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Kiobel Writ: Shell encouraged military offensive against MOSOP

Owens Wiwa, brother of Ken Saro Wiwa, outside Shell headquarters in London

In 1994 the Nigerian regime of Sani Abacha began a large-scale military offensive in Ogoniland to break the population’s resistance to Shell’s activities and to clear the way to a resumption of oil production.

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.


8.3 Shell facilitated Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland

218. In 1994 the Nigerian regime of Sani Abacha began a large-scale military offensive in Ogoniland to break the population’s resistance to Shell’s activities and to clear the way to a resumption of oil production. Not long after the offensive was announced, the leaders of MOSOP and any other prominent Ogoni were arrested, resulting in the death of the Ogoni 9 in 1995.

219. Shell played a crucial role in the setting up and execution of Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland. Not only because of its incessant insistence on intervention, but also through its active support of the operation, for instance through payments and logistical support to Okuntimo and his RSISTF.

8.3.1 Shell encouraged the intervention against MOSOP

220. In its correspondence with the Nigerian government Shell invariably linked the protests (“community disturbances”) in Ogoniland to lower production figures and loss of profit and then linked this to a request to intervene. The previously described violent excesses did not make this any different. The sheer necessity of stopping the activities in Ogoniland had major consequences for Shell’s production and similar consequences for its revenues and those of the regime.287 Shell encouraged the regime to make short work of the insurrections, even if it meant using force, and it could depend on the regime to do so.

221. In December 1993 Shell wrote to A.J. Oyekan, the director of the Department of Petroleum Resources:

“It is alarming to note that the cumulative crude oil shut-in resulting from community disruptions from January 1993 to 13th December 1993 is 8,988,660 barrels. We would therefore appreciate any assistance you can give to minimise these disruptions.”288

222. The letter referred to a letter of 13 December 1993 from GME Egbert Imonoh to Lieutenant Colonel Dauda Musa Komo, who had then just taken up the position of Military Administrator of Rivers State, concerning “Oil production deferment caused by community disturbances/blockade and sabotage for November 1993” (exhibit 138). In this letter Shell accurately identified the problem areas, including different places in Ogoniland where Shell had already not officially been operating for a year.

223. It was in this period that the regime forged plans to restore order in Ogoniland. Komo played a key part in this. On 26 December 1993 he invited Owens Wiwa, the brother of Ken Saro Wiwa, to ask what MOSOP was planning on Ogoni Day (4 January).289 When Wiwa told him that peaceful demonstrations against Shell were planned, Komo said that he intended to ban them. That same day Wiwa received a visit from Major Tunde Odina, who made it clear to him that he had to leave Ogoniland, which Wiwa refused to do. The next day Owens Wiwa and the prominent MOSOP figure Ledum Mitee were both arrested by Odina with the support of the army and were then detained by Okuntimo.290 It was not until the evening of Ogoni Day that they were released again.291 Ken Saro Wiwa himself was placed under house arrest until 5 January 1994, the day after Ogoni Day. All the planned MOSOP activities on the public holiday were banned, the regime permitting only a church ceremony under the supervisory eye of the army.292

224. On 21 April 1994 the regime announced the “Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland” action plan,293 for which the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force (RSISTF) had been set up three months before.294 The RSISTF, which included the troops that assisted Shell in Korokoro, has been described by Human Rights Watch as follows:

“Members of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force are drawn primarily from the Second Amphibious Brigade, which is based at Bori Military Camp in Port Harcourt. It also includes contingents from the national mobile police force, air force, and navy. Many Task Force members were previously part of the National Guard, a paramilitary unit disbanded when General Abacha seized power. Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Okuntimo is the commander of the Task Force.”295

225. Okuntimo was put in charge of the operation. A few weeks later, on 12 May 1994, a restricted memo from Okuntimo addressed to Komo surfaced. In it Okuntimo set out the following goals:

“Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence”.

“Wasting operations during MOSOP and other gatherings making constant military presence justifiable”.

“Wasting targets cutting across communities and leadership cadres especially vocal individuals”.

“Wasting operations coupled with psychological tactics of displacement/wasting as noted above”.

“Restriction of unauthorised visitors especially those from Europe to the Ogoni”.

“Surveillance on Ogoni leaders considered as security risks/MOSOP propellers”.

“Ruthless operations and high level authority for the task force effectiveness”

226. Okuntimo also called on the government “[to] pressure oil companies for prompt regular inputs” to fund these operations.296

227. In its official documents on the Ogoni question Shell referred to the Nigerian regime’s standpoint that the memo had been forged.297 Shell added: “Even if it is genuine, it does not describe an action taken by Shell”.298 With this argument, Shell disregards that the core of the accusation at its address is that it played an indispensable role in the ensuing events. Regardless the question of whether the memo had been forged – evidence of which has never been provided – it emerged from several sources that while Shell did not itself perform violent acts in Ogoniland, the regime did in fact act in Shell’s name, with the aim of enabling Shell to return to Ogoniland. It also turned out that Shell actively supported the repression.

