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Nigeria oil pollution still menaces 20 years after activist’s hanging, Shell cleanup vows

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WARRI, NIGERIA – Twenty years after a Nigerian military dictatorship hanged activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, his Niger Delta homeland remains blighted by oil pollution.

Thousands of lives have been wrecked, according to Amnesty International, as oil slicks killed the fish, crude-crusted soil stunted crops and oil flare-ups polluted lungs.

Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime hanged Saro-Wiwa, 54, and seven other Ogoni leaders on trumped-up murder charges. “Judicial murder,” charged then-British Prime Minister John Major.

The executions came two years after protesters forced Shell out of Ogoniland, although Amnesty says some aging pipelines there still leak oil.

“It is heartbreakingly tragic,” said Amnesty’s Nigeria director, M.K. Ibrahim. “The oil spills have not stopped, and Shell has still not cleaned up this huge environmental degradation.”

Shell says it is committed to cleaning up the pollution, including in Ogoniland.

Life is worse, said Ogoni leader Celestine Apko Bari.

“Since his death, our lives have been wracked by the massive oil pollution. Things have gone from bad to worse: We can’t fish, farm or collect drinking water from our lands,” he told the AP.

With oil prices halved, hurting all Nigerians, people in Ogoniland can’t even afford to buy clean water to drink, Apko Bari said.

Still, “even though Ken Saro-Wiwa is dead, his spirit still lives on. He brought the Ogoni struggle into the limelight,” he said. “Therefore, he did not die for nothing.”

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