Flag of the Ogoni People
Alfred Donovan speech prepared for presentation at the National Union of Ogoni Students (NUOS International, USA) Convention at the University of Missouri (UMKC), Kansas City, on Saturday July 07, 2007.
EXTRACT FROM INVITATION
Dear Mr. Alfred Donavan:
Your contributions to the Ogoni struggle for environmental justice cannnot be quantified. Thank you so much.
The National Union of Ogoni Students(NUOS INTL.)USA is delight to invite you as a special guest to her annual conference holding on Saturday July 07, 2007, at the University of Missouri (UMKC), Kansas City, United States of America.
This years conference is centered on: “Resolving the Conflict in Nigerian Niger Delta Region”
In her meeting two weeks ago, the Ogoni students resolved; you should be invited as a special speaker. We would want you to speak on “The responsibilities of Multi- national Corporations to the Host Communities” We want to send our resolution to the Nigerian Government – The Presidency, National Assembly and the Rivers State Government. This shall be followed by a delegation to Nigeria.
Your physical presence in this years conference matters a lot to us.
(For: NUOS INTL,USA)
I am once again honored to be invited to speak at your conference. Last time I was a young man of 87.
I was invited to speak in person here today but my health made this impractical. Your esteemed President has kindly arranged for one of your colleagues to speak on my behalf. I am sure he will have chosen a particularly handsome, intelligent and articulate Ogoni to speak for me.
I have been asked on this occasion to address the subject of…
“The responsibilities of Multi-national Corporations to the Host Communities”.
Being 90 years old hopefully gives me some latitude in what I can talk about, as frankly the chosen subject is rather academic. We all know multinational companies like Shell do not really give a hoot about Host Communities.
They might pretend to be interested in things like social justice, human dignity, cultural heritage, employment opportunities… the right to join a union, to live and work in safe conditions.
But to companies like Shell, it is just an exercise in rhetoric.
Shell might throw a few crumbs from time to time to local communities by building a Town Hall or providing funds for some other once off project. What is needed is regular income which actually reaches the people who desperately need it.
Shell is able to pretend that it is engaging in charitable acts when in fact it is Shell who wants something which belongs to the Ogoni people.
The reality of Shell management is that they are basically greedy ruthless oil barons only interested in extracting as much hydrocarbon product as they can, paying the least they can get away with.
If bribery and corruption – or even the arming of security personnel is needed to achieve their objectives – ethical considerations are thrown out of the window.
This is of course very different to how Shell is supposed to conduct its business.
Multinationals are expected to behave legally, ethically and fairly, abiding at all times with a host country’s internal laws. Shell actually has its own code of ethics known as the Statement of General Business Principles which supposedly govern its corporate behavior. The Statement pledges honesty, integrity, openness and respect for people in all of Shell’s dealings.
If Shell genuinely acted in that way, all of the hoped for positive contribution from a multinational corporation towards host communities would naturally flow.
If that was the case, the history of Shell’s involvement in Nigeria would be far different from the reality, involving the plunder of billions of dollars over many years while in cahoots with corrupt and sometimes murderous regimes, creating a legacy of pollution on a nightmarish scale to extract the black gold.
We actually have a leaked Shell internal report admitting Shell’s responsibility for fuelling corruption and violence in Nigeria. We all know what happened to the Nigerian patriot, Ken Saro Wiwa who followed in the hallowed path of another great leader of his people, Mahatma Gandhi. Both believed in resistance to oppression through total non-violence, even in the face of provocation.
(A leaked copy of the 112 page confidential report entitled “Peace & Security in the Niger Delta” can be read at this link:
While the Shell management rhetoric pledges honesty and openness, the reality is a flawed management culture responsible for the biggest corporate fraud in history: I refer to the hydrocarbon reserves fraud exposed in 2004. Shell had duped its own shareholders by inflating the amount of proven reserves it claimed to have. Shell management clearly has no respect even for its own shareholders – the people who actually own the company – let alone the citizens of Countries in which the company operates.
A multinational is unlikely to abide with the laws of a host community when it treats its own shareholders with such utter contempt.
Shell even puts profits before the safety of its own employees.
Mr Bill Campbell, the former Group Auditor of the Royal Dutch Shell Group has exposed the murderous behavior of Shell senior management in regard to the Brent Bravo platform operating in the North Sea. Workers died in an explosion four years after Malcolm Brinded, the Executive Director of Shell Exploration and Production, ignored evidence presented by Campbell of a deeply flawed safety culture on the platform. Management knew for example that safety records were being falsified. Shell was fined nearly $2 million dollars for breaches of health and safety regulations. Of course when you are making billions out of gas price gouging, a mere $2 million or so is an irrelevance.