228. In this period there was regular contact between SPDC and those directly involved in Operation Restore Order. On 19 April 1994 for example, two days before the announcement of the plan, a discussion took place between Egbert Imonoh and Military Administrator Lt. Col. Komo.299 And Brian Anderson himself, from January 1994 the new Managing Director of SPDC, had a meeting with Abacha on 2 May 1994. He reported on this in one of his Nigeria Updates – reports from Anderson describing important events in Nigeria circulated weekly and sometimes almost daily within the Shell Group. At this meeting, less than three weeks before the arrests of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Kiobel, he told Abacha that he considered Saro-Wiwa jointly responsible for the destruction of Shell facilities in Ogoniland:

“I raised the problem of the Ogonis and Ken Saro Wiwa, pointing out that Shell had not been in the area now for almost a year. We told him of the destruction they had created at our sites, of which he was apparently unaware.”300

229. A few days before the murders of the four Ogoni leaders on 21 May 1994 Shell held a media briefing in Lagos and London at which it was said that “[a]cts of sabotage have been tacitly acknowledged by Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa”. Shell also linked Saro-Wiwa directly to violence:

“Mr. Saro-Wiwa apparently feels that he has not had an adequate response from the Government. So he has started to raise the stakes and put pressure on Shell by making wild accusations and disrupting SPDC operations in the Ogoni by direct violence”.301

230. Shell knew that Abacha would respond firmly to these insinuations. In the Nigeria Update of 2 May 1994 Anderson, after he had informed Abacha of various demonstrations in Ogoniland, said:

“I sense […] that [Abacha] will intervene with either the military or the police. […] The HoS said that he would be calling elders and military administrators from the regions involved to a meeting at which he said that he would be making the military administrators responsible for any future problems.”302

231. When Anderson, at his meeting with Abacha on 2 May 1994, linked Shell’s long absence from Ogoniland to the destruction of its facilities,303 Shell therefore knew what it was inviting him to do.

232. On 22 May 1994 and in the weeks that followed the first prominent Ogoni and Shell critics were arrested, among them Saro Wiwa, Kiobel, Bera, Levula and (a few months later) Eawo. As described in chapter 4, the arrests followed the unsolved murder of four traditional Ogoni leaders the day before in Giokoo. Most of those arrested were locked up in Bori Military Camp, Okuntimo’s headquarters.

233. The murders were also seized by the regime as an opportunity to declare a state of siege in Ogoniland. Between May and August 1994 the Nigerian army, under the leadership of Okuntimo’s RSISTF, undertook extremely violent punitive expeditions to at least 60 villages in Ogoniland to eliminate so-called MOSOP elements.304 (Alleged) MOSOP sympathisers were abused, raped, tortured, murdered and blackmailed, while villages were looted and numerous homes were destroyed.305 Paul Okuntimo played a leading role during the military operations. Eyewitness reports from Human Rights Watch of both victims and soldiers show that he was personally involved in torture, murder and rape.306 At a press conference broadcasted by the Nigerian Television Authority Okuntimo explained how he went about his work:

“The first three days of the operation, I operated in the night. Nobody knew where I was coming from. What I will just do is that I will just take some detachments of soldiers, they will just stay at four corners of the town. They … have automatic rifle[s] that sound death. If you hear the sound you will freeze. And then I will equally now choose about twenty [soldiers] and give them … grenades – explosive – very hand one[s]. So we shall surround the town at night … The machine gun with five hundred rounds will open up. When four or five like that open up and then we are throwing grenades and they are making ‘’eekpuwaal’ what do you think the … and they know I am around, what do you think the people are going to do? And we have already put roadblock[s] on the main road, we dont want anybody start running … so the option we made was that we should drive all these boys, all these people into the bush with nothin except the pant[s] and the wrapper they are using that night.” 307

234. Hundreds of Ogoni fell victim to arbitrary detention during the operation, in particular in Bori Military Camp and Kpor Detention Center; at least 50 Ogoni were summarily executed.308 The extent of the destruction and acts of violence can be seen in the documentary Delta Force (exhibit 250) and they were extensively documented on the basis of eyewitness accounts in a report by Human Rights Watch.309

235. Interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch show that prisoners were questioned about their links with MOSOP and their knowledge of the involvement of MOSOP, NYCOP and Saro Wiwa in the murder of the four Ogoni leaders.310 The military operation therefore also explicitly served the aim of collecting incriminating material against the suspects in the Ogoni 9 trial, who were then still detained in Bori Military Camp without official charge, together with the other political prisoners apprehended during the army raids.311

Extracts End


287 See Chapter 3.2.

288 Letter SPDC to A.J. Oyekan, Department of Petroleum Resources, 16 December 1993 (exhibit 139).

289 Public Deposition Owens Wiwa, Vol. II, 24 May 2004 (exhibit 63), p. 380.

290 Public Deposition Owens Wiwa, Vol. II, 24 May 2004 (exhibit 63), p. 371-384. See also the declaration of Ledum Mitee during the Oputa Panel proceedings, Oputa Panel Video 2 (exhibit 253), Ogoni Speech, 1:21:00 to 1:25:19.

291 Public Deposition Owens Wiwa, Vol. II, 24 May 2004 (exhibit 63) p. 384.

292 Documentary The Drilling Fields, 23 May 1994 (exhibit 249), 42:50 to 44:35; Documentary Delta Force (exhibit 250), 26:00 to 27:44.

293 The Commissioner of Police, Restoration of Law and Order in Ogoniland, Operation Order 4/94, 21 April 1994, see Project Underground report “All for Shell” by Andy Rowell and Stephen Kretzmann, first version 1 November 1996, most recently updated 4 March 1997 (exhibit 226), p. 11; see also the footage of the Oputa Panel Proceedings where Ledum Mitee cites from the Operation Order, Oputa Panel Video 2 (exhibit 253), Ogoni Speech, 1:31:30 to 1:32:45.

294 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 14; see about the RSISTF also 4.1 and 8.2.3. It is interesting that a meeting took place between Egbert Imonoh and Military Admins two days before the announcment of Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland. However, it is not known what was discussed during this meeting.

295 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 14, footnote 44.

296 Richard Boele/UNPO, Report of the UNPO Mission to Investigate the Situation of the Ogoni of Nigeria, 1995 (exhibit 228), Annex 4, Facts Sheet, p. 44.

297 See e.g. Shell, Nigeria Letter: Ogoni and the Niger Delta, 1996 (exhibit 166), p. 12: “The government has asserted that the document is a fake”.

298 Shell, Nigeria Letter: Ogoni and the Niger Delta, 1996 (exhibit 166), p. 12.

299 Exhibit 118: Letter from Alan Detheridge to Anderson of 27 September 1995, p. 4. See also Public Deposition Brian Anderson, 13 February 2003 (exhibit 17), p. 114-115. These documents do not deal with the substance of the discussion.

300 Exhbit 92: Nigeria Update, 2 May 1994; see also Public Deposition Brian Anderson, 13 February 2003 (exhibit 17), pp. 71-74.

301 Outline for approach to Media by Shell Participants, media briefing in London and Lagos prior to May 23, Channel 4 screening of Catma Films’ production (exhibit 143).

302 Nigeria Update, 2 May 1994 (exhibit 92); Public Deposition Brian Anderson,13 February 2003 (exhibit 17), p. 77.

303 Nigeria Update, 2 May 1994 (exhibit 92).

304 See e.g. Richard Boele/UNPO, Report of the UNPO Mission to Investigate the Situation of the Ogoni of Nigeria (exhibit 228), pp. 29-30; Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 14-24.

305 See e.g. Richard Boele/UNPO, Report of the UNPO Mission to Investigate the Situation of the Ogoni of Nigeria (exhibit 228), pp. 29-30; Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 14-24.

306 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 19-21, 23.

307 Press conference footage on the Nigerian Television Authority, see documentary Delta Force (exhibit 250), 37:23 to 38:46; See for a transcription of Okuntimo’s words Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 15-16; See also Greenpeace, Shell shocked: The Environmental and Social Costs of Living with Shell in Nigeria, July 1994 (exhibit 221), p. 21.

308 See e.g. Richard Boele/UNPO, Report of the UNPO Mission to Investigate the Situation of the Ogoni of Nigeria (exhibit 228), pp. 29-30; Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 14-24.

309 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), pp. 14-19.

310 Ibid; Statements made to the police by Ogoni prisoners at the time of the Ogoni 9 trial also show that they were questioned about MOSOP and NYCOP. Okuntimo was involved in these arrests and interrogations.

311 Declaration Ledum Mitee, 2 May 2017 (exhibit 41), para. 8.

Footnotes end

At the time of all of these horrific events in Nigeria, orchestrated by Shell to a large degree, Shell claimed that it was operating within its core business principles, including honesty, integrity, openness and respect for people. 


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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