Wiwa we’re with you
On the 26th of May a landmark case is coming to the US courts. It is the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa versus Shell.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was an environmental campaigner, activist and writer from Nigeria. His people, the Ogoni people, have been suffering at the hands of oil giant Shell for over 50 years. The ecologically diverse and bountiful Niger Delta has been transformed into a cesspit of leftovers and rotting lives, and we in the developing world played a big part in that. Why is this? Nigeria is sitting on oil fields which produce 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day.
This natural ‘bounty’ or black gold that Nigeria possesses has bought suffering to its people threefold:
1. An independent team of scientists deemed the Niger Delta as “one of the 10 most important ecosystems and wetlands in the world.” Millions of people in the surrounding area, including the Ogoni people, rely on the delta for their livelihoods and food, as well as those living in West Africa who depend on the migratory fish from the Delta. Of the 75 million people living around the Delta, about 75% are subsistence living and therefore rely on the Delta for their day to day survival.
2. Over the last 50 years roughly 1.5 million litres of oil has been spilt in the Niger Delta, resulting in the pollution of the water systems in the Delta. The spills adversely affect fish stocks, and pollute local water sources which locals use for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundering and fishing. The spills also release noxious gases into the air, which render some villages uninhabitable until they have cleared. For those who can’t afford to relocate, or are too physically incapacitated, they normally contract awful illnesses.
3. And lastly, but most importantly, the production of 2.4 million barrels of crude oil from the region every day, brings with it its price. To produce good quality crude oil you have to separate the associated gas from the oil as it comes out of the ground. Normally the gas would be channelled through pipes to be used as natural gas-itself a useful resource and one that is extensively around the world in electricity production and for heating. However, when they first started prospecting for oil in Nigeria in the 50’s Shell could not get permission from the Nigerian government to build these pipelines. Since then they claim to have been working with the Government to address this deficit in their planning. In the meantime (only about 50 years to date) the gas is burnt off to enable the crude oil to be produced. This is known as gas flaring. Literally, the gas is let out of a pipe and burnt off in a flurry of flames, for a controlled period time. Obviously, as the gas is on tap it can be switched on and off which means the fire doesn’t spread into the bush. Nevertheless, the flaring has ridiculously large adverse effects on the locality, and can in no way be justified. The flaring releases a cocktail of noxious gases into the atmosphere, the main one being carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming in a big way, but also many other gases which cause respiratory diseases in the people nearby. People living with flaring in their back garden complain of itchy skin, asthmas and bronchitis. The climate change argument is a scary one too; of all the gas that could be tapped, 70% isn’t-it is just unnecessarily burnt off, rendering it useless to anyone AND contributing hugely to climate change. And in the way of the vicious cycle, Africa is one of the countries already affected by climate change, so it’s a double whammy.
Well actually there are 4:
4. Considering Nigeria is in the worlds 15 poorest countries you’d be forgiven for thinking that they are lucky to have Shell there exporting their precious oil and getting them involved in globalisation. But there you would be very wrong. Firstly gas flaring is extremely wasteful: that gas could be piped and sold alongside the oil. But it’s calculated that Nigeria loses $2.5 million US every year to gas flaring. To me, that fact immediately shows Shell don’t care a damn about the Niger Delta and it’s people, if they did why would they let such a resource go to waste? Think how many hospitals, community centres and wells that could fund…..Normally Shell offers the local communities healthcare and water provision in exchange for the access to the sites, they play on the fact that a lot of rural, uneducated communities have no idea they are sitting on a gold mine, and can easily be persuaded by an offer of healthcare and clean water. (Fair enough really!) But once again, they get hit from both sides: their gold mine gets plundered and they don’t see either the financial or the infrastructural benefit of letting oil companies in. When will this ever stop?
So now that you are more informed about what is going on the Niger Delta, it’s time you found out about Ken Saro-Wiwa and his story.
