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Ken Saro-Wiwa v Shell oil unfurls: how the Guardian covered it home

Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil firms, is accused of complicity with the then Nigerian government in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well-known environmental activist and author, and several other campaigners against the oil industry. Here is how the Guardian has covered the story since the early 1990s

17 May 1993

David Pallister, reporting from Lagos, describes the government’s harsh response to clashes over an oil pipeline.

11 July 1993

A Guardian profile of Saro-Wiwa notes: “There is no doubting the desire of the Nigerian authorities to silence him after he turned from writing articles and television sitcoms and began to expose the plight of the Niger delta’s Ogoni people.”

9 August 1993

Chris McGreal reports on the destruction of the Ogoni town of Ka by the military to silence demands for autonomy.

11 August 1993

spilt oil 11/08/93
Chris McGreal sees at first-hand the effects of oil spills from a burst pipe at a Shell oil pumping station.

5 January 1994

On the second anniversary of mass protests by the Ogonis, Saro-Wiwa talks about the “ecological war” in which men, women and children are dying slowly.

23 November 1994

murders by instalment 23/11/94
Wole Soyinka, winner of Nobel prize for literature, accuses the Nigerian government of acting like a terrorist organisation, “whose stock-in-trade is hostage taking”.

4 December 1994

Saro-Wiwa is charged with murder after the lynching of four traditional chiefs. He is to be tried by a special tribunal.

4 January 1995

silencing the voice 04/01/95
Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr says his father’s story is a sad and tragic indictment of Africa.

8 January 1995

Saro-Wiwa Sr smuggles out a defiant message that is read out at special church services and dances. He tells his people “not to allow their truth to be frightened into the care of despair”.

14 January 1995

Leaked documents obtained by the Guardian suggest that government troops killed Ogonis so that Shell could resume its operations. Shell denies the allegations.

19 May 1995

Clashes break out at Shell’s annual general meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London during protests at the company’s record in west Africa.

29 July 1995

nigerian gulag 29/07/95
Saro-Wiwa’s diary while in detention, reads: “Injustice stalks the land like a tiger on the prowl. To be at the mercy of buffoons is the ultimate insult.”

29 September 1995

Shell denies bribing prosecution witnesses in Saro-Wiwa murder trial.

1 November 1995

I was brutalised 01/11/95
Saro-Wiwa is sentenced to death along with eight others for the killing of four traditional rulers, allegedly by pro-Saro-Wiwa youths.

2 November 1995

John Vidal reports on the international outcry over Saro-Wiwa’s death sentence.

5 November 1995

Britain may condemn the death sentence of Saro-Wiva, but privately it has courted General Sani Abacha’s regime in Nigeria.

A Guardian leader excoriates Nigeria as the very worst sort of military regime – corrupt, vicious and insecure.

9 November 1995

Nigeria‘s military rules stun Commonwealth conference by confirming death sentences for Saro-Wiwa and eight others.

10 November 1995

Nelson Mandela rejects sanctions for Nigeria at Commonwealth meeting.

Nigeria defies international opinion with “judicial murder” of Saro-Wiwa and eight others.

11 November 1995

Shell expresses its deep regret at news of executions.

12 November 1995

Shell fuels outrage over executions with $4bn deal in Nigeria.

12 November 1995

Mandela’s reputation takes a battering for advocating quiet diplomacy on Saro-Wiwa.

13 November 1995

Why the generals feared Saro-Wiwa – he represented one of the most serious challenges to the power structure since the Biafran war.

Shell delays Nigeria project.

19 November 1995

Observer reports that executed men, who were starved three days before their hanging, expected their sentences to be commuted.

Observer reports that Shell offered to use its influence with Nigeria’s rulers if Ogoni leaders called off their protest against the company.

6 December 1995

The late Nigerian academic Claude Ake faults Shell for treating people badly and acting arrogantly.

Chris McGreal reports from Oloibiri where oil was first struck in the Niger delta.

8 December 1995

Relatives of the four murdered Ogoni chiefs launch campaign to defend Nigerian regime.

11 February 1996

buy berettas 11/02/96
Observer reveals how Shell put pressure on Nigerian police to buy “upgraded weapons” for officers guarding its installations.

23 March 1996

Chris McGreal looks at the man behind the myth and finds Saro-Wiwa a“tainted hero” (second page).

22 May 1996

Former Shell employee accuses company of ignoring pollution warnings.

6 July 1996

Patrick Donovan reports on the complaints of communities in the Niger delta at Shell’s activities.

9 September 1998

New Nigerian military leader frees Ogoni activists imprisoned with Saro-Wiwa.

16 October 1998

Hundreds die along Nigerian coast as tribes clash over the proceeds of oil exploration.

26 April 2000

Shell again faces accusation of tramping local communities despite careful diplomacy since Saro-Wiwa’s execution.

GUARDIAN ARTICLE and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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