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Kiobel Writ: ‘Ogoni 9’: ill-treatment of the suspects

By John Donovan

The numbered paragraphs below are extracted from the Esther Kiobel Writ served on multiple Royal Dutch Shell companies on 28 June 2017. More information is provided after the extracts. 

THE OGONI 9 SHOW TRIAL

4.4 Ill-treatment of the suspects

97. From their arrest the suspects were detained in appalling conditions, most in a military prison at Bori Camp, which was highly unusual.124 They were under the authority of the RSISTF and were subjected to physical and mental abuse and torture on a daily basis.125

98. Saro-Wiwa, who suffered from a heart condition, was even locked up in chains for a long period of time.126 His health deteriorated to such a degree during the trial that there came a time when he was no longer able to attend the sessions. On 7 April 1995 Judge Auta was forced to postpone the trial for a lengthy period because of Saro-Wiwa’s rapidly deteriorating health.127

99. Kiobel too was treated inhumanely during his imprisonment. For instance, he was denied structurally necessary medical care and was fed poorly. As a result of this in October 1994 he suffered serious stomach problems. He paid N15,000 for medical care, but never received it.128

100. Victoria Bera stated that when she saw her husband for the first time following his arrest, she hardly recognised him because his face was so badly swollen and covered in blood. Nor was he able to walk independently. She had taken food for him, but Baribor was not allowed to eat it. On 27 February 1995, in the courtroom, Ukala, Bera’s lawyer, talked about the serious torture that his client underwent following his arrest.129 His hands and feet were tied, after which he was beaten a hundred times with a copper cable. Then a mixture of water and tear gas was thrown over his seriously injured body. His false teeth were broken with a rifle and he was forced to swallow the broken pieces.130 Photos of Bera’s scars were submitted as exhibit 251.131

101. Nordu Eawo told the tribunal that one of the prosecution witnesses had beaten him on his arrest and had cut his genitals and head with a sharp stick.132 In detention he was exposed to further torture: he was beaten, they used lighters to burn his skin, and a broomstick was inserted into his sexual organ. His wounds became infected, which made him very ill. Apart from the antibiotics he obtained from a police officer, he was not given any other medical care.133

102. Levula stated that the police in Port Harcourt had twice suspended him for a long time by his hands.134 His wife also said that during his detention a broomstick was inserted into his sexual organ.

103. On 24 January 1995, at the request of the wives of Saro-Wiwa, Mitee and Kiobel, the lawyers sent an urgent letter to the Brigade Commander of Bori military prison, entitled ‘Official Starvation of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and Dr. Kiobel.’ In it they described how Okuntimo forbade the women from speaking to their husbands in the prison. Nor were they any longer allowed to bring in food for their husbands, so that the men were at risk of starving. The lawyers said:

“We are very much concerned about these latest violations of our clients rights which we consider rather inhuman. We have to point out that our Clients, like all Nigerian citizens including Lt. Col. Okuntimo are presumed innocent unless adjudged guilty by a court of law and are consequently entitled to all rights least of all the right to have access to their families and to be fed.” 135

104. Trust in the authorities was so low that it was feared the suspects would be poisoned. This mistrust was understandable as Okuntimo told the claimant that he would ensure that her husband would be sentenced to death, since it had not been possible to poison his food.136

105. On 28 February 1995 the problem was broached again at the tribunal. Fawehinmi stated that the women had to give the food to the soldiers with all the risks that entailed. Judge Auta responded:

“I am saying that the food should be given to the security men there to hand it over to their husbands. If there is any case of poisoning, then Chief Fawehinmi should hold Lt. Col. Okuntimo liable.”137

Footnotes

124 Letter dated 23 May 1996 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the General Assembly, 28 May 1996, A/50/960, (exhibit 233), p. 14: “During this period they were held in inhuman conditions […] access to counsel was limited by the condition of detention of the accused in a military base”; Transcripts 6 February 1995 (exhibit 179), p. 16: “Fawehinmi: My Lord, what is the business of the Army in this case? You would recall Sir, that even in the Federal High courts, I have never heard of an Order being made irrespective of the accused person to be kept in the Military Barracks, whether Bonny Camp or elsewhere.”

125 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 21-22; See also exhibit 219: Amnesty International Nigeria: The Ogoni Trials and Detentions, 15 September 1995, pp. 9-10.

126 Exhibit 24: Public Deposition Boniface Ejiogu, vol. I, 22 May 2004, p. 57-59 Boniface Ejiogu was Okuntimo’s right-hand man during Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland, see further chapter 8.3;Transcripts 6 February 1995 (exhibit 179), p. 19: “Fawehinmi: He became sick because for sixty- four days when he was arrested, he was manacled, chained and beaten up by the Army at the age of 54 years. The second accused person was also manacled and chained for sixty-four days as well. This is an evidence of degrading treatment frowned against by our Constitution.”

127 Exhibit 185: Transcripts 7 April 1995, pp. 9-11

128 Affidavit Barinem Kiobel in support of motion, application for bail, undated (exhibit 173), paras. 34-36.

129 Exhibit Fout! Verwijzingsbron niet gevonden.: Transcripts 27 February 1995.

130 Transcripts 27 February 1995 (exhibit 182), p. 41 et seq.; Amnesty International Nigeria: The Ogoni Trials and Detentions, 15 September 1995, p. 7 (exhibit 219).

131 In a counter-affidavit Okuntimo states that Bera was left with his injuries from a skin disease that he was supposed to have suffered when he escaped. This reading is not shared by Bera and witnesses, and is completely implausible. See also Ukala’s observations about this at the session: Transcripts 6 February 1995 (exhibit 182), p. 44 – 45. Ukala also refers in this connection to the earlier detention of Esther Kiobel, who was said to have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital according to Okuntimo, but who it later transpired had been detained at the police station in Kpor (p. 45); see also chapter 4.5. Attorney Ledum Mitee also witnessed Bera being abused with a copper cable, whereafter he was barely able to stand upright on his own. Bera was also deprived of the necessary medical attention, see Declaration Ledum Mitee, 2 May 2017 (exhibit 41), para. 9.

132 Amnesty International Nigeria: The Ogoni Trials and Detentions, 15 September 1995(exhibit 219), p. 6.

133 Ibid.

134 Ibid.

135 Exhibit 10: Ukala, 24 January 1995, Official starvation of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and Dr. Kiobel.

136 Exhibit 38: Declaration Esther Kiobel, 12 February 1995.

137 Exhibit 183: Transcripts 28 February 1995, pp. 38-39.

Footnotes end

FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE WRIT

The numbered paragraphs above are extracted from the English translation of a 138 page Writ of Summons served on Royal Dutch Shell companies on 28 June 2017 by Dutch Human Rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira. They represent four widows including Esther Kiobel who hold Shell liable for the murder of their husbands individual Ogoni leaders now known collectively as the ‘Ogoni Nine‘. MOSOP Chairman Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the group. For the purpose of this online publication, the footnotes are indicated in red text.

Disclosure: The lead claimant Esther Kiobel, Channa Samkalden of the Dutch human rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira representing the widows, and the acclaimed human rights organisation Amnesty International, have all acknowledged the involvement of John Donovan in bringing this case.

Shell blanket denial: Shell’s blanket denial of any responsibility for the ‘Ogoni Nine’ executions and related events/allegations can be read here

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