To do justice to the reasoning and excitement behind this case is a hard thing indeed. With the extent of Shells abuses, that go back so far and involve so many people, I don’t want to numb you to these people’s stories, but here is a quick explanation, plus info on where to get a more detailed rundown of events.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was an author and poet, a local, an environmentalist and a campaigner. He led the Ogoni people into battle against Shell when the effects of their actions became apparent. He promoted peaceful, respectful and non violent protesting against Shell’s actions. One of the successes being a new year that marked the year of indigenous people where over 300,000 Ogoni people peacefully demonstrated against Shell. Leaked minutes of a Shell minute show they were becoming increasingly scared of the Ogoni people’s protest and what it might mean to their reputation, and also their precious oil:
“To keep each other more closely informed to ensure that movements of key players, what they say and to whom is more effectively monitored to avoid unpleasant surprises and adversely affect the reputation of the Group as a whole”.
By now military men had started to police protests, often with awful consequences. One woman only has half her left arm after she was shot at at a protest. There are numerous stories like this woman’s, due to the fact that the Nigerian Government and Shell were one. They acted in each others interests, neglecting that of the local people who would have to endure the decisions made behind closed doors. It was a case of kill a few here, intimidate a few there; you scratch mine and I’ll scratch yours. To unsettle the mass movement against Shell, the military gave reasons for local tribes to turn on one another, breaking up their united efforts, and breaking down the wall of opposition to Shell as they became preoccupied in their local feuds.
When a new military colonel, Okuntimo, came in to power in Nigeria, he ordered that order be restored in Ogoniland, and wrote a memo outlining further military (i.e Government) operations on behalf of Shell:
“Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence”
Nine days after the memo, four conservative Ogoni leaders were killed in Gokana, giving the military an excuse to “justify” a military presence, to undertake “wasting operations”. Apparently the killings of the Ogoni leaders were brutal. According to Human Rights Watch,
“These men were reportedly attacked by a mob and beaten and hacked to death, but the precise chain of events leading to the murders is a source of great controversy”.
The next day, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and several others were arrested in connection to the deaths, although not formally charged. Whilst Ken Saro-Wiwa was routinely tortured in prison, put in leg-irons, and denied access to family, friends, a lawyer and medication, the Internal Security Task Force, “ostensibly searching for those directly responsible for the killings”, started “deliberately terrorising the whole community, assaulting and beating indiscriminately”.
Over the next few months, hundreds of Ogoni were arrested, beaten, intimidated and killed. Many young girls, older women and pregnant women were raped. Thousands fled in terror into the bush as Okuntimo’s soldiers looted hundreds of villages destroying houses in a systematic campaign of terror to ‘sanitize Ogoni’. Colonel Okuntimo told a British environmentalist he detained that,
“he was doing it all for Shell … But he was not happy because the last time he had asked Shell to pay his men their out-station allowances he had been refused which was not the usual procedure”.
Straight from the horses mouth.
About eight months after being arrested in January 1995, Saro-Wiwa and the four other Ogoni men were finally charged with the murder of the four Ogoni leaders who were killed first. On the 19th of November 1995, Ken and his men were executed.
And just like that, Shell thought it had got rid. But this is where you come in, we have to make sure that the 8 brave men who died for this cause, do not die in vain. Join the awareness raising across the world, that tries to put the spotlight on Shell wherever possible, don’t believe all those glossy advertising they put out, someone has to pay a price somewhere……don’t they?
This is why the Shell v Wiwa case coming up on the 26th of May, in New York is HUGE. For the first time, Shell is going to be challenged on its efforts in quelling protestors, and in particular, funding, encouraging and committing 8 men to death for something they did not do. Go to Shellvwiwa.org for regular updates on how the case progresses.
For more information, and campaigns to join:
www.eraction.org (spell it correctly mind or I’ll be getting complaints!)
And then there are lots more videos/documentaries etc on YouTube, just type in any words surrounding the topic.