Nigeria’s Ogoni people are divided over Shell Oil’s agreement to pay $15.5 million as an out-of-court settlement rather than face a trial over accusations that it was complicit in rights abuses in the Niger Delta in the 1990s. The families of nine people executed in 1995—including famed writer writer Ken Saro-Wiwa—accused Shell of collaborating with the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha to silence the activists for protesting against the oil company’s environmental practices.
In 1995, after four years of protests in the Delta, the military regime rounded up many of the activists and detained them for months. Saro-Wiwa and his comrades were convicted of incitement to murder in the slaying of rivals in the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). The trial was internationally criticized as a farce undertaken with the complicity of Shell. The survivors brought suit against the company a year after the executions.
Shell announced the settlement with a statement entitled “Shell Settles Wiwa Case With Humanitarian Gesture,” saying it offered to settle the case by setting up a trust fund to benefit the Ogoni people. It added that “the plaintiffs have dismissed all claims made in the litigation against Shell Petroleum NV, Shell Transport and Trading Company and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited.”
Goodluck Diigbo, the newly elected president of MOSOP, described the arrangement as, “a symbolic breakthrough for Ogoni people. What has happened is also a signal that Shell is in for trouble, as it demonstrates that wherever its operations are, Shell is the same in all places and can be brought to justice anywhere.”
Ken Wiwa Jr. said the agreement “enables us draw a line under the past and actually face the future with something tangible, some hope that this is the beginning of a better engagement between all the stakeholders in this issue.”
But Celestine Akpobari, coordinator of Ogoni Social Forum, said: “This is not good at all. I’m very, very disappointed. The way the suit has turned out has denied thousands of Ogoni people the opportunity to get justice which they have been denied in Nigeria… What happens to the federal government which is the main accomplice to Shell? The struggle will continue.” (234Next, June 15; LAT, June 13; Radio Australia, June 9)
See our last post on the struggle in Nigeria.