Shell co-opted Nigerian military
by Daniel Tencer
http://rawstory.com/, June 13,
In its efforts to contain protests over
its environmentally devastating operations in Nigeria, Shell Oil
systematically co-opted the country's military to suppress opposition
to its operations, claims the UK's Independent on Sunday.
In documents related to a recently-settled
lawsuit over the persecution of Ogoni tribesmen in the 1990s -
who had suffered disproportionately the effects of Shell's oil
exploration - the Anglo-Dutch oil giant is seen as having "helped
to provide Nigerian police and military with logistical support,
and aided security sweeps of the oil-rich Niger Delta."
Perhaps hoping to pre-empt the release
of these embarrassing documents, last week Shell agreed to settle
the lawsuit - brought by the families of persecuted activists
- for $15.5 million.
From The Independent on Sunday:
One of the allegations was that Shell
was complicit in the regime's execution of civilians. The Anglo-Dutch
firm denies any wrongdoing and said it settled [the lawsuit] to
help "reconciliation." But the documents contain detailed
allegations of the extent to which Shell is said to have co-opted
the Nigerian military to protect its interests.
In one document written in May 1993, the
oil company wrote to the local governor asking for the "usual
assistance" as the Ogoni expanded their campaign Days later,
Shell met the director general of the state security services
to "reiterate our request for support from the army and police."
In a confidential note Shell suggested: "We will have to
encourage follow-through into real action preferably on an industry
rather than just Shell basis."
That Shell was so actively involved in
the violent suppression of the Ogoni people comes as no surprise
to environmental and social justice activists, who have alleged
misdeeds by Shell in Nigeria for decades. But the documents obtained
by The Independent, if accurate, would provide a historical record
of the situation for the first time.
Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were
the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian social and political activist
who was executed by the Nigerian government, along with eight
others, in 1995, in what was largely considered a sham trial.
In the years since, Saro-Wiwa has become the public face of opposition
to Shell's Nigerian operations, in particular, and socially harmful
behavior by Western companies in third world countries, in general.
From an editorial in Saturday's Los Angeles
Oil production in Ogoniland started in
the 1950s, and what followed is a now predictable pattern in many
oil-producing countries: Corrupt government officials enriched
themselves; the local population was marginalized politically,
and their ancestral land suffered enormous environmental damage.
Led by Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni demanded an end to oil spills and
to the clearing of mangrove forests to make way for Shell pipelines,
as well as a share of oil revenues. The government responded by
burning villages and raping and murdering residents, according
to human rights groups. Saro-Wiwa was arrested, tried in secret
and, along with eight other Ogoni leaders, hanged.
Owens Saro-Wiwa was ready to tell how,
hoping to save his brother Ken's life, he met with a Shell executive
who told him that it would be "difficult but not impossible"
- as long as the campaign against the company was halted. Shell
acknowledged the meetings but says no such bargaining was attempted.
The Times goes on to say that the oil
company's payout "will be the best $15.5 million Shell ever
spent. If the company forfeits the opportunity to be fully exonerated,
it also averts damning testimony."
Unfortunately for Shell, the release of
these documents now makes that aversion unlikely.