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Ken Saro-Wiwa Remembered
Oil Conflict Continues

editorial - SchNEWS,  11 November 2005

"The announcement of an oil discovery in any territory is comparable to the declaration of war against the territory. Oil destroys the environment, contaminates water and air, and it also contaminates the social structure, destroys forests, destroys life and livelihoods and holds nothing sacred." - Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Oilwatch Africa.

November 10th will be the tenth anniversary of the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni tribesmen. They were framed and executed by the Nigerian military government for campaigning against the devastation of their homeland by oil giants Shell-BP (see SchNEWS 49, 282, 453). Behind the scenes, Shell-BP were running the whole grisly show. They orchestrated and financed the campaign of terror, slaughter and human and ecological exploitation that ended Saro-Wiwa's life and thousands of others.

Of course corporations like Shell always hold their hands up when asked and say "it's nothing to do with us." Saro Wiwa's son Ken sees things differently, "As far as I am concerned, they encouraged the military Internal Security Task Force to violate the human rights of the people. All that was done was to enable oil production to resume...OK, they didn't tie the noose around my father's neck, but without Shell's intervention and encouragement of the military government it would never have happened."

Ogoniland is in the eastern part of the Niger Delta. Half a million Ogoni tribespeople live there. Shell-BP, operating under the protection of the ex-colonial power Great Britain, found oil there in 1956 and have robbed £100 billion of black gold from the region. The Ogoni got nothing but the utter ruination of their lands and livelihoods. The money was split between the corrupt Nigerian elite and the corrupt Corporate elite. The Ogoni continue to live in abject poverty, with many villages lacking clean water, electricity, schools or basic health care.

Saro-Wiwa became a leader and spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was a world-famous poet, teacher and writer. In one statement he said that, "The results of such unchecked environmental pollution and degradation include the complete destruction of the ecosystem... All one sees and feels around is death. Environmental degradation has been a lethal weapon in the war against the indigenous Ogoni people." MOSOP tried to stop the ecological destruction that Shell was wreaking and to secure a greater (or any) share of the oil wealth that was being drilled from under their land. In 1993, 300,000 Ogoni united to protest against their lands being destroyed by Shell's relentless thirst for oil. By mass direct action MOSOP shut down Shell's extraction facilities. They have never been reopened. Next year there was a violent backlash from the Nigerian military. 2,000 Ogoni were killed, some 30,000 made homeless, countless others tortured and raped. Shell claim that they are unconnected to this repression, but have confessed to paying the military twice for going to specific villages where they terrorised and killed Ogonis.


Despite the cessation of drilling, Ogoni land is still criss-crossed with leaky pipelines and flow stations. Toxic flares and spills are commonplace. Shell avoid responsibility and make little effort to repair damage. In corporate nu-speak these outrages are known as 'externalities' because its someone else's job to sort it out. Shell top bod, Lord Oxborough reckons, "the locals appreciate the flares as a heat source to dry their fish." Every cloud has a silver lining in corporate responsibility world!

Lieutenant Colonel Okuntimo, the leader of the notorious 'Internal Security' force that occupied Ogoniland said, in a classified memo, "Shell operations are still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence." The Ogoni people's oppression comes from their countrymen, the product of post-colonial ethnic divisions and cultural clashes. But like any smart colonialist, Shell have been hovering over the carnage, playing divide and rule, arming, paying and egging on the killers, in order to make staggering profits. A leaked report written by Shell consultants WAC in December 2003 stated that Shell was part of the problem, and that the way the company operates "creates, feeds into, or exacerbates conflict".

In 1996, Shell splashed out £20 million on PR, hoping to greenwash their way out of the stink that had risen all around them. They began producing reports on how much they have spent on community resources in the Delta, but in truth, the compensation for ruined lands and lives has been rare and token.

A new Amnesty International report has revealed that the people of Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta continue to face death and devastation at the hands of security forces. In particular, those who protest the actions of Chevron, Shell or their subcontractors, getting in the way of profits, risk collective punishment by the 'security' goons they employ.

One vigilante group, employed by a subcontractor of Shell Nigeria, killed 12 people in a dispute over an oil contract. In response, in Feb 2005 the army went in to the town of Odioma and killed at least 17 people, raped 2 women and razed 80 per cent of the homes there. They claimed to be looking for the gang of criminals that Shell had armed and employed.

cracks in the shell

Resistance continues. Cutting into Shell's production by 10,000 barrels per day, hundreds of angry Nigerian villagers have shut down an oil-pump and pipeline. The protesters are demanding compensation for a 2003 oil spill and fire that damaged more than 500 hectares on the Niger Delta. In another part of Nigeria, the Ijaw people are threatening to blockade plants and dismantle pipelines if they are not compensated for a 1998 oil spill. Meanwhile, two cases in U.S. courts are putting Chevron on the spot for attacking Delta villages in retaliation for protests.

Why all the aggro? The Niger Delta is the world's tenth largest producer of oil, but this perhaps understates its strategic importance. Its reserves (estimated at 35 billion barrels) are largely composed of the 'light', 'sweet' crude highly prized by the West. The gas-guzzling US of A currently imports 10% of its domestic oil supply from the Nigerian Delta and wants to up that to 15%. The Delta is only three weeks shipping time from the US as compared to eight from Saudi Arabia.

And Uncle Sam isn't taking any chances of the flow being cut off. US naval ships are a regular presence in the Gulf and military aid to the Nigerian government increases. Plans are afoot to construct a 'forward operative location' on the island of Sao Tomé, strategically situated in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea. This ex-Portuguese colony, which suffered all the usual imperialist ravages now looks set to become like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, a base for projection of US power into the region. A useful remedy for uppity locals. The UK has got its grubby mitts in there as well: spending £400,000 on a military training centre for training 'peacekeepers' - Nothing to do with securing supplies of energy in the face of the dwindling supply of North Sea Oil then?

* Recommended reading - "The Next Gulf" by Rowell, Marriott & Stockman

- SchNEWS  (11th November 2005)

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revised 29 December 2005