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Briefing on Esther Kiobel and her executed husband Dr. Barinem Kiobel

On 10 November 1995, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, the husband of Ether Kiobel, was executed along with other members of the so-called ‘Ogoni 9’ – including Ken Saro-Wiwa – all leaders of the Ogoni people. Esther and other ‘Ogoni 9’ widows hold Shell responsible for its part in what has been widely described as ‘Judicial Murder’.

On 1 September 2002 Esther Kiobel and eleven other (surviving relatives of) Nigerian activists from the Ogoni area sued Shell before the American court.

Esther has been fighting ever since to have her case heard. Shell has used every legal device to thwart that ambition. Related litigation is underway in the US and Dutch courts.

Almost all of the information in this article is extracted from a Writ of Summons served on multiple Shell companies last week by the Dutch Human Rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira. Channa Samkalden and Tom de Boer are handling the case and acting as counsel. Amnesty International is backing the litigation.

2.1 Esther Kiobel

8. Esther Duke Kiobel (claimant) was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, on 1 April 1964. She is a Nigerian citizen and also has American nationality.

9. Esther Kiobel is the widow of dr. Barinem Nubari Kiobel, whom she married on 29 January 1991.12 Barinem Kiobel was one of the nine men executed on 10 November 1995 by the Nigerian regime at the time following a show trial. During her husband’s trial Esther Kiobel was herself the victim of unlawful detention and assault by army leader Paul Okuntimo, who was supported by Shell.

10. Following the execution of her husband Esther Kiobel fled to Benin, where she was granted refugee status on 13 September 1996.3 She resettled in the United States in February 1998, where she still lives and works today. In 2007, Esther graduated from Des Moines Area Community College, where she studied Science and Humanity. Esther currently works in the medical field as nurse.

2.1.1 Dr. Barinem Nubari Kiobel

11. Barinem Kiobel was born in Kpor, Rivers State, Nigeria, on 23 September 1959. Between 1979 and 1992 he lived in the United Kingdom, where he obtained a doctorate at the University of Glasgow. In 1992 he returned to Nigeria, where he accepted a senior lecturer position at the University of Science and Technology in Port Harcourt. Exhibit 4 contains the Curriculum Vitae of dr. Barinem Nubari Kiobel.

12. After a year at the university Kiobel became chairman of the Publicity Committee of Kilsi Gokana, a group of prominent local residents dedicated to the development of this region, one of the six kingdoms of Ogoniland. From this position he became aware of the prevailing discontent about Shell and the regime among the Ogoni and he maintained contacts with all the parties concerned.

13. In January 1994, four months before his arrest, Kiobel became Honourable Commissioner of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism of Rivers State province. In this role he once again acted as a link between the government and the Ogoni. It was how he made a meeting possible between Lt. Col. Komo and seven Ogoni leaders. 4

14. Kiobel was not actively involved in MOSOP. During his work as Commissioner however he did express criticism of the regime’s actions in Ogoniland at various meetings. He also sought attention for MOSOP’s demands on Shell and the regime.5 As a result of his presence at these meetings Kiobel was also aware of the regime’s plan to intervene in Ogoniland with force, about which he openly disagreed with Lt. Col. Komo.6

15. In 1994 Kiobel forwarded a critical letter from the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus to Lt. Col. Komo (exhibit 3). The letter from the American Congress included the following:

“We understand that the Rivers State Commissioner of Police issued a memo on April 21, 1994, outlining a plan for the Nigerian Army, Air Force, Navy, and Police to occupy the Ogoni territory to ‘restore and maintain law and order in Ogoniland and apprehend intruders who may wish to use the period to ferment further disturbances’. We are concerned about the safety of the Ogoni people especially unarmed civilians […]. We ask you to do everything in your power to bring an end to human rights violations against the Ogoni people”.7

16. According to Esther Kiobel, it was this critical attitude that her husband as a relative newcomer adopted towards Shell and the regime that ultimately ensured he was picked up with the leaders of MOSOP on 22 May 1994 and was then tried at the Ogoni 9 trial. Kiobel was executed on 10 November 1995.

Extract ends

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 kindly acknowledged my involvement in this case.

Shell blanket denial: Shell’s blanket denial of any responsibility for the ‘Ogoni 9’ executions and related events can be read here

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