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Shell and the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa

From pages 15 & 16 of “Royal Dutch Shell and its sustainability troubles” – Background report to the Erratum of Shell’s Annual Report 2010

The report is made on behalf of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands)
Author: Albert ten Kate: May 2011.

Ken Saro-Wiwa (10 October 1941 – 10 November 1995) was a well known Nigerian author and television producer. He was also president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), an organization set up to defend the environmental and human rights of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta.

In January 1993, Saro-Wiwa gathered 300,000 Ogoni to march peacefully to demand a share in oil revenues and some form of political autonomy. MOSOP also asked the oil companies, especially Shell, to begin environmental remediation and pay compensation for past damage. In May 1994, Mr. Saro-Wiwa, who had been briefly imprisoned several times before, was abducted from his home and jailed along with other MOSOP leaders in connection with the murder of four Ogoni leaders. Amnesty International adopted Saro-Wiwa, a staunch advocate of non-violence, as a prisoner of conscience. Meanwhile, the Nigerian military took control of Ogoniland subjecting people to mass arrest, rape, execution and the burning and looting of their villages. In October 1995 a military tribunal tried and convicted Saro-Wiwa of murder. Governments and citizens’ organizations worldwide condemned the trial as fraudulent, and urged the Nigerian dictator Abacha to spare Saro-Wiwa’s life. They also called upon Shell to intervene. On 10 November 1995 Saro-Wiwa and his eight co-defendants were hanged.

In 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International and other human rights lawyers sued Shell in U.S. court for their role in the repression of the Ogoni and the executions of the “Ogoni Nine”. The case Wiwa vs. Shell charged Shell with complicity in human rights abuses against Ogoni people in Nigeria. Shell financed, armed, and otherwise colluded with the Nigerian military forces that used deadly force and conducted massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni, with a motive of restarting oil operations on Ogoni territory. Shell was also allegedly involved in a strategy that resulted in the executions of the nine Ogoni leaders. The plaintiffs in the case included surviving family members of the murdered Ogoni leaders, Owens Wiwa (Ken Saro-Wiwa’s brother) who was detained and tortured for his activities on behalf of the Ogoni; and two other (relatives of) victims of violence by Nigerian troops. After thirteen years of litigation, in June 2009 the case against Shell ended in a USD 15.5 million settlement for the plaintiffs.

The settlement meant that the testimonies by witnesses were never made public. In December 2010, The Independent on Sunday gained exclusive access to witness accounts that were to be used in evidence in the case Wiwa vs Shell. One of the key witnesses due to testify was Boniface Ejiogu, Lt-Col Okuntimo’s orderly in the Internal Security Task Force, a coalition of army, navy and police. Mr Ejiogu described how, just days before the Ogoni elders were murdered, he drove with Lt-Col Okuntimo to Shell’s base in Port Harcourt, where seven large bags of money were received. On another occasion, Mr Ejiogu witnessed four bags being given by a Shell security official to Lt-Col Okuntimo at the official’s house late at night. Another witness, Raphael Kponee, also due to testify, was a policeman working for Shell. On a different occasion, he saw three bags being loaded into Lt-Col Okuntimo’s pick-up truck by his driver and another driver in front of the security building at the Shell base.

Mr Ejiogu also offers compelling evidence as to who may have murdered the four Ogoni elders at a meeting on 21 May 1994. Saro-Wiwa was due to speak but was turned away by the military. Mr Ejiogu said he heard Lt-Col Okuntimo tell his task force commander to “waste them… in the army you waste them is when you are shooting rapidly”. Within 24 hours Saro-Wiwa was arrested and charged with the murders. A Shell spokesman replied to the allegations: “Allegations concerning Okuntimo and Shell are not new. There is a lack of any credible evidence in support of these allegations. Shell Petroleum Development Corporation and Shell at the time spoke out frequently against violence and publicly condemned its use.”

Further extracts from the report will be published in the coming days.

THE COMPLETE 73 PAGE REPORT (with reference sources)

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