D E L T A
News and Background on Ogoni, Shell and Nigeria
Newsletter #2 November 1996
Free the Ogoni 19!
Contact DELTA at Box Z, 13 Biddulph Street, Leicester LE2 1BH UK
Tel / fax +44 (0) 116 255 3223
From the early 1990's until November 9th last year, Ken's assertions concerning the situation in Ogoni were regarded by many as self-serving exaggerations. Prominent amongst them was the violence that the military would unleash in order to suppress their peaceful movement for a clean environment and social equity. At a meeting of Ogoni leaders in Bori on October 3rd, 1993, he said, "The extermination of Ogoni people appears to be official policy."
Ken's choice of words in describing Shell's operations as "ecological genocide" and "developmental racism" were also in some parties patronisingly regarded as an author's use of hyperbole.
In the last year since the murder of the 9 Ogoni activists only the grossly ignorant cannot see that his statements have been vindicated.
For the month of November 1995, world attention was focussed on Nigeria. There were strong words and pledges of action from the Commonwealth. But the inexorable greed of international investment and the short attention span of the fickle media ensured no government would carry out promises of justice. The Nigerian military hoped that by killing the articulate voice of Ogoni they would destroy the campaign. They were wrong.
Far from stifling the Ogoni spirit they further fuelled their determination to win human and environmental rights. Throughout the rest of the world spontaneous expressions of grief and outrage at the action of the military and the inaction of Shell immediately followed the murders.
Despite their denials to the contrary, Shell could have prevented the executions. Brian Anderson, head of Shell Nigeria, admitted to Dr Owens Wiwa that to get Ken released from prison was difficult but not impossible. They chose not to and as a result are now inextricably linked to his death. Because the nature of Shell in Nigeria has changed from unaccountable corporation to quasi- government the company must now accept the responsibilities that come with that role. We owe it to all Ogoni, those living as well as the murdered, that this is achieved. Our support for their struggle must remain undiminished.
I didn't know those who were murdered alongside Ken, but for all of them, one day, Ogoni will reclaim its gentle souls and the palm wine will be drunk with honour, respect and celebration.
Nick Ashton-Jones"My husband will have to work for Shell for a few more years, darling, so that we can afford to buy a house in France and retire."
And on a dreary and impersonal morning on the 10th November 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other decent and quite ordinary men were hanged. They were hanged in a rushed and rather inefficient fashion by men who were nervous and uneasy themselves; by men who wanted to get the job over; and by men who made a bit of a joke of the job because they were afraid. They were hanged because they were a nuisance. They were hanged because they had threatened to stand between greedy men and their easy access to easy money. But above all they were hanged because a hugely powerful oil company, Shell, does not care; it cares more about a house in France than for people's lives.
Can Shell care? Can Shell show humanity? Shell is a big transnational company; maybe the biggest on Earth. So how can a company care? How can a company have human feelings?
It can. It can because Shell is an organisation made up of people: thousands of men and women who work for it; who own shares in it or who benefit from other organisations who own shares in it; and who benefit from the oil that Shell so ruthlessly exploits.
A company cannot care but the people who make up the company can care. And if they do not care them they lose their humanity every bit as much as Ken and so many other Ogoni people have lost their lives. They have allowed Shell to take away their humanity. And without humanity our lives are worthless. We may wear fine clothes, and mouth fine words; we may live in big houses and have big ideas. But if we do not care then we forfeit our right to humanity.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was no saint: like all of us he was a man of contradictions and vanities; he could inspire hatred, it seems, as easily as he could inspire love. But he rose a little bit above the rest of us for two reasons. First because he was a natural-born leader who was able to make us feel that we mattered, and because undoubtedly the world feels less without him. And second, because he cared. And it was his caring which in the end made him great. Right at the end he was brave and not bitter, because he cared. He cared for the other decent frightened men who died with him (men who were just as brave as he because it is by facing and overcoming fear which makes men brave, not the lack of fear).
