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to judge the effects of any embargo, and suggested that protesters are using the issue to raise their public profile rather than debate the issue of Nigeria. “You have to be clear who would be hurt,” Dick van der Broek, Shell’s International Director, told Oil and Gas Journal. “The people of the Niger Delta would certainly sufferthe thousands who will work on the project and the thousands more who will benefit in the local economy.” But Professor Ihonvbere suggests that the Ogoni people might be better judges of who is “hurt” by Shell’s operations in Nigeria. He described the government and industry activities in Ogoniland as “basi cally the invasion of a defenseless community, the destruction of land and marine life, the very brutal exploitation of a defenseless people, the hanging of their leaders, the suffocation of the civil society, and the destruction of the democratic process by the Nigerian government, aided by Shell.” INTERVIEW Julius Ihonvbere on Nigeria Before he joined the University of Texas government faculty in 1991, Julius Ihonvbere taught at the University of Toronto, and in Nigeria, at the University of Port Harcourt, where he was chairman of the Political Science Department, and the University of Ife, where he also served as the chair of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. His activities in the ASUU attracted the attention of the Nigerian government, and after a nation-wide strike was called to protest an attempt by the military to destroy the university system, Ihonvbere was constantly harassed by the Nigerian government. In a 1990 article in African Rights Monitor, Ihonvbere described his life after the 1988 strike: a series of frequent arrests, detentions, harassments and passport seizures. He fled Nigeria after his home was put under surveillance and he was advised that his case had been dis cussed by the State Securities Committee. At Port Harcourt, Ihonvbere came to know fellow Nigerian Ken Saro-Wiwa. “It was impossible for a permanent activist, especially in the River State of Nigeria, not to come across him,” Ihonvbere said. While at Port Harcourt, Ihonvbere invited Saro-Wiwa, the writer/activist whose execution by the Nigerian government in November stunned international political leaders and human rights activists, to speak at various university functions. Beyond the university, Ihonvbere and SaroWiwa were both members of the Campaign for Democracy, an umbrella group that included a number of Nigerian human rights organizations. Ihonvbere was interviewed at his U.T. office on December 27; edited excerpts follow. L.D . Could you provide a brief description of the [Sani] Abacha government? It came to power on November 17, 1993, in a military coup which filled a vacuum be cause the courts had just ruled that the interim government, which had been put in place by the previous dictator, general Ibrahim Babangida, was illegal….On coming to power, [Abacha] proceeded to dismantle democratic institutions, dismantle the political parties, and intimidate civil society to the maximum. Media houses were closed, people were detained without charge, unions were banned, the Bar Association was attacked and today is still being run by an appointed committee. who would not operate through rational discussions and dialogue. And this is the government that Ken SaroWiwa confronted. He clearly knew what his opposition was. Do you have a sense that he knew what his fate might be? He knew. He knew. Ken knew he could lose his life and I think he was prepared for that. You see, one has to go to Ogoniland and see the people. See the communities. And know how much money has been taken from this society, to ap preciate why an elite [person] from that community would have been prepared to lay down his life for his own people. Ken had been in power. If making money had been his objective, he had the opportunity to be a multi-billionaire. In the civil Shell was in a position to stop the killing. This was a government that depends eighty-five to ninety percent on oil revenues. war period, he did not support Could this have been anticipated? Biafra. The federal government appointed Yes… [Abacha] was the number-two person him a minister of that region. After the in the eight-year dictatorship of Ibrahim River State was created, he was the Babangida, which was one of the most viyoungest commissioner in that state \(1967 , several posihas ever had. He was there when people tions….So, I would say deep down in him, were executed for attempting a coup, or Ken Saro-Wiwa was quite aware that he [for] not carrying out a coup. He was there was playing with a very vicious dictatorwhen schools were closed. He was there ship. And it was one that did not believe when universities and the faculty were proeven in global opinion. Clinton issued a scribed. He was there when politicians statement appealing to these guys, to were bribed. He was there when the elecAbacha, to commute the sentences. They tion was annulled. He never opposed any were not even asked to set them free. Cornof these issues. So it was easy to predict mute the sentences. Everybody appealed to what he would do. In fact, in his coup him. Mandela did, Mugabe did. Many broadcast, which was the shortest in NigeAfrican leaders did the same thing. World ria’s coup broadcast historyand we’ve leaders: Japan, you name it, Australia, New had manyhe simply said, “Any person Zealand. But he told them all to go to hell. who wants to test our will is welcome to try it.” He had no message. He appointed to his Since this government will not respond to cabinet discredited politicians, including pressure from other governments, is it fair ex-convicts, people who had been to jail to expect that Shell could have changed the for corruption…. So, I think the picture was course of events in the months prior to the clear. This was going to be someone who executions? would be anti-intellectual, would be anti Oh, definitely. Definitely. Shell was in a democracy, would be anti-civil-society position to stop the killing. This was a gov THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9