Last week, Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle with the plaintiffs in a case charging Shell with severe human rights abuses in collusion with the Nigerian military. The case was brought by members of the Ogoni tribe, most notably the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an environmental activist and writer who was hanged by the military after protesting the company’s abuses in the Niger Delta in 1995. A trial was set to begin in New York just days after the settlement was announced, suggesting that the evidence against Shell was so clear that it preferred to avoid a public relations disaster.
The company maintains that the settlement is a “humanitarian gesture,” intended to ease relations between Nigerian communities and the oil giant. However, the release of confidential internal documents on Saturday provides ample evidence that Shell did indeed enlist the Nigerian military to protect its business interests in the Delta. The company was aware of the extreme abuses committed by the Nigerian military and yet in 1993 sent a message to state security to “reiterate our request for support from the army and police.” Other statements confirm that Shell used the military whenever there was a potential for backlash by the local population.
Although the settlement should be considered a victory for the Ogoni people, it is unlikely to change the nature of relations between large oil companies and civilians in the Delta region. Because the case was not allowed to go through, the true grievances and stories of the Ogoni were not brought to the public and there will be little incentive for Shell to change its disastrous practices.
It is a good deal for Shell – $15.5 million is a paltry sum against the $27.6 billion it earned in profits in 2008 , and it allows the company to save face against evidence of human rights and environmental abuses. Like other companies such as Chevron who have faced similar charges, they’ve managed to pay their way out of true accountability.
The recent violence in the Niger Delta is directly linked to the desire by international oil companies and corrupt politicians to maintain extraordinary profits in the face of human rights and environmental catastrophe. Those of us in the West, whose lives are run on the oil extracted by companies like Shell, should stand in solidarity with civil society in the Delta. They remain in poverty, suffering from health problems associated with gas flares and polluted beaches while politicians and businessmen make record profits. Now, they are being targeted by the Nigerian military, simply for living on the land their ancestors cultivated.
The late Ken Saro-Wiwa led a strong movement against Shell that rallied the Ogoni people, staging peaceful protests and using his talents as a writer to advocate for justice. Africa Faith & Justice Network supports individuals and civil society organizations who continue to fight as Saro-Wiwa did, demanding a fair shake in our globalized world. We congratulate Saro-Wiwa Jr., and the other plaintiffs in the case against Shell, but we must also do more to hold corporations accountable for the ongoing abuses in the Delta.
Please take action on our most recent campaign concerning the violence in the Delta. Send a letter to President Obama, asking him to halt military aid to Nigeria’s government if it does not cease its attacks on civilians.
Written by Beth Tuckey