger Delta conflict dynamics and that its social license to operate is fast eroding.” Its conclusion was alarming: “If current conflict trends continue uninterrupted, it would be surprising if SCIN [Shell companies in Nigeria] is able to continue on-shore resource extraction in the Niger Delta beyond 2008, whilst complying with Shell Business Principles”.

In January 2004 Shell’s record in the Delta once again came under scrutiny when a report was published by Christian Aid that looked into claims of Shell’s corporate social responsibility: “Shell claims that it has turned over a new leaf in Nigeria and strives to be a ‘good neighbour’. Yet it still fails to quickly clean up oil spills that ruin villages and runs ‘community development’ projects that are frequently ineffective and which sometimes divide communities living around oilfields …Just as in 1995 and before, Shell presides over a situation in which the violence in the communities around the oilfields, exacerbated by cash payments made by the company, is spiraling out of control”.

In 2004 another factor helped escalate the violence; the fight of two rival groups for control of the lucrative oil bunkering trade, whereby oil is siphoned off the large networks of pipelines and sold illegally. In September 2004, Alhaji Dokubo Asari, the leader of one of the groups, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force threatened to launch an all out war in the Delta, sending shock waves through the international oil industry. A hastily arranged peace deal was arranged by President Obasanjo calling for the “disbandement of all militias and militant groups”.

Also that month, the Financial Times reported how Shell was “unable to shake off troubled Ogoni legacy” as a dispute over a pipeline deepened. The paper reported how “inappropriate” payments had been made to a local chief by a contractor working for Shell cleaning up an oil spill in Ogoni.

The violence comes right up to date. In February 2005, Human Rights Watch argued that companies such as Shell could be doing more to stop the violence in the Niger Delta. Also that month, the Ijaw, another tribe in the Delta, accused Shell of escalating the violence which led to up to 100 people being killed by the military at the town of Odioma.

Just days before the launch of the Remember Saro-Wiwa project, six people were feared dead after an inter-community clash that had been sparked by an anti-Shell demonstration. Anti-riot police and soldiers had also been called in by Shell. One of the communities told the Nigerian press that: “They wanted to engage Shell and the government in discussion as to how certain issues concerning environmental devastation, the loss of their means of livelihood could be solved. They also wanted to request for the provision of basic amenities like potable drinking water, electricity and all that but instead of addressing this, Shell invited the military”.

You can download the full story of the Life & Death of Ken Saro-Wiwa with full references here. (PDF 175kb)