Ten years ago this week, I was shot by Nigerian soldiers who, my federal lawsuit will show, were paid for by Chevron Nigeria Ltd., a subsidiary of Chevron Corp.
I was standing on a drilling platform in the Niger Delta run by Chevron Nigeria Ltd. More than 100 unarmed villagers joined me there to protest the loss of our fish, our clean water and our trees because of Chevron's oil production activities in our region, and to protest the loss of our traditional ways of supporting ourselves as a result of these activities.
The lawsuit I (and others) filed in 1999 contends that Chevron Nigeria's own documents show that it paid for, transported and supervised Nigerian military and police forces that responded to our protests. They opened fire on us; it is our contention that they did this without warning. Two of the protesters were killed; I and more than 10 others were wounded. Still others were arrested and beaten by the Nigerian authorities.
Chevron denies a role in the shootings, but we've sued Chevron for damages; our case will be heard this fall in U.S. District Court for the Northern Division of California, where Chevron is headquartered. A separate case against the oil company, again brought by Nigerian villagers who were met with violence when they demanded that Chevron clean up the environmental and economic danger it has caused, will be heard in California Superior Court in the fall.
Rather than take any responsibility for the May 28, 1998, attack, Chevron has engaged in a decade-long campaign against our lawsuit. I believe the evidence will show that Chevron has attempted to hide behind its byzantine structure of interlocking corporations to avoid legal liability; that it has falsely claimed that we villagers had firearms and that the U.S. parent company had no communications with its Nigerian subsidiary during the protests.
Chevron's public relations machine has engaged in personal attacks against me and the others who brought the lawsuit, even as the court has ruled several times in recent years that our claims have merit and deserve to go to trial.
The villagers who live near these oil facilities are desperately poor. Most of our villages have no electricity, many are reachable only by boat. These communities survive on subsistence fishing and agriculture that is being destroyed by Chevron's dredging and drilling. Yes, the Nigerian government can and should do more for its people with its massive oil revenue from the Niger Delta.
But Chevron can do more too. We villagers seek basic environmental reparations and support, like hospitals, scholarships and jobs to replace the fishing and farming we've lost. Chevron announced record profits in the first quarter this year of $5.17 billion, or about $5 million in profits per day. In all of 2007, Chevron spent less than one day's profits providing support to the communities where it works in Africa, according to its website. It can start to redress its wrongs by raising that figure. Chevron also needs to be transparent in its use of, and payments to, the Nigerian police and military and make real efforts to prevent and redress violence against local villagers who complain about the company's practices.
Ten years of misleading Americans about its record in Nigeria is too long. It's time for Chevron to come clean with the public about its operations in Nigeria and to take responsibility for violence done in its name.
Larry Bowoto is a member of the Ilaje tribe in Nigeria; Bert Voorhees, one of his lawyers, assisted in the writing of this column.
Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times