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Extract from pages 7 & 8 of an Amnesty International document headed: “A CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE? SHELL’S INVOLVEMENT IN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN NIGERIA IN THE 1990s”

Under Executive Summary.



In January 1993, Shell withdrew from Ogoniland citing security concerns for its staff. These concerns had some basis: Shell staff had been subjected to intimidation and physical attacks on several occasions. Shell sought to blame these attacks on MOSOP, but MOSOP and Ken Saro-Wiwa had always underlined the peaceful nature of the movement and had actively tried to stop those in the community who engaged in violence.

Despite announcing its withdrawal from Ogoniland, and knowing that the Ogoni people no longer wanted them to be there, Shell decided that its contractors should continue to lay a new pipeline through the area. Although the company was well aware that there was a high risk that the security forces would respond to community protests with excessive and possibly lethal force, Shell requested the army to hold off protestors who tried to block the work. On 30 April 1993, at Biara village, troops guarding Shell’s contractors opened fire on protestors, injuring 11 of them. Several days later, at Nonwa, soldiers shot at protestors again, killing one man. There is no evidence that the armed forces had come under attack from the community or that their use of force was in any way proportional or justified.

Starting in mid-1993, the security forces incited and participated in a series of violent attacks on the Ogoni that the government sought, ultimately unsuccessfully, to blame on inter-communal tensions. An official report, published in 2002, found that these attacks resulted in the death of about 1,000 people, destroyed ten villages, and made 30,000 people homeless. Survivors told reporters that some of the attackers wore army uniforms and used automatic weapons and grenades. Many people were extra-judicially executed while others died as a result of the arbitrary use of lethal force. In 1996, Human Rights Watch interviewed two soldiers who said they had taken part in an attack.

Following these attacks, Shell tried to return to Ogoniland in October 1993, to inspect its oil production sites – and brought with it a Nigerian army escort. Given the events at Biara and Nonwa, as well as the highly publicised attacks that had devastated the Ogoni, this move was reckless and incendiary. Protests broke out again at Korokoro village. There are conflicting accounts of how the clash started, but troops opened fire, killing another man.

Soon afterwards, in November 1993 the defence minister General Sani Abacha seized power in a coup. Abacha banned all political activity, replaced civilian governors with military administrators, and jailed and executed opponents. Abacha’s government established the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force (ISTF), to “restore and maintain law and order in Ogoniland.” One of the ISTF’s objectives was to ensure that “those carrying out business activities… are not molested.” Shell and its sub-contractors were the only significant business actors in Ogoniland at the time. This implied that, from the start, a primary goal of the ISTF was to allow Shell, the largest corporate actor in Ogoniland, to resume operations.

On 12 May 1994, the ISTF commander Major Paul Okuntimo outlined his plans in a confidential memo which was later obtained by MOSOP and released to the media. In it, Okuntimo stated that:

“Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.”

Amnesty International has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the memo, and Shell has questioned whether it was genuine. Nevertheless, days after the memo was released, the crisis in Ogoniland worsened.

On 21 May 1994, MOSOP leaders, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were accused of involvement in the murder of four prominent traditional leaders, and detained by the ISTF. They were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in whilst in detention. Meanwhile, the ISTF launched raids on Ogoni villages. They carried out numerous extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, raped women and girls and detained and tortured many people. The ISTF commander went on television and publically admitted to some of the Force’s tactics:

“The first three days of the operation, I operated in the night. Nobody knew where I was coming from. What I will just do is that I will just take some detachments of soldiers, they will just stay at four corners of the town. They … have automatic rifle[s] that sound death. If you hear the sound you will freeze.”

It is not known how many people died during these attacks before they started becoming less intense by the end of August 1994. According to an Amnesty International report released on 24 June 1994 some 30 villages had been attacked and “more than 50 members of the Ogoni ethnic group are reported to have been extra-judicially executed.” In July that year, the Dutch ambassador told Shell that the army had killed some 800 Ogonis.


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