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Shell’s Nigerian Bribe Scandal

Shell’s Bribe Scandal: Article published by TEMPO newspaper, 2 Jan 1996 (Page 13)

Shell’s Bribe Scandal

Although for the past two months, Shell has been denying its involvement in the politics of the NIger Delta, through numerous press releases and briefing notes, all these were shattered last week, with the stories published in the British press about Shell’s complicity with the Nigerian military authorities. This is the story of how Shell paid millions of dollars in bribes and kickback to tribal chiefs, community leaders and the military in the troubled Ogoni region. 

It made headline news in most of the British newspapers last week. “SHELL BRIBED NIGERIA’s MILITARY screamed the Independent of London newspaper.

SHELL AXES CORRUPT Nigerian staff read the Sunday Times of London report written by its INSIGHT team. At the centre of the story is how Shell, the exploiter of Nigeria’s crude oil paid handsome amounts of money running into several hundreds of millions of Naira to top military officers in Nigeria to wast vocal environmentalists like Ken Saro-Wiwa and to help establish stability in its oil business by employing ruthless military operations.

According to the Sunday Times of London report, SHELL, the international oil giant, is planning a purge of executives in Nigeria following the discovery of a “black hole of corruption” involving the payment of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to tribal chiefs, community leaders and the military in the troubled Ogoni region.

An insight investigation has uncovered serious allegations of corruption against Shell Nigeria, including the claim that a senior army officer, accused of ordering the murder and torture of Ogoni dissidents was on Shell’s payroll.

Shell, the largest foreign oil company in Nigeria, has repeatedly denied any involvement in its politics. The company was heavily criticised for its role in the country after the execution last month of Ken Saro-Wiwaand eight other prominent Ogoni activists.

But documents from Shell, the military and government sources obtained indicate close relationship between local branches of the oil company yet General Sani Abacha’s brutal military regime.

The most damaging claim is that Shell officials paid Lieutenant Colonel Paul Okuntimo, who was responsible for crushing civil unrest in Ogoniland and an opposition to Shell’s presence. Okuntimo is accused of waging a campaign of murder, rape and torture throughout Ogoniland.

In a memo to the administrator of River State, Okuntimo urged “wasting operations coupled with psychological tactics of displacement” against Ogonis. He advised: “Shell operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.”

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. He later denied the comments.

The evidence against him is supported by a conversation between Okantimo and Nick Ashton Jones, a British environmentalist and Oronto Douglas, a Nigerian journalist in June last year. Ashton-Jones recalled, “he said he was doing a wonderful job for the government and he was disappointed that Shell has stopped paying him. He said that everything he was doing was for Shell. Douglas published his account of the meeting three days later, corroborating Ashton-Jones’s view.

Ledun Mittee, 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 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.

Brain Anderson, managing director of Shell Nigeria who has pledged to clean up the company’s operations, said of Okunttimo: “From what I hear of his recent past, he is a fairly brutal person. I’d like to know if we were involved with somebody like that, so we could stamp it out.”

A Shell report on its Nigerian operations, written by independent auditors, highlights the role played by Steve Lawson-Jack, head of Shell’s public and government affairs in the eastern region and the man cited by Mittee and others as the link with Okantimo.

Lawson-Jack, who has been on leave for six weeks, is held “culpable” by the auditors for his part in arranging a N1m (£80,000) compensation claim against the company for a bogus oil spill. Yesterday he denied any wrongdoing: ” I have no personal links with Okuntimo but my job sometimes involves meeting government personnel,” he said.

Anderson said he was considering Lawson-Jacks future. He said 20 Shell employees could be dismissed as a result of internal investigations. “It’s like a black hole of corruption, acting like a gravity that is pulling down all the time.”

The picture that emerges now is of a company that let whole sections of its operations run rampant. While Shell International cites a figure of £12.5m a year spent on community projects by its Nigerian subsidiary, much of this money ended up in the pockets of Shell officials, community leaders and military officers.

The role of Lawson gave me every opportunity to become a small millionaire,” said Saturday Kpakoi, an Ogoni community leader.

Kpakoi detailed how in 1990, as an unemployed teacher, he set up a pressure group called Council of Concerned Indigenes in order to try to cut a deal with Shell.

“We had a series of meetings with Lawson-Jack, detailing demands such as providing water to our college, equipping our health centre and providing us with scholarships. Then in 1990, we joined up with MOSOP (the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People) and stopped some Shell operations,” he said.

“Lawson-Jack called me to come and give me a contract form saying, why don’t you forget about these protests and join us. He offered to give me a contract for NIm to instal water pipes outside the village. He said would only cost N500,000 and we could split the difference.

Anderson insisted that Shell has not sought military or police protection for the worker since 1990.

But Precious Omuku, head of public relations for Shell in eastern Nigeria, admitted the company called for military protection in Ogoniland in 1990 and approved request from one of the company contractors to seek the protection of Okuntimo’s men for workers laying pipeline.

A memo from J. Udofia then Shell’s General Manager East, to the State Governor, makes a request for “the usual assistance” and restoring order – Omuku admits this in Ogoniland the inevitably led to the involvement of the military.

A spokesman for Shell in London said: “Shell Nigeria has not sanctioned any financial support to the military. If there is any evidence that it has happened, we will gladly look at it.”

The London Independent account showed that an official of the Internal State Security Task Force set up by Rivers State Government confirmed that his men have been paid by Shell to protect its installation.

The Independent which made the stunning revelations of Shell’s involvement in the raging issues of Ogoniland in its edition of l;ast Sunday also disclosed that secret documents by the Internal State Security Task Force marked “restricted” 12 times, said regular financial inputs was promised by other notable oil companies.

Other confidential documents indicate that Shell asked for armed “assistance” against local demonstrations. And a leading Nigerian accused the company of militarising commerce in this country.”

Shell admits asking for help from armed police but strenuously denies paying the military. it says there have been instances when the Nigerian authorities have “gone too far” and insists that it “does not wish to operate behind military’s shields.”

But the disclosures of the documents will greatly increase the international row that has followed the execution of the writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogoni activists last month, and will step up pressure on the multinational company to leave Nigeria.

The memorandum headed “Law and Order in Ogoni etc.” (see box) and dated 12 May, 1994 is to the Military Administrator of Rivers State from the Chairman of Internal Security, Majo Paul Okuntimo. It notes “Shell operations still impossible unless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.”

Under the heading “recommendations/strategies”, Major Okuntimo lists “wasting operations during MOSOP and other gatherings making constant military presence justifiable.”

He goes on to recommended “Wasting targets cutting across communities and leadership cadres especially vocal individuals” and “wasting operations coupled with psychological tactics of displacements/wasting as noted above.

Under the heading “financial implications (estimated/funding) the memorandum lists “pressure on oil companies for prompt regular inputs as discussed,” Major Okuntimo estimated that there would have to be an “initial disbursement of 50 million naira as advanced allowances to officers and men and for logistics to commence operations with immediate effect as agreed.”

Major Okuntimo’s secret memo making the rounds in Europe

Article ends

RELATED: The Sunday Times, ‘Shell Axes “Corrupt” Nigeria staff‘, 17 December 1995

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