He cared even for his captors and his tormentors; and in the end DELTA believes he cared for the poor men and women who make up the Shell company and who have lost their humanity because they do not care.
Perhaps DELTA readers want to say 'Damn you Shell!' Damn you Shell for what you stand for. Damn you Shell for what you have done and for what you are doing. Damn you Shell because what you are doing in Nigeria is debasing and devaluing all humanity, all of us. Damn you Shell because you do not care. Perhaps DELTA readers want to consign Shell to eternal damnation.
But what is the point of damning Shell? Shell has no humanity and thus has no place in hell: hell is for us. If we do not care, then we are Shell: we are in hell because by not caring we have lost touch with our own humanity.
Ken reminded us that by caring we become human. By caring regardless of how pointless and hopeless caring seems to be in the face of the inhumanity of Shell. Nonetheless if we claim our humanity we must care. Care for our brothers and sisters, care for ourselves and care for the Earth. Caring for the sake of caring is what counts and Ken reminded us in his death that caring works and can change the world.
We care for the unknown grandmother and the unborn baby in the Niger Delta; and we care for the Earth. If we did not care for these things we would not be DELTA. But let us care for some more, as I am sure Ken would have cared. Let us care for the staff and shareholders of Shell because it is they who are losing their humanity by not caring: they are consigning themselves to Hell. I am not talking about the ordinary Nigerian staff who need to work for Shell because Shell has impoverished their country. I mean the fat cats to whom a flashy suit, and a house in Surrey or France are more important than the lives of ordinary Nigerians. These are the people who in their ignorance, arrogance and poverty of spirit make Shell careless and inhumane.
We must make Shell care. We must make Shell care by never allowing Shell staff to feel good about themselves or about the monster for which they work and from which they make their money. Shell staff cannot be allowed to isolate themselves from the evil inhuman monster that is Shell. Being made to care can be painful but in the end it is better for everyone and certainly it will be better for the people of Ogoni and the rest of Niger Delta.
Let us never, never forget Ken Saro-Wiwa and the men who died with him, and why they had to die. Let us not forget that as we read this now men and women all over the world are suffering imprisonment, torture and death because of the damn house in France and because no-one cares. Let us care.
IN MEMORIUMUEBARI - Nnah, aged 19, shot dead by Nigerian security forces, 25.10.93 near Shell Flow Station Number 5, Korokoro, Ogoni, Rivers State. His sacrifice will never be forgotten.
IN MEMORIUMKPAKOL - Joseph, brutally murdered by members of the Nigerian Internal Security Task Force, 22.09.96 at Kpor, Ogoni, Rivers State. He is not forgotten.
Owens WiwaKen Saro-Wiwa, my brother, was murdered in a Nigerian jail a year ago because he was a vocal - and effective - environmentalist dedicated to cleaning up the devastation from Shell's exploitation in the Ogoni region. He was a man of peace whose only crime was opposing the racist standard of the Shell group in their dealings with sub-Saharan Africa.
Contrary to their claims, my brother was never a political threat to the Nigerian State. He never thought of secession; he defended his country when it mattered most: during the secessionist war of Biafra, he was at the Nigerian frontside taking care of refugees. Because of Ken's antipathy to that war, at the age of 10 years I spent eight months in Biafran military prison with my other brothers and sisters - and also our mother. It is instructive that Mr. Ojukwu (the Biafran secessionist leader), whose appetite for oil resources wasted one million lives, is now one of General Abacha's advisers.
But Ken was a threat to Shell's profits at Ogoni expense. He wanted the pipelines of death - which threaten our homes, ruin our fields, contaminate our drinking water - put underground or removed. He wanted to prevent the overwhelming incidences of lung cancer, asthma and bronchitis which I struggled to treat. He wanted to stop what he called the 'ecological war' against the Ogoni, the 'slow genocide' where there's little blood spilt but the deaths continue.
Shell's reaction to my brother's pleas were to respond not to his concerns, but to him.