By the way, I noticed in the announcement of the conference that I am described as an activist. Perhaps I should explain this description. My son John and I have been campaigning against Shell since 1994 following bouts of litigation when Shell misguidedly thought that it was so big and powerful that it could steal with impunity business ideas we had disclosed in strictest confidence. Shell is still paying the price for its sins against us.
We own and operate a website called royaldutchshellplc.com. That happens to be the dotcom domain name for Shell’s merged $226 billion dollar company: Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
For some reason, Shell took offence when I beat them to the registration of the domain name and in 2005 Shell issued proceedings against me. The case generated global media coverage centered on the fact that Shell was suing an 88 year old Second World War veteran: me. Shell had an army of 650 lawyers. I had no legal representation. Shell lost the case and ended up thoroughly humiliated.
Our website, which has continued to thrive, has a Live Chat facility which allows anyone anywhere to post comments about Shell on an anonymous basis. It is used by Shell insiders to blow the whistle on wrongdoing by Shell management. This happens all too regularly for Shell.
Since June 2004, some comments posted on our website have been the subject of multiple High Court Injunctions brought collectively by eight different Royal Dutch Shell companies. The actions are against a Shell whistleblower, Dr John Huong. Shell currently has an application before the courts seeking his imprisonment for contempt of court. A further application by Shell to be heard next month asks that at the age of 90, I should be compelled to travel to Malaysia for cross-examination in connection with the case. This is despite the fact that Shell is aware of my medical condition which includes half a lung removed, a heart problem, diabetes, etc.
Our activities have made an impact on Shell.
A magazine article about us in February of this year said that “The Donovan website has become an open wound for Shell”.
The website was more recently described by the Financial Times newspaper “as an anti-Shell website run by a father and son partnership that has been a long-running thorn in the company’s side”.
Personally, I prefer the rude description given by the barrister Geoffrey Cox QC who represented my son in our last High Court action with Shell. Mr Cox described us as being “a carbuncle on an elephant’s arse”. Shell management would probably agree: a real pain in the butt!
People who have a gripe against Shell inevitably come across us on the Internet and soon realize that we will post on our website what no one else would dare to publish. However, when serious charges against Shell are involved, we routinely check the allegations with Shell senior lawyers giving them the opportunity to respond; indeed Shell has a standing invitation to supply for unedited publication detailed rebuttal on any article published on our site.
We tend to become involved in every crisis which befalls Shell.
After the reserves debacle when Shell had filed false returns with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inflating its proven hydrocarbon reserves, we supplied evidence and witnesses to the New York law firm which launched what later became the main consolidated class action against Shell.
More recently, we found a European Shell shareholder to represent all non-American shareholders in what is now an expanded worldwide class action against Shell. This was done within a time limit imposed by a Federal Chief Judge. A U.S. law professor has recently pointed out that if the global claim succeeds, Shell could be at risk of insolvency.
We have also played a major role in the Sakhalin-2 project in Russia. I am referring to the world’s largest energy project of its kind. Shell was the majority shareholder in the company set up to manage the project, Sakhalin Energy Investment Company. The Russian government has publicly confirmed that documentary evidence on which it rested a $5 billion claim against Shell for environmental damage was supplied by us. We received the evidence from Shell insiders. After the Russians increased the threatened claim to $30 billion, Shell surrendered and was forced to allow the Russian energy company Gazprom, to take a majority stake in Sakhalin Energy. As a result, Shell had to cut its reserves by 400,000 million barrels at a cost of $22 billion dollars. This did not endear us to Shell.
The following is an extract from a “Prospect” magazine article about us published in February 2007 under the headline: “Rise of the gripe site”
The subtitle stated: “How two men and a website in Colchester humbled one of the oil industry giants”
(We live in Colchester, Essex, a County of England).
The article commences by saying: “It is not the kind of place you would expect to find at the centre of a global energy war. John Donovan’s office is in a modest house in a suburb of Colchester. No electronic maps of Europe adorn his walls, as they do the walls of Gazprom’s Moscow control room. And nor are there any butlers bringing cups of tea and expensive biscuits, as you find at Shell’s head office on the Thames. There is just Donovan’s 89-year-old father, Alfred, in the room next door. But it is the home of www.royaldutchshellplc.com, a website which can claim to have cost Shell billions of dollars—and helped Vladimir Putin score another victory over western energy interests”.
It then goes on to reveal the amazing story, including Russian government confirmation of our role.
