Interviewed by The Sunday Times in Nigeria last week, Okuntimo initially admitted being paid by Shell while he was in charge of crushing Ogoni protests against the company. ‘Shell contributed to the logistics through financial support. To do this, we needed resources and Shell provided these,’ he said.
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.
8.3.2 Okuntimo worked partly on behalf of Shell
236. Okuntimo repeatedly and publicly stated that he conducted the operation in part on behalf of Shell.312 In the American proceedings, Boniface Ejiogu, who at the time of the Ogoni crisis was Okuntimo’s assistant, furthermore stated that he had witnessed the handing over of money by Shell to Okuntimo three times, twice by George Ukpong (exhibits 24 and 25).313 Ejiogu also stated that Ukpong and Okuntimo met each other regularly, usually in Ukpong’s office in the Industrial Area, but also at Ukpong’s home.314 Shell also assisted the RSISTF in the form of rations, ammunition and transport.315 The payments to Okuntimo by Shell were confirmed by another witness, Raphael Kponee, who was a member of Shell’s police unit and who worked at Shell’s Industrial Area (exhibit 39).316 In the American proceedings, Shell employee Osazee Osunde also testified that he had seen Ukpong and Okuntimo together on Shell’s Industrial Area.317
237. Human Rights Watch confirmed the regular meetings between Shell and Okuntimo:
“a highly placed government source in Rivers State told Human Rights Watch that SPDC representatives meet regularly with the director of the Rivers State Security Service and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Okuntimo, the commander of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force”. 318
238. On 17 December 1995 the UK newspaper The Sunday Times published an article about the “close relationship between local branches of [Shell] and General Sani Abacha’s brutal military regime”.319 Okuntimo told the journalists that he had regularly received money from Shell at the time of Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland:
“Interviewed by The Sunday Times in Nigeria last week, Okuntimo initially admitted being paid by Shell while he was in charge of crushing Ogoni protests against the company. ‘Shell contributed to the logistics through financial support. To do this, we needed resources and Shell provided these,’ he said.”
239. Although Okuntimo would later deny the above statement, the Sunday Times journalists found other sources who confirmed the payments to Okuntimo by Shell:
“The evidence against [Okuntimo] is supported by a conversation between Okuntimo and Nick Ashton-Jones, a British environmentalist, and Oronto Douglas, a Nigerian journalist, in June . Ashton- Jones, who had worked for Shell in eastern Nigeria, said the colonel, then a major, felt badly let down by Shell.
Ashton-Jones recalled: ”He said he was doing a wonderful job for the government and he was disappointed that Shell had stopped paying him. He said that everything he was doing was for Shell.” […]
Ledum Mittee [sic], the lawyer who stood trial with Saro-Wiwa and was the only defendant acquitted, built up a close relationship with Okuntimo during his detention. Mittee said: ”He admitted he was being paid by Shell. He said he was angry with Shell because they were no longer paying as much for the upkeep of his boys. He felt they were not grateful enough.” Mittee explained that Shell provided vehicles for military operations and rewarded Okuntimo personally.”320
240. Okuntimo had arrested Douglas, Ashton-Jones and also the lawyer Uche Onyeagucha – one of the Ogoni 9 lawyers – and detained and ill-treated them for a few days when they wanted to visit Ledum Mitee in Bori Camp.321 Ashton-Jones’s account was confirmed in the American Kiobel case by Oronto Douglas:
“While we were in the vehicle with him, Lt. Col. Okuntimo spoke to us freely about his relationship with Shell. He stated that he had been helping Shell, had performed all types of services for Shell and that he was upset because he had been doing all this work for Shell but that they were not treating him well as they used to.”322
241. In his declaration of 15 June 2017 (exhibit 52), Onyeagucha confirms that Okuntimo had made such statements: “he told me that he worked for Shell, was paid by Shell and that Shell actively supported his task force by buying vehicles and other material for them”.323 Ledum Mitee, the current chairman of MOSOP, has also confirmed the representation of his discussions with Okuntimo by The Sunday Times:
“Okuntimo told us about Shell and how much he worked for them, that they had paid him money for all that he had done, because it benefited him. Shell still owed him money, for his work”. 324
242. Other witnesses in the American Kiobel case also testified that Okuntimo personally entrusted them to receive payments from Shell.325
243. In addition, various Ogoni who had been arrested during Operation Restore Order testified in the American Kiobel case that, before they were released by the RSISTF, they had to sign a statement that they would no longer protest against Shell.326 Dumle Kunenu, one of the claimants in the American Kiobel case, said for example:
“After then, they give me a document that I should sign if only I want to be released. That was under duress. The content of the document was that I should not protest against Shell again. And Okuntimo that very day he told me that didn’t I know that Shell and the government are partners. Didn’t I know they are the same. So that if I want to have my peace, I should not ever again demonstrate against Shell because if I do, he will kill me”327
244. This also underlines the extent to which the military operation in Ogoniland was geared towards breaking the resistance against the return of Shell, something which various witnesses say Okuntimo had himself repeatedly stated.328
245. As follows from the testimony of Ukpong, the fact that Okuntimo felt that he was working for Shell is illustrated by the fact that he asked George Ukpong whether Shell could hire him after he finished his work for the RSISTF.329
312 E.g. Tony Idigma has declared that he heard Okuntimo state that “it was Shell Oil Company that brought them into Ogoni”, Public Deposition Tony Idigma, vol. I, 24 July 2003 (exhibit 29), pp. 167-168.