On 4 January 1993, 300,000 Ogoni people protested non-violently against the environmental devastation caused by Shell. The non-violent nature of the match showed the quality of Ken Saro-Wiwa's leadership and the discipline of the Ogoni people. On 16 February 1993, Shell headquarters in London and the Hague decided to monitor Ken's activities, as documented in a memo. Just 16 days later, Ken was arrested for the first time. It took four more arrests (and releases when trumped-up charges would not stick) to succeed in the company's ultimate goal: the final censorship of our protector and my dearest friend.
We have affidavits from two prosecution witnesses saying they were bribed and threatened by Shell representatives to give false witness against Ken during his trial. Shell had a lawyer in court throughout the trial, a lawyer who was a close friend of the tribunal chairman and who, as attorney general of Rivers State in 1990, had dismissed a judicial enquiry urging prosecution of security officers for the death of 80 Umuechem people killed when Shell called in Mobile Police to quell non-violent protest. A military officer on Shell's payroll, Lt. Col. Paul Okuntimo, was also present at the tribunal to ensure that those bribed said what they were told to say or be, in his threats, "wasted".
Three days after Ken's death, Shell announced the construction of a US$ 4.3 billion LNG project in partnership with the ruling generals. A reward to the military or just a coincidence?
How implicated is Shell in my brother's death? At the least, the company could have used its enormous influence to prevent his death; oil counts for 80% of Nigeria's export income and Shell pumps more than 900,000 barrels a day from the Delta. It is absurd for Shell to claim it is not involved in supporting the government when their memos document the company requesting military 'assistance as usual' - or when my patients report seeing troops transported on Shell river boats. These troops, who were transported across the Andoni River armed with weapons bought by Shell, massacred hundreds of Ogonis and destroyed several villages. Shell and the illegal military dictatorship in Nigeria called these actions 'ethnic clashes' to the world. I personally saw a Shell-hired helicopter involved in one such military action.
Ken predicted he would be silenced. In October 1993 he told me that the only way Shell could get at him would be to frame a murder charge against him. He believed that his reputation as a man of peace and his commitment to non-violence would make it difficult.
Shell says that we are a violent organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I ask you, if we are a violent organisation then why is it that over 2000 Ogoni people are dead today, and not one person from Shell or the Nigerian military has died? When my brother was killed over 100,000 Ogoni people decided to defy a military ban on mourning and gather peacefully wearing black; the result was six more people killed by the Nigerian military. My brother understood and taught all of us that although the non-violent path is longer, it is our only hope in the end. We still dedicate ourselves to non-violence.
Our only weapon is to call for a consumer boycott of Shell products and to press for an embargo against all Nigerian oil. This, we believe, is the most effective way of breaking the evil alliance between Shell and the brutal Abacha dictatorship which kills writers, jails journalists, and stifles democracy. The oil you are buying - people are dying for it.
I have been asked if I realise how much it would cost to put Shell's corroded pipelins below ground; miles of pipes criss-crossing the Niger Delta would reach from London to New York if put end to end. But whatever amount it costs is not worth the life of my brother - or of the thousands of Ogonis dying slowly from oil pollution. I believe Shell's money is blood money.
GOVERNMENTS HOUSE FACTS SHEET RESTRICTED RESTRICTED RESTRICTED RIVERS STATE INTERNAL SECURITY TASK FORCE, GOVERNMENT HOUSE, PH. M E M O SHELL OPERATIONS STILL IMPOSSIBLE UNLESS RUTHLESS MILITARY OPERATIONS ARE UNDERTAKEN FOR SMOOTH ECONOMIC ACTIVITES TO COMMENCE. WASTING OPERATIONS DURING MOSOP AND OTHER GATHERINGS MAXING CONSTANT MILITARY PRESSENCE JUSTIFIABLE. WASTING OPERATIONS COUPLED WITH PSYCHOLOGICAL TACTICS OF DISPLACEMENT / WASTING AS NOTED ABOVE. PRESSURE ON OIL COMPANIES FOR PROMPT REGULAR IMPUTS AS DISCUSSED.
