The Independent on Sunday carries a disturbing report which raises questions over Shell Oil's involvement in human rights abuses in Nigeria. Confidential internal documents and court statements, seen by the newspaper revealed how the energy giant enlisted the help of the country's former military government to deal with protesters.
The documents support allegations that Shell helped to provide Nigerian police and military with logistical support, and aided security sweeps of the oil-rich Niger Delta. Earlier this month Shell agreed to pay $15.5m (£9.6m) in a "humanitarian settlement" on the eve of a highly embarrassing US lawsuit (It looks like Shell did see the writing on the wall and cut its losses before it faced a massive defeat in court...)
One of the allegations was that Shell was complicit in the regime's execution of civilians. The Anglo-Dutch firm denies any wrongdoing 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.
The legal settlement came 14 years after the Nigerian government hanged nine protesters, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, after a charade of a trial in 1995. Saro-Wiwa led a successful campaign against Shell in his Niger Delta homeland, even forcing the company to quit Ogoniland in 1993. As the campaign grew, the Ogoni suffered a brutal backlash that left an estimated 2,000 dead and 30,000 homeless. The documents claim there was systematic collusion with the military and Mobile Police Force (MPF), known as the "Kill and Go". Shell has always denied this but is believed to have settled in court as a result of the embarrassing contents.
In one document written in May 1993, the company wrote to the local governor asking for the "usual assistance" as the Ogoni expanded their campaign. Nigerian military were called in, resulting in at least one death. 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". The Nigerian regime responded by sending in the Internal Security Task Force, a military unit led by Colonel Paul Okuntimo, a brutal soldier, widely condemned by human rights groups, whose men allegedly raped pregnant women and girls and who tortured at will. Okuntimo boasted of knowing more than 200 ways to kill a person.
In October 1993, Okuntimo was sent into Ogoni with Shell personnel to inspect equipment. The stand-off that followed left at least one Ogoni protester dead. A hand-written Shell note talked of "entertaining 26 armed forces personnel for lunch" and preparing "normal special duty allowances" for the soldiers. Shell is also accused of involvement with the MPF, which worked with Okuntimo. One witness, Eebu Jackson Nwiyon, claimed they were paid and fed by Shell. Nwiyon also recalls being told by Okuntimo to "leave nobody untouched". When asked what was meant by this, Nwiyon replied: "He meant shoot, kill."
Since the settlement, Malcolm Brinded, Shell's executive director, said: "We wanted to prove our innocence and we were ready to go to court. We knew the charges against us were not true." He added: "I am aware that the settlement may – to some – suggest Shell is guilty and trying to escape justice," but said this was not the case.
Hmm if these documents are genuine then Shell may well have been crucified in court. A small settlement (by the standards of an oil company $15m is small change). It certainly sounds like Shell’s hands are stained with the blood of Ogoni. Sadly it is unlikely that the company will truly be called to account for their disgraceful complicity. I only hope that Shell executives develop an uneasy conscience and dream of those who were murdered as a result of their desire for dirty profit