Drilling and Killing
by Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill
The Nation magazine, November 16, 1998
We're more likely to see other companies as collaborators
rather than adversaries.... We aren't so much competing with each
other as we are competing with the earth. And maybe that s a healthy
way to look at it. -George Kirkland Chairman & managing director,
Chevron Nigeria Limited
The Niger Delta is on fire. The explosion of a gas pipeline
in Nigeria's oil-producing region in October killed more than
700 people. It is also fueling the rage of millions in the delta
who want an end to the pollution caused by the oil companies and
compensation for their oil-rich land. A third of the country's
oil production has been shut down by unprecedented acts of resistance,
infuriating transnational oil corporations and their Nigerian
military business partners.
Three years after Ken Saro-Wiwa's execution for exposing the
relationship between Shell and the regime, it has come to light
that US oil giant Chevron played a major role in the killing of
two delta activists earlier this year. The corporation facilitated
an attack by the feared Nigerian Navy and notorious Mobile Police
on a group of people from a delta village called Ilajeland who
had occupied one of Chevron's offshore drilling facilities. Among
their demands: clean drinking water, electricity, environmental
reparations, employment and scholarships for young people.
On May 28, after occupying the facility for three days, villagers
thought they were waiting for Chevron's final response to their
demands when helicopters swooped down. "We were looking at
these helicopters thinking...people inside these helicopters might
have been Chevron's reps who are actually coming to dialogue,"
said one of the activists, known as Parrere. "They were about
to land when we heard shooting of tear gas and guns." The
Nigerian military shot to death two protesters, Jola Ogungbeje
and Aroleka Irowaninu, critically wounded a third man, Larry Bowato,
and injured as many as thirty others. Bowato says, "When
they shot these guys, I was rushing there to rescue [them]...it
is then they shot me."
Responding to inquiries from Human Rights Watch in London
following the attack, Chevron consistently claimed it; action
against the occupation was to call the federal authorities and
tell them what was happening. But in a startling admission during
a recent three-hour interview with Pacifica Radio's daily national
newsmagazine Democracy Now! Chevron spokesperson Sola Omole admitted
that the company had in fact transported the Nigerian soldiers
to the facility.
Q: Who took them in, on Thursday morning, the Mobile Police,
Omole: We did. We did. Chevron did. We took them there.
Q: By how?
Omole: Helicopters. Yes, we took them in.
Q: Who authorized the call for the military to come in?
Omole: That's Chevron's management.
Following the interview conducted in Nigeria, Pacifica requested
further comment from Chevron's headquarters in San Francisco.
Michael Libbey, the company's manager of media relations, wrote
the network a letter stating that Sola Omole's comments "fully
represent the views of both our Nigerian business unit and of
Chevron's acting head of security in Nigeria, James Neku,
admitted he flew in with the military the day of the attack. He
further revealed that the naval attack force included members
of the Mobile Police, known as the "Kill 'n' Go." Niger
Delta environmental lawyer Oronto Douglas says, "The Kill
'n' Go shoot without question, they kill, they maim, they rape,
they destroy." Douglas was one of the lawyers for Ken Saro-Wiwa,
who exposed the brutal record of the Kill 'n' Go in Ogoniland.
Chevron spokesperson Omole concedes that the villagers were
unarmed. "I cannot say they came armed," he said. "There
was talk of local charms and all that, but that's neither here
nor there." Pushed further on whether the protesters came
on board with weapons, his answer was "No."
Chevron contends that when the helicopters landed on a barge
at the facility, the soldiers got out and issued a warning. Villagers
say there was no warning, that the soldiers simply started shooting.
After the shooting incident, eleven activists were held in a barge
shipping container for hours and then jailed for three weeks.
Bola Oyinbo says that during his imprisonment he was handcuffed
and hung from a ceiling-fan hook for hours for refusing to sign
a statement written by Nigerian authorities that stated the protesters
had destroyed a helicopter.
Among the villagers, it is a fact of life that the Nigerian
military serves as a hired gun for the transnational oil companies
in the delta. But most oil companies do not want to admit this.
When asked who paid the military, Chevron spokesperson Omole said'
"Those guys were working for the contractor; I guess you
have to ask the contractor that." But Bill Spencer, area
manager of ETPM, the company that leased the barge to Chevron,
said this was not true. "They were not ours. They were paid.
They were supplied by Chevron all of them. Everybody that was
Following the broadcast of the Pacifica program, US Chevron
spokesman Libbey described Spencer's comments as "ambiguous"
and said, "We categorically deny we paid a dime to any law-enforcement-agency
The Berkeley-based corporate watchdog Project Underground
a campaign against Chevron, its San Francisco neighbor Oronto
Douglas, the Niger Delta lawyer, says he is continuing filing
a lawsuit in the United States against Chevron on behalf of the
victims of the attack. "It is very clear that Chevron, like
Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities,"
he says. "They drill, and they kill."
In addition to his legal work, Douglas is founder of Chicoco,
a pan-Delta resistance movement calling on Washington to impose
an oil embargo on the Nigerian regime. The United States buys
nearly half of all Nigeria's oil and has its own corporate -government
alliance. As Steve Lauterbach, the spokesperson for the US Embassy
in Nigeria, says, it is the policy of the embassy to support American
companies and their operations abroad."
Ultimately, Oronto Douglas wants the transnational oil companies
out, and an end to forty years of support for the world's greatest
Corporations & the Third World