Arrested in 1994 and 1995 for the alleged murder of four Ogoni chiefs, they await the same Special Military Tribunal which killed Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues. The 19 are currently in Port Harcourt prison in appalling conditions.
Shell is responsible for the arrests and torture of two of the hostages: Defence Counsel for the Ogoni 19, Robert Azibaola, reported on August 2, "It was revealed to me that some of them were arrested by SHELL'S POLICE in Oron fishing settlement, Akwa Ibom State, and tortured by the company's police and later transferred by the company to Kpor detention camp, Rivers State."
Letters smuggled out of the prison detail the conditions and state of health of the 19.
All the Ogoni hostages are emaciated and sick, suffering from malnutrition and complaints such as malaria, tuberculosis, rashes and general physical pain.
They have been tortured by hanging, having sharp objects thrust into their penises, and in some instances being manacled for months at a time. Babiina Vizor is now virtually blind after having chemicals dripped into his eyes by police.
Robert Azibaola and colleague Uche Okwukwu were both arrested on August 6. And a photographer for the independent Vanguard newspaper had his camera confiscated whilst trying to take pictures of the emaciated prisoners in the corridors of the court to which the 19 were being brought.
DELTA calls on the Nigerian authorities to:
DELTA calls on Shell to publicly:
From October 21-23 half a batallion of soldiers and 300 State Security Service (SSS) men were sent into Ogoni in preparation for the likely strength of feeling concerning the anniversary.
Major Obi Umahi, head of the Internal Security Task Force in Ogoni, summoned all traditional rulers and village chiefs to Bori on Tuesday October 29. He warned them that gatherings of more than two people would not be tolerated from now until December, and called on them to inform the public using town criers that no memorial services would be accepted, nor any activity relating to the Ogoni 9. The chiefs are being threatened with violence if any social functions or gatherings should take place in their villages, and soldiers are currently driving through villages harrassing people.
The annual new yam festival at K-Dere was banned on Friday November 1 because the gathering of villagers might boost the morale of the Ogonis in the lead up to November 10. Other cultural events have been stopped too.
On Saturday 2 Major Umahi arrested, tortured and held overnight in Bori a group of 60 students from Zaakpon whom he met along his route. He said he detained the students, who were on a cross-country run, because they were exercising themselves in prepration to honour Ken Saro-Wiwa. Around 20 other Ogonis are still detained and activists are being hunted.
On Monday 4 Police Commissioner for Rivers State Mukhta Alkali banned all public demonstrations, warning that any which went ahead would be "dealt with ruthlessly". Gatherings of more than two people are banned.
Alkali said that information held by the state police indicates that meetings, rallies and violent demonstrations were being planned. But he assured 'law-abiding' citizens of their continued protection.
MOSOP called for quiet observation of the anniversary of the executions, and a week-long program of fasting, prayer and song, and a night vigil. The organisation requests a minute's silence from all Ogoni and their international supporters at 12 noon on Sunday November 10, the moment of the executions last year.
Robert Azibaola of ND-HERO (Niger Delta Human and Environmental Resource Organisation) affirmed that action would be taken throughout all of Rivers State.
In the Netherlands tension around the campaign is very high. Interviews on the radio and TV, and front-page articles in newspapers is keeping the issue alive and forcing Shell to respond to the campaigners' agenda. It has been confirmed that garage staff get paid by Shell to compensate for loss of earnings through actions; and they have even been given an 'emergency number' at Shell to ring if any protesters turn up. A silent march to the Shell headquarters in the Hague is planned for November 10.
Irish groups are planning a series of events including a Body Shop supported live global Internet link-up. There has been much good support work done at the grassroots and governmental levels over the past year.
The positive influence of German Green MP Christa Nickels and her work for a Shell-free city of Aachen is likely to spread, and German churches are coming together on the issue. Good networking in Slovakia has brought about the planned pickets of many of the country's Shell garages, and countless other pickets and a diverse range of events have already begun from Sweden to Australia.
