today we remember the ogoni nine, executed for struggling against shell in nigeria

by Tim Phillips

Shell began oil production in the Niger Delta of southern Nigeria 55 years ago, in 1958. ‘Ogoni’ is the name of a region in the Niger Delta, and the name of the ethnic group that lives there. In 1990, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was founded to fight for human rights and environmental justice.

In 1994, the military prevented the leader of MOSOP, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and other Ogoni leaders from attending a gathering. At the gathering, four Ogoni chiefs were killed. Despite a lack of any connection between MOSOP and the deaths, the military governor announced that Saro-Wiwa caused the deaths, and he and other leaders were taken into custody. According to a website maintained by EarthRights International and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR),

A three-man tribunal was created by the Nigerian government to try the Ogoni leaders —known as the “Ogoni Nine”– for the murders of the four chiefs. The tribunal denied the Ogoni Nine access to counsel, a fair trial, and the opportunity to appeal the decision. During the course of the trial they were tortured and mistreated, as were their relatives.

The tribunal convicted the Ogoni 9. On November 10, 1995, they were executed. At least two witnesses who testified that Saro-Wiwa was involved in the deaths of the Ogoni chiefs subsequently recanted, saying they were bribed with money and offers of jobs with Shell, in the presence of Shell’s lawyer. One month after the executions, Shell agreed to invest $4 billion in a liquefied natural gas project in Nigeria.

In 1996, CCR sued Shell for its complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people, such as colluding with the Nigerian government to bring about the arrest and execution of the Ogoni 9. In June 2009, on the eve of trial, the parties agreed to a settlement providing a total of $15.5 million to compensate the plaintiffs, establish a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people, and cover some of the legal costs and fees associated with the case.

Yet Shell is still polluting the environment and placing human health at serious risk in Nigeria, where hundreds of oil spills occur every year. Amnesty International and the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) revealed on Thursday that Shell is wrongly attributing spills to sabotage and theft to avoid compensating affected communities.