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DUTCH FD: Esther Kiobel continues to fight for her hanged husband

Barinem was hanged in November 1995. He had spoken out against the enormous pollution of Ogoniland, an area in southeastern Nigeria where Shell won oil. Eight others were hanged with him, including writer Ken Saro Wiwa. They were called the Ogoni 9.

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch FT, Financieele Dagblad.

Nigerian Esther Kiobel (center) and Victoria Bera (right) with their lawyer Channa Samkalden for the verdict at the court in The Hague. Photo: Bart Hoogveld for the FD

Carel Grol

Esther Kiobel is a combative grandmother. And happy, too. In fact, she feels “great” in the wide and high corridor on the second floor of the palace of justice in The Hague.

She has just heard that the Dutch court is handling her case. The trial that she and three other ladies, all widowed, filed against Shell. It is an intermediate step in her search for justice that has been going on for more than two decades and takes place on three continents.

Partly responsible

Because Shell is co-responsible for the murder of her husband, Barinem Kiobel, says Esther – a robust lady of 55, with short hair and rectangular glasses. Barinem was hanged in November 1995. He had spoken out against the enormous pollution of Ogoniland, an area in southeastern Nigeria where Shell won oil.

Eight others were hanged with him, including writer Ken Saro Wiwa. They were called the Ogoni 9. The executions have always been controversial: politically motivated, unfair trial in a separate tribunal, a rush job without hard evidence, says Amnesty International, among others.


Barinem Kiobel is the father of Esther’s four children: the images that exist of him are just before the internet age. A couple of photos.

Portrait of a young man with a serious look from under a black bowler hat.

Barinem Kiobel visiting a Shell factory in the Niger Delta. Date unknown.

A photo of a gently smiling Barinem with a Shell helmet while wearing a blue sweater from the University of Strathclyde, the Scottish university where he obtained his PhD in the late 1980s.

Hung up

And there is still a picture of him during the 1995 trial. In Nigeria, there is chaos at the time, with the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha. Barinem sits in a traditional light blue robe in the dock. He tells the judge that his family is being harassed. “Can’t the tribunal look at that?” He says on the jerky images

Barinem, in the words of Esther “hard-working, god-fearing and selfless,” will be hung not much later. Afterwards buried in an unknown grave in Port Harcourt, an unsightly, busy oil town, adjacent to the heavily polluted Niger Delta.


That was more than twenty years ago. In 2002, Esther Kiobel, in the US, challenges Shell for the death of her husband. After eleven years, the US Supreme Court rules that it has no jurisdiction to judge its claims.

That is why she starts a lawsuit in the Netherlands in 2017. “Over the years, Shell has been constantly fighting to ensure that this case is not being dealt with in court. They have the means to fight against me, instead of doing justice to my husband, “said Esther Kiobel in February.

Not barred

Wednesday the court says it has jurisdiction to handle the case. For Esther, that feels like a major victory. And the case is not barred, something that Shell claimed. The company must submit confidential documents to the widows.

Furthermore, the case now focuses on eight witnesses. Employees of a Nigerian Shell company are said to have been bribed. They influenced the judicial process in the mid-1990s. And thus played an important role in the final execution of the nine men.


At least, the widows claim that. The judge says: the widows must provide evidence for the bribe.

Esther Kiobel is confident, she says after the verdict in the corridor. “We have a pile of evidence. And we are ready to deliver that. Don’t worry. ”


The death of her husband is a breaking point in her existence. Before that she had a catering company in Nigeria. When her husband was arrested, she lost customers. “It was suddenly whispered that I would be poisoning people.”

After Barinem was hanged, Esther fled. With her family, and three more children of a deceased sister-in-law. First to Benin, a neighboring country of Nigeria. She felt unsafe there too. With the help of Amnesty, she came to the US.


She had to retrain herself. Now she works in healthcare. Usually as a night nurse. Alone, in the US, with a series of jobs to support her family, it was a struggle. “I was driving a car with tears in my eyes. I’ve seen it. ”

Now it’s better. The children are adults, she has two grandchildren and the court has taken the case. “I feel good about today.”

Her ultimate goal: to clear her husband’s name. “They killed him like he’s a criminal. He wasn’t. ”


Not responsible ‘

Ten years ago Shell settled in the US for more than $ 15 million with a number of relatives of the hanged Nigerians, including Ken Saro Wiwa. The settlement did not apply to the four widows who argued their case in The Hague today. Shell has always labelled their complaint as “inaccurate and unfounded.” That is also what Shell says in a response to the court’s interim judgment. The company denies that there has been bribery. “We believe the evidence clearly demonstrates that Shell is not responsible for these sad events.”

Silent diplomacy

The four widows, Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, say that Shell and his Nigerian operating company were well aware of the nine-man trial, which is often described as a sham trial. Shell should have ruled against this, the foursome says. Shell opted for silent diplomacy and also applied for leniency, the judge said: “Shell has tried informally to exert influence. the court says. The widows who filed the lawsuit claimed that Shell, in prelude to the 1994 unrest, cooperated with the Nigerian government. The two parties used excessive force. The claim is “too general in nature,” the Dutch court stated.


“We have a pile of evidence. And we are ready to deliver that. ”• Esther Kiobel about the bribery of Shell employees


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