Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE OGONI CRISIS BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

On 10 November 1995, nine men from Ogoniland, a small area within Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, were hanged by the military authorities, after a blatantly unfair trial. Their bodies were then dumped in unmarked graves. One of them was the outspoken and acclaimed writer Kenule (Ken) Saro-Wiwa… The other men executed that day were Dr Barinem Kiobel, a former government official, and seven members and supporters of MOSOP… 

Extracts from pages 17, 18 & 19 of an Amnesty International document headed: “A CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE? SHELL’S INVOLVEMENT IN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN NIGERIA IN THE 1990s”

EXTRACT BEGINS

On 10 November 1995, nine men from Ogoniland, a small area within Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, were hanged by the military authorities, after a blatantly unfair trial. Their bodies were then dumped in unmarked graves. One of them was the outspoken and acclaimed writer Kenule (Ken) Saro-Wiwa, who had gained worldwide recognition for his leadership of a campaigning organization, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). This had drawn attention to the ecological devastation caused by decades of oil production, and the lack of economic development, in Nigeria’s oil-producing areas. The other men executed that day were Dr Barinem Kiobel, a former government official, and seven members and supporters of MOSOP: Saturday Dobee, Paul Levula, Nordu Eawo, Felix Nuate, Daniel Gbokoo, John Kpuinen and Baribor Bera.

The military government had accused them, without evidence, of involvement in the murder of four Ogoni elders who were well-known critics of MOSOP.8 Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen and Barinem Kiobel were sentenced for encouraging the murders, the other men for carrying them out. The hanging of the “Ogoni Nine”, as they became known, sparked outrage around the world. For example, the then British Prime Minister, John Major, called it “a fraudulent trial, followed by judicial murder.”9 The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions and the Commonwealth group of former British colonies suspended Nigeria from its membership.10

The executions were the culmination of a brutal operation by the military government to crush MOSOP.11 MOSOP had begun its campaign in 1990 with the publication of the “Ogoni Bill of Rights” which outlined the movement’s grievances and demands.

MOSOP wanted the government to grant Ogoniland political autonomy and a much greater share of its oil wealth. MOSOP argued that oil had made others rich while condemning the inhabitants of the area, who mainly relied on farming and fishing, to poverty. Pollution from oil spills and gas flaring had, MOSOP said, “led to the complete degradation of the Ogoni environment, turning our homeland into an ecological disaster.” 12 In January 1993, the MOSOP campaign forced the oil company that operated in Ogoniland, the Anglo-Dutch firm Shell, to announce its withdrawal from the area.13 Shell said that this was because of a worsening security situation and attacks on members of staff.14

Although Ogoniland is only a small part of the Niger Delta, MOSOP’s protests had potentially wide ramifications. The government’s finances relied upon oil. In 1995, the year of the executions, oil made up 95.7% of Nigeria’s total exports.15 Nigeria could not afford for production to be disrupted by prolonged community protests, and the government was afraid that MOSOP’s campaign would be copied by other disaffected communities.16 Indeed, inspired by MOSOP, 23 other communities organized their own groups during the 1990s.17 In 1993-94 alone, Human Rights Watch documented protests in four other oil-producing communities.18 In each case, the security forces used violence to break up demonstrations.19

SHELL IN NIGERIA

Shell was by far the largest and most important oil company operating in the Niger Delta. It had first discovered oil in commercially viable quantities in Nigeria in 1956, when the country was still a British colony.20 Shell operated more than 1,000 wells in 90 oil fields covering an area of 31,000 km2 across the Niger Delta. Within Ogoniland, Shell operated 96 wells in five oil fields and was able to produce 28,000 barrels a day – some 3% of its total.21

In order to produce so much oil in Nigeria, the company directly employed 4,900 Nigerian and 300 foreign workers. Shell indirectly employed a further 25,000 people, who worked as sub-contractors for both Nigerian and foreign companies.22 In 1993, one of the largest sub-contractors was Willbros West Africa, a US engineering company.23 An indication of the size of Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta in the mid-1990s was provided by a British diplomat in an internal letter:

“The infrastructure which Shell has at its disposal (stocks of fuel, transport, helicopters, small planes and oil service barges and ships) makes their contingency planning much more superior than that of any other operator, contractor, company or government.”24

Shell invested so much in Nigeria because its assets there were so important to the overall company. Shell’s annual profits from oil production in Nigeria during the 1990s were $220-$240 million, the company reported.25 This accounted for an average of 7% of Shell’s total worldwide profits from exploration and production.26 An internal strategy document revealed that in 1995, Nigeria was home to the single largest portion of the company’s worldwide oil and gas reserves, amounting to 20% of the total.27 In Nigeria, Shell had “access to the biggest low cost hydrocarbon resource base in the Group, with enough oil to sustain production for almost 100 years at current levels.”28 The author of this document was Shell’s UK-based chief economist, Vince Cable. He later became a prominent politician, serving as the UK’s business minister from 2010-15, and is currently the head of the Liberal Democrats party. In his 2009 memoirs, Vince Cable laid out the importance of Shell’s Nigeria operations:

