Shelling Nigeria – By Leburah Ganago
Actually, this caption belongs to Femi Oyafemi who in his thought provoking piece in The Punch (Nigeria), newspaper of Friday December 27, 1996, diligently exposed Shell’s complicity in the executive murder(apologies to Professor Ben Nwabueze) of the Ogoni Nine, on November 10, 1995. In that piece, Mr. Oyafemi did not only expose the complicity of Shell in the Ogoni Nine hangings but also the role of the transnational oil giant in the entire episode of the Ogoni genocide and the “shelling of Nigeria”.
In response to Brian Anderson’s (then Managing Director of Shell Nigeria) interview with the CNN, shortly after the hangings, Mr. Oyafemi remarked : “Much as Mr. Anderson of Shell tried to give very short answers and his well rehearsed refrain of “we try to do what we know how to do best”, more light was thrown on the volatile issue of the Ogoni genocide, the importation of arms and romance with government”.
On the Ogoni Nine hangings, and Shell’s phony plea for clemency, Femi Oyafemi noted “For Shell to have been privy to the plea for clemency within the short period of the verdict and the eventual execution is indicative of an uncomfortably close link to the state.”
Throughout the Ogoni pacification program, a scourged earth military campaign to crush the Ogoni struggle, the shadow of Shell loomed large. In a leaked memo authored by the military commander in charge of the Ogoni genocide agenda, Col. Paul Okuntimo “wasting operations”, targeting vocal voices in the Ogoni campaigns against Shell’s operations in Ogoni land were recommended, to pave way for the oil company’s return to the area. The memo expressly stated that the “wasting operation” in Ogoni land was going to be financed by Shell. It became obvious that the Nigerian government was doing Shell’s bidding, in clearing out every iota of opposition to the reckless and indeed racist operational methods of a transnational oil corporation which the late Ken Saro Wiwa aptly described as “a satanic octopus which demand men’s souls in return for cash and profit”.
In 2011 the United Nations Environmental program (UNEP) in its report declared Ogoni land the worst polluted landscape on the planet; thanks to Shell’s reckless 35 years operations. According to the report, the Ogoni situation is so grave that it would take all of 30 years to clean up the Shell’s mess . However, even if the grim UNEP report came out in 2011, the Ogoni people were long aware of the extent of Shell’s destruction of our environment, so on January 4, 1993, led by our leader Ken Saro Wiwa, we declared that corporate criminal persona non grata. And my generation of the Ogoni has vowed to keep Shell out of our land forever.
In the wake of the Wilileaks findings which revealed that Shell International’s Vice president Ann Pickard had admitted to a former US envoy to Nigeria that Shell employees were seconded to all the relevant ministries and agencies of the Nigerian government and that thanks to the infiltration, the company was able to keep a tab on all government policies and deliberations, some environmental and human rights groups including the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, called on the Nigerian government to proceed on a criminal prosecution of executives of the oil company. Mr. Oyafemi in his piece had hoped that “ Nigeria will (would) one day be blessed with upright leaders who will say no to such daylight pillage, exploitation, rape and looting” (by Shell). This prayer was made in 1996, one year after the barbaric hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his fellow Ogoni campaigners. However, 16 years after, no upright leader has emerged in Nigeria to call Shell’s bluff. And there is no hope anyone would be produced in the foreseeable future. Shell and the Nigerian government are both very corrupt institutions. And they depend on each other for survival. We call them slick allies. As for Nigeria, there has never been a government in that country for a long time in recent memory. From the rapacious military dictatorship of the 1990s to the quasi civilian dispensations of the 2000s , which by the way are always products of rigged elections , what has been going on in Nigeria is what the late MOSOP President Ken Saro Wiwa described as “ organized banditry that goes in the name of government”. Each successive Nigerian government has been progressively more corrupt than the one before it. The more crude oil they sell, the higher the rate of treasury looting. If any Nigerian official tells you that they are tackling corruption tell them to go to hell with their lies.
Shell continues to export corruption and violence from country to country, bribing locals and government officials to spread its death pills of environmental devastation. In 2010, one of Shell’s many corrupt deals in Nigeria’s Niger delta and indeed the rest of the Third world, was brought to justice. Shell along side former US Vice president Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and the company’s other contracting firms were made to pay $236 million in settlement in respect of their bribery racketeering in Nigeria.
However, Shell-all Shells, Shell international and in particular Shell Nigeria, has continued to remain the proverbial leopard which never changes its spot. Today, in Nigeria’s Niger delta as it was in 1995, and before then, Shell continues to award fraudulent contracts with bribery undertones, to local community leaders and sometimes criminal gangs. Shell’s goal in engaging in these fraudulent business practices is to empower pliable community leaders and turn them against their own people in desperate attempts to break up protests against its reckless operations in the region. Shell Nigeria’s official Mr. Emmanuel Etomi, once admitted to his company’s contract bribery schemes when he was quoted to have remarked in a leaked report published by the Daily Telegraph :“In 2003 we enlisted three internationally known conflict experts to better understand how our activities are affected by and contribute to the conflict. The experts highlighted how we sometimes feed conflict by the way we award contracts, gain access to land and deal with community representatives; how drastically conflict reduces the effect of our community development program”. However, it smacks of dishonesty for Mr. Etomi to make it appear as if the bad behavior of his company he cited above were some occasional mistakes whereas contracts bribery is a fundamental principle of Shell’s policies in the restive Niger delta, especially in the Ogoni area .
British environmental activist Nick Ashton Jones, in his own report buttressed the allegation of Shell’s culture of bribery and violence. He wrote: “ since my last visit (to the Niger delta) Shell has proclaimed that things have gotten better. Depressingly, my 2001 visit confirmed that the company’s culture is fixed in a negative and arrogant attitude towards its host communities. That is: a lack of cultural and ecological awareness and sensitivity; a willingness to encourage armed attacks on defenseless communities and to resort to the repression of civil rights in preference to negotiation; poor maintenance of its extraction infrastructure and low engineering standards; ignorance of environmental and social impacts; a tendency to tolerate the inefficient management of its compensation and social program processes; and to lie repeatedly when challenged until the evidence is irrefutable”.
On every January 4, the world’s indigenous peoples Day, the Ogoni people of the Niger delta region of Nigeria, takes stock of our struggle and renew our vow to banish Shell from our land. We fondly call January 4, Ogoni Day. On January 4 1993, an estimated 300,000 Ogonis marched on Shell and the Nigerian government. The late President of MOSOP ( Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People), Ken Saro Wiwa said that was the day the Ogoni people crossed the threshold of fear.
We understand the Nigerian government has decided to return Shell to Ogoni land under the guise of a different name, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, to resume oil exploitation. This is in the face of the United Nations’ Environmental Program report which says it would take 30 years to clean up the world’s worst case of environmental devastation in Ogoni. Here is our message to the idiotic Nigerian government: the Ogoni people are going to fight to the last man , with the last drop of our blood to see that no one sets foot on Ogoni soil to drill our oil until our devastated environment has been cleaned and our demands as contained in the Ogoni Bill of Rights have been met.