In June 2007 we had further enjoyment at the humiliation of Shell – again in relation to Sakhalin-2. We passed on to the Financial Times newspaper a copy of a motivational memo to Shell employees sent by the Deputy Chief Executive of Sakhalin Energy, Mr David Greer. It was striking because of the gung-ho military tone, so much so that the Financial Times published it as a front page story and conducted an online poll on its website asking the question: “Is this the worst motivational memo ever?”
That was bad enough for Mr Greer. Worse was to follow. A keen eyed reader spotted that all of the inspiring passages had been stolen from a speech given by the famous U.S. General – George S. Patton – on the eve of the D-Day landings in France on 6 June 1944. General Greer, as he is now widely known, was exposed as a blatant plagiarist. More FT articles followed. He was also the subject of a front page story in The Moscow Times which ridiculed Greer by comparing him with the David Brent character in the hit UK TV comedy: The Office. I understand you have your own version of the show in the USA.
On 22 June information was leaked onto our website that David Greer had resigned. Sakhalin Energy confirmed this to us in response to an email we sent them. We broke the news, quickly followed by Reuters and other news organizations that we tipped off. More articles followed, including another front page article on The Moscow Times mentioning our role.
More information about our website and activities can be found on Wikipedia. Suffice it to say that our website currently receives on a monthly basis over 3 million page views with over 2.5 million hits in the USA alone. The site attracts people from almost every country in the world who have an interest in Shell.
Shell did have its own Internet discussion forum called “TellShell” which provided a platform for anyone with an interest in Shell to engage in what was billed as “open and lively debate”. Shell then decided to censor some of the posted comments but did post an explanation when a comment was removed for legal reasons.
We then caught Shell deleting comments without leaving any trace or any explanation: in other words secret censorship. Open and lively debate was no longer tolerable.
In November 2005, a General Counsel of Shell, Mr Richard Wiseman, confirmed in an email to me that Shell was indeed censoring postings on TellShell. Within weeks the forum was closed down on a temporary basis. It has never been resurrected.
Richard Wiseman got himself in difficulties on another occasion when he sent me in error an email about me which was actually intended solely for his bosses, Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Jeroen van der Veer and the boss of Shell Exploration & Production, Malcolm Brinded. The email revealed that Shell has a standing plan for a response by their media department to any letters we send out to third parties: for example letters we send from time to time to UK Members of Parliament. Wiseman’s email blunder gave away just how importantly Shell treats our website activities.
Mr Wiseman said in his November 2005 email to me that Shell was disinterested and unmoved by our activities. How things have changed. Amusingly, after the site became a huge success, generating more traffic than Shell’s own website, Wiseman sent us an up to date photograph of himself to replace the one we were using on articles in which he was featured.
Our website has become the beating heart and the conscience of Shell. That is why it is so popular with Shell employees and other parties with an interest in the oil giant.
Having told you something of our activities, I would like to discuss what Ogoni students in the USA could do to further your own campaign against Shell. As should be evident from what I have said, it is an area in which we have some expertise.
Background events are in your favor.
The energy world has changed radically. Resource nationalism in Countries such as Russia, Venezuela and Bolivia has reduced the power and influence of oil giants like Shell and Chevron. Other major hydrocarbon reserves are located in unstable Countries such as Iraq and Iran.
As a consequence, energy security is becoming a very important subject, especially in the USA bearing in mind that emerging economic giants such as China and India have an insatiable appetite for oil and gas. Another important factor is that finding new reserves is becoming increasingly difficult as such natural resources are not infinite. Many energy experts believe that we have already reached or even passed the stage of what is known as “Peak Oil” and that henceforth, Countries will be competing for dwindling supplies.
The Americans have in the past had a relatively laid back approach to the issue of oil supplies from Nigeria. For the reasons indicated above that is changing. There are already indications that the America government and military is intervening on the side of the Nigerian authorities and Big Oil to deal with threats and interruptions to oil production in Nigeria. The American Government now views the securing of oil supplies from Nigeria as a matter of U.S. national security.
Consequently it is vital that the Ogoni people make representations to promote your cause for restitution in respect of past crimes by Big Oil – including the biggest plunderer and polluter of all: Shell. You must make your case for the local population to receive a fair share of income generated from hydrocarbon resources extracted from your lands. Why should you be treated any differently than people in the oil rich Arab nations who have properly benefitted from God given natural resources found in their lands? Up to this point Big Oil and villains in successive corrupt Nigerian governments have been the sole beneficiaries.
Being resident in the USA is a tremendous advantage. It gives you the opportunity to exploit the huge discontent with gas price gouging.