“The upstream business in Nigeria was the jewel in the crown of the exploration and production division, the company’s elite corps. Many managing directors, past and present had served time in the Niger Delta; Nigeria accounted for one of Shell’s largest sources of equity oil (oil owned by the company rather than managed on Shell’s behalf), and a steady if unspectacular profit. And it offered enormous potential for expansion in both oil and gas.”29

As the Ogoni crisis developed from January 1993 onwards, Shell was in negotiations with the Nigerian government and international creditors for one such expansion. The $4 billion Liquefied Natural Gas project, to be built on Bonny Island close to Ogoniland, was going to be “the largest investment project in Africa.”30 Shell announced that this joint venture project was going ahead just five days after the execution of the Ogoni Nine.31

Related footnotes

  1. Amnesty International, Nigeria: The Ogoni Trials and Detentions (Index: AFR 44/020/1995).
  2. Steve Crawshaw and Karl Maier, ‘World Fury as Nigeria Sends Writer to Gallows’, The Independent, 11 November 1995, available at http://www.inde-

    pendent.co.uk/news/world-fury-as-nigeria-sends-writer-to-gallows-1581289.html (last accessed 24 July 2017).

  3. Professor Michael Watts, Wiwa Plaintiffs’ Expert Report, 2008, p. 41-2 (409 Declaration of R. Millson re Watts with exhibits).
  4. Amnesty International, Nigeria: The Ogoni Trials and Detentions (Index: AFR 44/020/1995).
  1. MOSOP, The Ogoni Bill of Rights, article 16, 1990.
  2. Shell Nigeria, Nigeria Brief: The Ogoni Issue, 1995, p. 3 (ex cc).
  3. Shell said it finally stopped all oil production in Ogoniland by mid-1993. Shell Nigeria, Nigeria Brief: The Ogoni Issue, 1995, p. 2.
  4. Jedrzej George Frynas, Oil in Nigeria: Conflict and Litigation between Oil Companies and Village Communities, p. 25.
  5. Jedrzej George Frynas, ‘Political Instability and Business: Focus on Shell in Nigeria’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), p. 464 (hereinafter Jedrzej George Frynas, Third Word Quarterly).
  6. The Oputa Panel, Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, Volume IV, 2.12, p. 35, 2002.
  7. In October 1992, members of the Ijaw community announced the establishment of the Movement for the Survival of the Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND). The Ogbia community in Oloibiri set up the Movement for Reparation to Ogbia (MORETO) in November 1992. The Council for Ikwerre Nationality was founded in 1993. Human Rights Watch, Nigeria: A Case Study of Military Repression in Southeastern Nigeria.
  8. Human Rights Watch, Nigeria: A Case Study of Military Repression in Southeastern Nigeria.
  9. Shell’s subsidiary in Nigeria is called the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). Shell operates the country’s largest oil joint venture, which it owns along with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and two other international companies. Shell owns 30% of this joint venture. The rest is owned by the NNPC (55%) and subsidiaries of the French company Total (10%) and the Italian firm ENI (5%). See Shell Nigeria, Shell in Nigeria Portfolio, April 2015, http://s08. static-shell.com/content/dam/shell-new/local/country/nga/downloads/pdf/portfolio.pdf
  10. Shell Nigeria, Nigeria Brief: The Ogoni Issue, 1995, p. 2-3.
  11. Shell UK, Shell Briefing Note: Operations in Nigeria, London, May 1994.
  12. Deposition of James Kenneth Tillery, July 22, 2003. See also, Andy Rowell, James Marriott and Lorne Stockman, The Next Gulf, p103-4.
  13. UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, letter to UK High Commissioner, Visit to Port Harcourt and Warri, 27-31 August, 5 September 1994.
  1. Alan Detheridge and Noble Pepple, A Response to Frynas, Third World
  2. Alan Detheridge and Noble Pepple, A Response to Frynas, Third World
  3. Shell International Exploration and Production, Note for information: Review of Strategy for Nigeria, 1996, p. 2. (Exhibit 9. Decl of J. Green in Opp to Motion to Dismiss Ric).
  4. Shell International Exploration and Production, Note for Information: Review of Strategy for Nigeria, 1996, p. 1. (Exhibit 9. Decl of J. Green in Opp to Motion to Dismiss Ric)
  5. Vince Cable, Free Radical, 2009, p 195.
  6. Shell International Exploration and Production, Note for information: Review of Strategy for Nigeria, 1996, p. 1 (Exhibit 9. Decl of J. Green in Opp to Motion to Dismiss Ric).
  7. The Independent, Day of Decision for Shell on Nigeria Project, 15 November 1995, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/day-of-deci-sion-for-shell-on-nigeria-project-1582021.html?amp
royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellnews.net and cybergriping.com are all owned by John Donovan

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: