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Shell complicit in excessively violent action by the Nigerian regime

Extract: Shell contributed to the ‘Umuechem massacre’: In 1990, Shell’s request to the authorities to terminate a peaceful demonstration in Umechem, a village just outside of Ogoniland, resulted in a two-day long punitive expedition by MOPOL. Dozens of people were killed, even more injured and many hundreds became homeless. Extract: MOPOL returned very early the next day to undertake a punitive expedition in Umuechem. During this expedition, 495 houses were set alight in their entirety. Many people got injured and internal Shell documents as well as a Human Rights Watch report speak of a death toll of 80.

By John Donovan

The numbered paragraphs below are extracted from the 138 page Esther Kiobel Writ served on multiple Royal Dutch Shell companies on 28 June 2017. More information about the latest litigation, this time in the Dutch Courts, is provided after the extracts. At the time of all of these horrific events in Nigeria, orchestrated to a large degree by Shell, the oil giant claimed that it was operating within its core business principles, including honesty, integrity, openness and respect for people. 

EXTRACTS FROM THE ESTHER KIOBEL WRIT 

8.2 Shell was at the basis of excessively violent action by the regime

8.2.1 Introduction

170. In the 1980s Shell increasingly had run-ins with the local population in the Niger Delta, who openly opposed the exploitation of their land. Shell repeatedly called upon the police, who often brought the demonstrations to an end heavy-handedly. In 1983 for example the intervention in a protest against Shell led to the arrest and ill-treatment of demonstrators. And in 1987 Shell’s request for intervention by the Mobile Police Force (MOPOL or MPF) – a special mobile police unit with a violent reputation – led to two deaths, the destruction of 40 homes and 350 homeless people.188 MOPOL was assisted in this by Shell, which made its boats available.189

171. Despite these fatal incidents, Shell continued to request the authorities to intervene when its operations were disrupted by protests. To this end Shell repeatedly passed on the precise locations of the usually peaceful demonstrations to the regime, putting up with the many dead and injured. Again in 1993, when the mass protests in Ogoniland led to a cessation of Shell’s activities in Ogoniland, Shell constantly and expressly held out to the regime the prospect of its return to Ogoniland if the protests stopped. Shell returned to Ogoniland several times during this period without the consent of the local population and under military protection, which always led to (often fatal) violence.

172. The close collaboration between Shell and the military regime in the period from 1990 to early 1994, when Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland was announced, is described below. Shell’s involvement in various violent incidents in Ogoniland in the period 1990-1994 is considered one incident at a time: the Umuechem bloodbath in 1990 (8.2.2), the fatalities arising from interventions at the Bonny Terminal (1992) and the Trans Niger Pipeline (1993) (8.2.4), Shell’s logistical support of the army during fake ethnic conflicts between the Ogoni and neighbouring population groups (1993) (8.2.5) and paying Paul Okuntimo following an excess of violence in the Ogoni village of Korokoro (1993) (8.2.6). Section 8.2.3 discusses the deployment and support of MOPOL by Shell, despite the incidents of violence in Umuechem and before. This accumulation of incidents shows that Shell knew what its requests for help and facility support to the military regime led to, but that it nevertheless kept inviting the regime to do this time and time again.

8.2.2 Shell contributed to the ‘Umuechem massacre’

173. In 1990, Shell’s request to the authorities to terminate a peaceful demonstration in Umechem, a village just outside of Ogoniland, resulted in a two-day long punitive expedition by MOPOL. Dozens of people were killed, even more injured and many hundreds became homeless.

174. The protest from the inhabitants of Umuechem was aimed at the inadequate electricity and water supplies in Umuechem and the lack of reasonable compensation for the expropriation and exploitation of their land.190 They were moreover frustrated by the environmental damage caused by the extraction of oil and the impossibility of obtaining compensation for it.191

175. When the peaceful demonstration by the inhabitants of Umuechem had continued for two weeks, Shell’s divisional manager James Udofia wrote a letter to the Nigerian Commissioner of Police on 29 October 1990 (exhibit 129). In it he referred to an “impending attack” on Shell facilities and requested deployment of MOPOL which, as a result of previous incidents, was now known as the ‘kill and go mob’:

“[W]e request that you urgently provide us with security protection (preferably Mobile Police Force) […] to enable us have the peaceful and safe operating environment necessary to achieve our planned crude oil production targets”.192

176. When Udofia, on 31 October, wrote another letter, stating that Shell’s employees felt threatened by the violent behaviour of the protesters, the authorities factually sent MOOPL to the village of Umuechem.193 That very same day MOPOL used brute force to break up the peaceful demonstration with arms and tear gas.194 MOPOL returned very early the next day to undertake a punitive expedition in Umuechem. During this expedition, 495 houses were set alight in their entirety.195 Many people got injured and internal Shell documents as well as a Human Rights Watch report speak of a death toll of 80.196

177. The commission of inquiry investigating the incident at the request of the Government of Rivers State in its report on the events in March 1991 spoke of a “reckless disregard for lives and property” by MOPOL, which acted in Umuechem like “an invading army that had vowed to take the last drop of the enemy’s blood”.197 The commission found no evidence of an “impending attack”, as Shell had stated in its letter, nor of any violence by the demonstrators.198

178. The Attorney General of Rivers State at the time, O.C.J. Okocha, did not follow up on the commission of inquiry’s recommendation to prosecute the MOPOL members, to pay the inhabitants compensation and to have the houses rebuilt.199 No further investigation is conducted into Shell’s role in this incident.

179. According to his own declaration in the American Kiobel case (exhibit 49), Okocha had at that time already been attached to Shell as a lawyer for three years.200 Later he would be present at the Ogoni 9 trial in that capacity and be involved in the bribery of witnesses.201

8.2.3 Shell carried on supporting MOPOL and seeking its deployment

180. After ‘Umuechem’ Shell publicly kept its distance from MOPOL and said it would no longer seek the assistance of this unit in crisis situations.202 Nevertheless, the ties between MOPOL and Shell continued to exist and the unit would act for Shell on various occasions. In his testimony in the American Kiobel case (exhibits 57 and 58) George Ukpong, Shell’s Head of Security for the Eastern Division in Nigeria at the time, for example stated that Shell had placed its boats at MOPOL’s disposal to patrol the areas around Shell’s facilities.203,204 For this Shell paid “duty allowances” to MOPOL members.205 Ukpong also specifically requested the deployment of MOPOL for the protection of Shell facilities.206 In his deposition he compared MOPOL with the regular police and said that MOPOL members “are toughened and better placed to have more confidence to provide countermeasures to whatever situation they find themselves”.207 In his view, the response of the regular police was “slower than what you get from the mobile police”.208

181. The use of Shell helicopters, boats and cars to take MOPOL to Shell sites even after ‘Umuechem’ was also confirmed by Osazee Osunde in his deposition in the American Kiobel case (exhibit 53). At the time of the disturbances in Ogoniland Osunde was SPDC’s Head of Intelligence and Surveillance East and Ukpong’s subordinate.209 In his deposition he said about MOPOL: “it depends on where they’re working or where they’re deployed to. So what we do is assist ferry them, either by boat or by chopper”.210 For instance, Shell provided transport for MOPOL in cases of community disturbances, such as in the course of problems at the Bonny terminal:

“At the time the well head was shut, they [the community] gave us some problems. […] I think the government deployed MOPOL there, and we helped ferry them to and fro.”211

182. This was confirmed by the deposition in the American Kiobel case of Eebu Jackson Nwiyon (exhibit 48), who between August 1993 and August 1995 was a member of MOPOL and also part of Okuntimo’s Rivers State Internal Security Task Force (RSISTF) for a few months.212 He testified that Shell hired him several times to protect its facilities.213 According to Nwiyon, Shell paid him and the other MOPOL members well for this and Shell also took care of rations, transport and overnight stays.214 Likewise as a member of the RSISTF Nwiyon in his own words received money directly from Shell.215

183. Vincent Nwidoh, who was a member of Shell’s police force (SPY Police) for more than five years and who between 1988 and 1994 worked at the Bonny Terminal, testified in the American Kiobel case that MOPOL members were present at Bonny Terminal on various occasions and sometimes even spent the night there (exhibit 46).216 When incidents occurred, MOPOL arrived on a Bristow helicopter, the helicopters used by Shell, or by Shell boat (which belonged to Modant Marine217 and Oil Lion218). He also testified that MOPOL members also escorted Shell managers and Shell staff members, including George Ukpong.219

184. We have to conclude that Shell carried on its collaboration with MOPOL just as intensively and that there was no question of Shell distancing itself from MOPOL as it had held out in prospect. MOPOL was actively deployed on security operations and also facilitated the regime with achieving national security objectives, which included protecting Shell facilities and putting down protests.

Footnotes

188 In Iko, see e.g. A. Rowell, J. Marriott and L. Stockman, The Next Gulf: London, Washington and Oil Conflict in Nigeria, London: 2005 (exhibit 239), p. 83; Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria’s Oil Producing Communities, 1999 (exhibit 223), p. 128.

189 A. Rowell, J. Marriott and L. Stockman, The Next Gulf: London, Washington and Oil Conflict in Nigeria, London: 2005 (exhibit 239), p. 83.

190 Conclusions of the Government of Rivers State on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Umuechem Disturbances, March 1991 (exhibit 220), p. 2. Shell too wrote to the regime that the demonstration related to a “demand for social amenities which, in recent times, has become an order of the day with most communities in our areas of operation”, Letter J.R. Udofia (Divisional Manager East, SPDC) to the Commissioner of Police, 29 October 1990 (exhibit 129).

191 Conclusions of the Government of Rivers State on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Umuechem Disturbances, March 1991 (exhibit 220), pp. 2-3. The Commission noted that just 1.5% of the oil revenues benefit the oil producing states and describes this as “grossly inadequate”. The commission proposes raising the percentage to 15% (p. 4).