With regard to Shell, a huge amount of potential campaigning ammunition can be found on the Wikipedia article entitled: “Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell”.
Most, if not all of the Wikipedia subject matter was researched and added by my son as part of our activities. Such material has to be written from a neutral standpoint bearing in mind that Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. For this reason, governmental and newspaper reference sources are provided so that visitors can themselves verify that the information is accurate and edit accordingly if they find any errors.
We do not invent controversies surrounding Shell but merely gather the sometimes outlandish facts, as reported in reputable publications, and bring it all together in one place along with other people contributing to the central reference article on the same basis.
There are many other interesting subjects in the article revealing Shell’s astonishing behavior in historic events such as the Vietnam War. Shell knowingly employed as a manager a notorious former senior police official with a “fearsome and well-deserved reputation” who “had already shown his inclination to settle security matters by military action with little compunction about killing, innocents along with suspects”. Naturally Shell hedged its bets by supplying both sides in the conflict. There is also a section on commercial espionage by Shell against its perceived enemies, including spying operations carried out in Nigeria.
There is plenty of material in the article. I would draw your attention – for reasons I will shortly explain – to Shell’s atrocious environmental track record in the USA.
These are a few examples of headings from the article: –
• Shell fined $19.75 million for oil spill from Martinez Refinery
• Shell settles Martinez Refinery dumping suit for $3 Million
• Release of chemical pollutants at Shell Texas Deer Park complex
• Shell Pipeline rupture in Washington
• Groundwater contamination by Shell in USA
• Unauthorized venting and flaring of gas
The last example will have a familiar ring to many Nigerians.
These are not minor matters. They involve the release of dangerous pollutants, an explosion, tragic deaths, multimillion dollar fines and hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements paid by Shell with U.S. regulatory authorities. Such fines are no big deal for an oil giant generating billions in profits from obscenely high prices at the gas pump.
It is a goldmine of ammunition against Shell of potential great interest to an American audience. To the best of my knowledge is not available in one place anywhere else.
The ammunition can be used for protests at Shell gas stations and posted on newspaper websites whenever they run news reports about Shell. There are a growing number which have facilities to post comments. We have a library of comments available to use according to the content of any given news report about Shell: you could do the same.
One subject of great importance to Americans is the road side bombs allegedly supplied by Iran which are said to be used in Iraq to kill and maim American soldiers. Shell is so desperate to secure hydrocarbon reserves following the reserves downgrading scandal that it is one of the few oil giants active in Iran. Congress is moving to apply sanctions against companies doing business with Iran, including Shell. This is a highly emotional subject for Americans. Such involvement is morally indefensible.
Royal Dutch Shell is also heavily implicated in the BAE armaments corruption scandal involving the British and Saudi Arabian governments. I have a feeling that the subject will be fully covered in Wikipedia very shortly. It has been described as the scandal of the century. What an accolade for Shell; being involved in the biggest fraud in corporate history – the reserves fraud – and now in the biggest scandal of the century. The U.S. Justice Department has recently announce its intention to investigate the BAE affair.
All of this is dynamite campaigning material which can be used against Shell in the USA.
In the last few days there have been a number of newspaper articles discussing a claimed $120 billion undervaluation in the value of Shell. We believe that this has happened largely because of Shell’s atrocious reputation over a range of issues, including the environment. Fundamental problems cannot be hidden by spin. Take one example, the current Shell “green” themed advertising campaign with flowers seen rising from a Shell oil refinery. In reality the emissions are rather more deadly in nature. The flowery idyllic imagery does not quite correspond with the pollution filled track record of Shell already discussed. Financial Times: Green backlash: Dutch Advertising Authority rules Shell advertisements were misleading
With all due modesty, my son and I have played a major role in exposing the huge gap between such pathetic PR rhetoric as opposed to the evil deeds of Shell management. This has naturally made us rather unpopular with Shell Executives. Having been unsuccessful in the attempt to seize the domain name, a couple of weeks ago Shell sent threatening letters to our website hosting companies trying to get the site closed down. It was a short lived initiative and we are still online giving them hell.
Our campaign is conducted on a shoe string budget by two elderly men. I am just past my prime and my son is 60 years old.
Think what you can achieve with your numbers, youth, intelligence and enthusiasm.
I certainly hope you will campaign against Shell in the USA. The timing has never been better. You have a far more worthy cause than us – a legitimate fight for justice on behalf of an entire people.
I wish you all well and hope that some of the things I have mentioned provide some inspiration.
God Bless the Ogoni and Ogoniland.
Previous paper by Alfred Donovn presented to Conference in June 2004