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Kiobel Writ Extract: Nigeria in the 1990s: The Nigerian Junta

…Shell continued to collaborate closely with the regime during Abacha’s period of government and it regularly offered the regime a helping hand. Shell was prepared for instance to procure weapons, to maintain a network of informants and to make its means of transport available for military operations.

By John Donovan

The numbered paragraphs below 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‘. The famed writer and community leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the group. For the purpose of this online publication, the footnotes are indicated in red text.

3.3 Nigeria in the 1990s

3.3.1 The Nigerian Junta

50. In the early 1990s Nigeria was governed by two successive military regimes. Major- General Ibrahim Babangida staged a coup in 1985 and remained in power until 1993. This was followed by the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha from November 1993.

51. There was large-scale corruption under Babangida’s leadership. When the price of oil rose significantly in 1990, billions of dollars disappeared into his pockets.43 Because of the corruption the Nigerian people saw little of the revenues from the oil industry and demanded a return to a democratically elected civilian government. Elections are organised in 1993. While Chief Abiola was known to be the winner, Babangida declared the results void before they were made official.44 This gave rise to so much defiance and unrest that he nonetheless felt obliged to stand down in August 1993.

52. Consequently, an interim government under the leadership of Ernest Shonekan, until then director of SPDC,45 is set up. This government lasts three months; in November 1993 General Sani Abacha, the Minister of Defence under Babangida, staged a coup and restored the military regime. Shonekan stays on as Abacha’s right hand. The coup led to great international indignation and condemnation and the European Union imposed sanctions on Abacha’s “military dictatorship”.46

53. Abacha used excessive force to secure his power; demonstrations were put down harshly and political opponents were detained and executed.47 The suppression of the Ogoni population in particular attracted global attention, especially when the army occupied Ogoniland in 1994 and committed crimes against humanity there on a wide scale.48

54. In 2014 it was confirmed that Abacha, who died in 1998, too had used his position for personal gain, when in a legal case in America it emerged that he had diverted more than 480 million dollars into foreign accounts. The Assistant Attorney General had the following to say about this:

“Rather than serve his country, General Abacha used his public office in Nigeria to loot millions of dollars, engaging in brazen acts of kleptocracy. […] With this judgment, we have forfeited $480 million in corruption proceeds that can be used for the benefit of the Nigerian people”.49

55. In the 1990s the Nigerian population saw almost nothing of the revenues from the oil industry, which was a bitter outcome for the population of Ogoniland. As previously said, they are among the poorest population groups in Nigeria, while the oil is extracted from their territory, and they have been victims of human rights violations on a large scale.50 The UN rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said in his report (exhibit 235):

“Security forces were said to have used excessive force against participants in peaceful demonstration against the destruction of fields and crops without indemnification by Nigerian and multinational companies exploiting oil fields in the region”.51

56. As will be set out in more detail in chapter 8, Shell continued to collaborate closely with the regime during Abacha’s period of government and it regularly offered the regime a helping hand. Shell was prepared for instance to procure weapons, to maintain a network of informants and to make its means of transport available for military operations. It also ensured that the government knew where demonstrations were taking place, so it could bring them to an end. This attitude did not change during the military operation in Ogoniland in 1994 or during the show trial against the leaders of the Ogoni resistance in 1995 that finally turned Nigeria into a pariah state.52

57. Shell’s joint action with Abacha’s military dictatorship ensured that the company came under fire. Nevertheless, Shell, which was responsible for almost half the income of the Nigerian regime, 53 launched different new projects in this period in cooperation with Abacha.54 In this way it made a significant contribution to the large-scale corruption and repression that took place in those years.55


43 Political Leadership and Corruption in Nigeria Since 1960: A Socio-economic Analysis By Michael M. Ogbeidi Associate Professor Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, Nigeria, 2012, pp. 9, 13, 15, available at: <accessed 24 April 2017>; Why Government Should Release the Okigbo and Oputa Reports, Mobolaji Aluko, Burtonsville, MD, USA, 25 april 2004, available at: <accessed 24 April 2017>; How Ibrahim Babangida Promoted Corruption And Stagnated Nigeria’s Economic Growth And Development, Terfa Naswem, 23 April 2015, Newsrescue, available at: and-stagnated-nigerias-economic-growth-and-development-by-terfa-naswem/#ixzz4cAGfSjdr <accessed 24 april 2017>.

44 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Nigeria, military regimes 1983-1999, available at:, <accessed 24 april 2017>

45 See chapter 8.4.5.

46 See also European Political Documentation Bulletin, Statement on Nigeria 93/272, 25 June 1993, Brussel, p. 346; European Political Documentation Bulletin, Statement on Nigeria, 93/305, 13 July 199, Brussel, p. 3463; European Political Documentation Bulletin, Statement on Nigeria, 93/460, 19 November 1993, Brussels, “The European Union condemns the fact that the democratic process in Nigeria has been interrupted through the resumption of power by a military dictatorship”, pp. 550-551 (exhibit 230) . See also chapter 8.4.3.

47 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Nigeria, military regimes 1983-1999, available at: <accessed 24 April 2017>.

48 See chapters 4 and 8.

49 U.S. Department of Justice, “U.S. Forfeits More Than $480 Million Stolen by Former Nigerian Dictator in Largest Forfeiture Ever Obtained Through a Kleptocracy Action” 7 August 2014, available at: million-stolen-by-former-nigerian-dictator-in-largest-forfeiture-ever-obtained-through-a-kleptocracy-action <accessed 24 April 2017>.

50 C.A. Lutz, “The Niger Delta Conflict and Military Reform in Nigeria”, in “The Politics of Military Reform” J. Rüland et al., 2012 (exhibit 240), p. 201; Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions of 7 December 1993, E/CN.4/1994/7 (exhibit 235), p. 105.

51 Exhibit 235: Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions of 7 December 1993, E/CN.4/1994/7, p. 105.

52 See chapters 4 and 8.

53 Shell Nigeria alone – without the other Nigerian Shell companies – is responsible for 50% of oil production, and 80% of the government’s income derives from this oil production, see: exhibit 137: Letter Watts (SPDC) to Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie (Inspector General Of Police, Nigerian Police Force), 1 December 1993, p. 2; United Nations Environment Programme, Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, 2011, p. 20, available at: <accessed 24 April 2017>; U. Idemudia, Assessing corporate–community involvement strategies in the Nigerian oil industry: An empirical analysis, Resources policy, 34, 2009 (exhibit 246), p. 135.

54 See chapter 8.8.5.

55 Exhibit 242: I. Okonta en O. Douglas, Where vultures feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil, Sierra Club Books, 2003, p. 58, in reference to Project Underground: “Shell supplies fully half of the income to a brutal regime bent on suppressing dissent”.

Footnotes end

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.

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

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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