Shell’ s Oil, Africk s Blood The Execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa Highlights a Multi-National’ s Policy of Exploitation BY RON NIXON AND MICHAEL KING SHORTLY BEFORE THE Nigerian government executed activist-writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists last November 10 for the alleged murders of members of a rival activist group, Saro-Wiwa’s supporters from around the world called on Shell Oil to intervene. The Royal Dutch/Shell Group, the multi-national oil company whose U.S. subsidiary, Shell Oil Company, is headquartered in Houston, had been the object of protest by Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for its drilling activities in the Nigeria Delta region, home of the Ogoni people. Supporters of Saro-Wiwa and his allies believed that intervention from the oil company would help to win a stay of execution. Despite the international pleas, however, Shell declined to act. In a written statement prior to the executions, Shell explained its position: “We made it clear…that the trials of Saro-Wiwa and the others were for murder, which is a criminal matter,” Shell said. “They were not in court for their protest against Shell. Our position has always been that a private company has no right to involve itself in the criminal proceedings of a court.” According to the New York Times, only when the hangings were imminent did Shell’s chairman write to Nigeria’s rulers, asking for clemency. Yet despite Shell’s insistence that it does not intervene “in the legal processes of a sovereign state,” internal documents uncovered by journalists and human rights groups show that Shell was more than a passive player in the political affairs of Nigeria and in the death of Saro-Wiwa. According to David Wheeler in the November issue of the British magazine the New Statesman and Society, in a March 1995 meeting between Shell and the Nigeria High Commission, Shell’s director of public affairs reportedly gave the Nigerians advice on how to counter the “vicious campaign…to discredit Shell and Nigeria.” And according to a report by Andy Rowell in the Village Voice Ron Nixon is director of the Investigative Action Fund of the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Southern Exposure magazine. Ken Saro -Wiwa ALAN POGUE is evidence that Shell has been bankrolling Nigerian military action against protesters for some time, and that two key prosecution witnesses were offered bribes by Shell to testify against Saro-Wiwa in his trial by a military tribunal. Shell has denied the charges. “Shell has very, very intimate links with the Nigerian government, particularly in the areas in which they operate,” said Mike Fleshman, of the New York-based human rights group The Africa Fund. Further evidence linking Shell to the Nigerian military and human rights abuses is a July 1995 report by Human Rights Watch, titled “The Ogoni Crisis: A Case-study of Military Repression in Southeastern Nigeria,” based on Shell internal documents and interviews with Shell officials and former Nigerian security force members. A letter cited in the report, from a division manager of Shell in the Ogoni region, illustrates the close relationship between the Nigerian security forces and the oil company. On October 29, 1990, following the first major demonstration against Shell by Ogoni activists, Shell’s division manager, J.R. Udofia, wrote to the local Commissioner of Police, requesting “security protection” in anticipation of an attack on Shell’s facilities. A day later, following a peaceful protest by Ogoni youth at the Shell plant, Udofia made an additional request to the military governor of the region. The next day, a mobile police force attacked demonstrators with teargas and gunfire, and a day afterwards, the police returned again. This time eighty people were killed, and four hundred and ninety-five houses were destroyed or badly damaged. A judicial commission established by the government later found no evidence of a threat from villagers. Yet Shell maintained its relationship with the security forces. On April 28, 1993, Willbros, a contractor for Shell working on the construction preparation for a pipeline, bulldozed freshly planted crops on farmland in the Ogoni village of Biara. When the Ogonis staged a protest, government troops were called in to quell the disturbance. Eleven people were injured when troops opened THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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