192 Letter Udofia to the Commissioner of Police, 29 October 1990 (exhibit 129).

193 Exhibit 224: Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Umuechem Disturbances, January 1991, para. 5.

194 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 9; Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria’s Oil Producing Communities, 1999 (exhibit 223), pp. 112-113.

195 Conclusions of the Government of Rivers State on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Umuechem Disturbances, March 1991 (exhibit 220), p. 7.
196 Exhibit 104: Nigeria Update 8 August 1994; Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 9.

197 Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Umuechem Disturbances, January 1991 (exhibit 224), para. 47. According to the commission, MOPOL was guilty of “acts of homicide, […] grievous harms, malicious damage to property and arson”. See also Conclusions of the Government of Rivers State on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Umuechem Disturbances, March 1991 (exhibit 220), p. 7.

198 Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Umuechem Disturbances, Rivers State of Nigeria, January 1991, ( exhibit 224) para. 38. Shell maintained to the commission, as well, that the protesters had been violent.

199 See Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria’s Oil Producing Communities, 1999 (exhibit 223), pp. 112-113; Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 9.

200 Declaration O.C.J. Okocha, 8 December 2003 (exhibit 49), para. 3 (“From 1990 to 1992 I served as the Attorney General of Rivers State”) and para. 7 (“I have served as an external solicitor to [SPDC] since 1987″).

201 See chapter 8.5.2 and 8.6.1

202 Human Rights Watch 1999 (exhibit 223), p. 162; Public Deposition Alan Detheridge, vol. 1, 3 February 2003 (exhibit 21) pp. 124-125: “Anderson gave instructions that in the event of any community disturbance, certainly in any peaceful community disturbance then the police were not, any form of police were not to be called and that he expressed a view that we should not be responsible for calling in the mobile police”; SPDC, Response to Human Rights Watch/Africa publication – The Ogoni Crisis: A Case-study of Military Repression in South-Eastern Nigeria, July 1994 (exhibit 146), p. 2: “after the Umuechem incident we disassociated ourselves from the intensity of the police action”; See also Public Deposition T, Cloughly (General Manager of Operations SPDC), 11 February 2003 (exhibit 20), pp. 69-70: “I seem to remember that mobile police were involved at Umuechem and I think it went badly wrong. Was it the mobile police that were called in? I suspect it probably was and a lot of deaths resulted. We were very concerned about any suggestion of the mobile police because, I mean, they had the reputation of maybe over-reacting.” In internal Shell documents, as well, MOPOL is referred to as “mach and trigger happy”, see public deposition Mike Basnett,18 June 2003 (exhibit 18), p. 116.

203 Public Deposition George Akpan Ukpong, vol. I, 23 October 2003 (exhibit 57), pp. 176-180; Public Deposition George Akpan Ukpong, vol. II, 24 March 2004 (exhibit 58).

204 See also chapter Fout! Verwijzingsbron niet gevonden..

205 Public Deposition George Akpan Ukpong, vol. II, 24 March 2004 (exhibit 58), p. 466.

206 Ibid, pp. 237, 462-474.

207 Ibid, pp. 469-470.

208 Ibid.

209 Public Deposition Osazee Osunde, 22 October 2003 (exhibit 53), pp. 10-11. 210 Ibid, pp. 47-53 (quote p. 52).

211 Ibid, pp. 48-49.

212 See on Okuntimo’s RSISTF, chapters. 4.1 and 8.3.

213 Public Deposition Eebu Jackson Nwiyon (exhibit 48), 24 May 2004, pp. 37-38. 214 Ibid, pp. 37-38, 46-69.

215 Ibid.

216 Public Deposition Vincent Tornebamri Nwidoh, 25 May 2004 (exhibit 46), p. 85: “The regular police came […], and when they saw that they cannot really protect the situation MOPOL were later brought through helicopter”. See also pp. 13-15, 85, 88.
217 Public Deposition George Akpan Ukpong, vol. I, 23 October 2003 (exhibit 57), p. 180.

218 Public Deposition Vincent Tornebamri Nwidoh, 25 May 2004 (exhibit 46), pp. 13-15, 85.

219 Public Deposition Vincent Tornebamri Nwidoh, 25 May 2004 (exhibit 46), pp. 18-19, 65-67, 121-122. According to Nwidoh, the MOPOL agent who escorted Ukpong was called Omotara.

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. (*See Writ of Summons in English and Dutch served on Shell 28 June 2017 – copy obtained from US Pacer public electronic court records)

Shell blanket denial: Shell’s blanket denial of any responsibility for the ‘Ogoni Nine’ executions and related events/allegations can be read here. The denial does not explain why Shell settled for $15.5 million in June 2009 a case legally and substantively the same.

The Guardian: Shell pays out $15.5m over Saro-Wiwa killing: 9 June 2009

Shell to Pay $15.5 Million to Settle Nigerian Case: The New York Times: 8 June 2009

Shell, Nigerian families settle suit for $15.5 million: Reuters: 8 June 2009

Shell to pay $15.5 million to settle Nigeria claims: CNN: 8 June 2009

Shell Settles Human Rights Suit for $15.5 Million: Fox News/AssociatedPress: 8 June 2009

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