Secret Papers 'Show How Shell Targeted Nigeria Oil Protests'

Published on
by
The Independent/UK

Secret Papers 'Show How Shell Targeted Nigeria Oil Protests'

Documents seen by The IoS support claims energy giant enlisted help of country's military government

by
Andy Rowell

Serious questions over Shell Oil's alleged involvement in human
rights abuses in Nigeria emerged last night after confidential internal
documents and court statements revealed how the energy giant enlisted
the help of the country's brutal former military government to deal
with protesters.

The documents, seen by the IoS,
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.

One of the allegations was that Shell
was complicit in the regime's execution of civilians. The Anglo-Dutch
firm denies any wrongdoing and said it settled to help
"reconciliation". 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 Abacha government
hanged nine protesters, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmentalist
and writer, 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. The campaign focused on
environmental devastation and demanded a greater share of oil revenues
for his community. 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
oil company wrote to the local governor asking for the "usual
assistance" as the Ogoni expanded their campaign. There was a stand-off
between the Ogoni and the US contractor Willbros, which was laying a
pipeline. 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."

One former Shell employee, Kloppenburg
Ruud, head of group security in the mid-1990s told lawyers that the
deployment of Nigerian security forces at two Shell jetties in the
delta was at the company's request.

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.

Shell 'lobbied' Guardian to soften its Nigeria stance

Confidential internal documents reveal how the oil giant lobbied The Guardian newspaper to reduce its support for Saro-Wiwa.

In an assessment of the political and security situation, a Shell executive noted: "The Guardian newspaper
ran a much more balanced article on the Ogoni issue, with their
position moving from apparent support for Saro-Wiwa to the middle
ground. There is a slight possibility that this may have been
influenced by the meeting we had with The Guardian's editor the week before."

Peter Preston, The Guardian's
editor from 1975 to 1995, said yesterday that he could not remember a
meeting with Shell. "I have absolutely no memory of one. And Nigerian
politics was never one of my interests."

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