313 Public Deposition Boniface Ejiogu, vol. II, 23 May 2004 (exhibit 25), pp. 162-182, 193-203, 213-217; Public Deposition Boniface Ejiogu, vol. I, 22 May 2004 (exhibit 24), pp. 35-46, 96-105; For Ukpong’s role see also chapters 8.3-8.6. The payments were in cash, which was regular in Nigeria, as is also apparent from the statement of Shell’s security manager Osunde, Public Deposition Osazee Osunde, 22 October 2003 (exhibit 53), pp. 155-166.
314 Public Deposition Boniface Ejiogu, vol. I, 22 May 2004 (exhibit 24), pp. 15-19, 25-28, 32-34, 49; Ejiogu provides a very detailed description of Ukpong’s workroom and the Industrial Area, Public Deposition Boniface Ejiogu, vol. II, 23 May 2004 (exhibit 25), pp. 162-182.
315 Public Deposition Boniface Ejiogu, vol. I, 22 May 2004 (exhibit 24), pp. 28-29, 34, 46-47, 49-53, 72-75, 105- 107. According to Ejiogu, Ukpong also asked the RSISTF to intervene in Shell’s Industrial Area, see pp. 26-28.
316 Public Deposition Raphael Kponee, 26 May 2004 (exhibit 39), p. 12, 22-24. He admitted Okuntimo into the Shell Industrial Area and saw bags of money being lifted into his car.
317 Public Deposition Osazee Osunde, 22 October 2003 (exhibit 53), p. 179-180.
318 Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 38.
319 Frank Kane, Steven Haynes, Christina Lamb, “Shell axes ‘corrupt’ Nigeria staff”, The Sunday Times, 17 December 1995 (exhibit 255).
321 Exhibit 23: Declaration Oronto Douglas, 4 February 2009, paras. 19-24; exhibit 52: Declaration Uche Onyeagucha, 15 June 2017; For instance, with a hundred lashes with an electric cable, see also Birnbaum (exhibit 225), pp. 44-45.
322 Declaration Oronto Douglas, 4 February 2009 (exhibit 23), para. 23.
323 Declaration Uche Onyeagucha, 15 June 2017 (exhibit 52).
324 Declaration Ledum Mitee, 2 May 2017 (exhibit 41), para. 10.
325 Public Deposition Nathan Neebani, 13 mei 2004 (exhibit 43) pp. 188-189: “[Okuntimo is] always like he’s complaining that they’re not giving him what he want, that he’s doing a dirty job for them”; Public Deposition Owens Wiwa vol. II, 24 mei 2004 (exhibit 63), pp. 354, 386-387; Public Deposition Tony Idigma, vol. I, 24 juli 2003 (exhibit 29), p. 171; See also: Human Rights Watch 1995, (exhibit 222) p. 38; Birnbaum (exhibit 225), p. 45, appendices 5 en 5A, pp. 92-94.
326 Public Deposition Israel Nwidor, 24 September 2003 (exhibit 47), pp. 199-200; Public Deposition Victor B. Wifa, 2 April 2004 (exhibit 61), pp. 131, 133-135; Public Deposition Legbara Tony Idigma, 24 July 2003 (exhibit 29), p. 70; Public Deposition Nathan Neebani, 13 May 2004 (exhibit 43), p. 133.
327 Exhibit 40: Public Deposition Dumle J. Kunenu, 14 May 2004, p. 18.
328 Public Deposition Blessing Israel, 28 May 2004 (exhibit 33), pp. 24-31; Public deposition Israel Nwidor, 24 September 2003 (exhibit 47), p. 72: “When Okuntimo arrested Mr Nwidor on the 25th of May 1994, Okuntimo said: ‘we have got those ones who have been working against Shell’”; Public Deposition Bishop John Miller, vol. I, 25 July 2003 (exhibit 35), pp. 80-83; Human Rights Watch 1995 (exhibit 222), p. 38.
329 Public Deposition Ukpong, vol. I, 23 oktober 2003 (exhibit 57), pp. 20-21.
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.
FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE WRIT
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.