Shell co-opted Nigerian military

by Daniel Tencer, June 13, 2009



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 Times:

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.

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