Owens Wiwa has been speaking at universities across the US, and Ogoni Solidarity Networks have been set up in each one visited. Shell has meanwhile been meeting with demonstrators and encouraging them to stop their planned protests. Washington will host a huge action. The ABC Network featured a five-minute slot on Ogoni and actually managed to get an interview with Abacha - a man who normally only looks in the mirror and at his gun.
Ten Shell garages were picketed simultaneously in Vancouver, Canada, on Friday 8, and all major churches will be mentioning Ken on November 10 in the spirit of remembrance. Toronto will be hosting a conference on 'social responsibility and transnationals' and an ambitious African Night on the Friday November 15.
Canada has been very clear in its condemnation of the Nigerian government, and unilaterally imposed sanctions in June 1996 due to frustration with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). MOSOP complained that the Commonwealth was letting the Nigerian government dictate the pace of its inaction by allowing increasing delays to the planned CMAG visit to Nigeria. The Canadians pointed out that Abacha had no intention of changing and that any genuine 'transition' to democracy was an illusion; the CMAG failed to agree on any sanctions, however. The re-scheduled CMAG visit is now confirmed for mid-November 1996.
The US is still blocking progress despite some promising signs such as the government's human rights official John Shattuck's call for more pressure on Nigeria. The country happens to use over 40% of Nigeria's total oil output, and is keen to ensure a diversity of sources of oil supply to protect its economic strength. Besides, there are too many unsavoury governments with economic sanctions imposed that plugging one more big-time source of black gold could leave the oil-based consumer economy high-and-dry.
There are no 'frontline states' facing and challenging Nigeria. It has successfully co-opted neighbouring African governments using political and economic leverage, creating surrogate states. South Africa is unwilling to act alone to challenge Nigeria, and Boutros Boutros-Ghali is pressurising it not to challenge. Although South Africa has in fact got virtually no trade links with Nigeria, certain South African officials seem to think that as a previous Nigerian government supported the ANC they still 'owe' the country something. But they are clearly confusing Nigeria and its people with the current illegal and brutal dictatorship, who are owed nothing.
The UN fact-finding mission to Nigeria recommended against further sanctions in its report this summer. MOSOP denounced the report for its lack of comments on extra-judicial killings in Ogoni. By the end of October over 10 Ogonis were still hiding in the bush after having suffered incessant raids in retribution for speaking with the team. The remaining prisoners arrested at the time, when MOSOP again showed its strength, were released at the end of August.
Shell claimed to have consulted with MOSOP but in fact only spoke to a former representative. "For any planned community development program to be meaningful and sustainable, it has to be embarked upon with the full agreement and participation of the community, who would determine what the needs and priorities of the people are, and not those defined by Shell executives for public relations gimmick", said MOSOP. Dr Owens Wiwa added that the Shell involvement in Gokana hospital is a sham: "This is like trying to put a dirty bandage over a cancerous wound."
Shell's approach is seen by many to be a way of getting into Ogoni via the back door. Or perhaps it is to make up for the community hospital they bulldozed six years ago in order to build an access road, and which they never rebuilt.
A Shell International team is currently in Nigeria to review the company's activities and operations. It will be visiting Ogoni despite the fact that Shell is still persona non grata.
The company says it has no plans to resume operations in Ogoni - or not until full discussion with all Ogoni communities brings agreement. But they have been planning their return to Ogoni: discussing with certain pro-government Ogoni chiefs and chairs of Community Development Committees who do not represent the people as a whole, but who may now benefit from a position in the corrupt oil development commission OMPADEC. This October MOSOP claimed that Shell has been offering N50,000 for each signature which invites the company back in by December 1996. Indeed, the Daily Sunray (29.7.96) reported that Shell will soon reopen their operations in Ogoni, and quotes Governor of Rivers State Lt. Col. Dauda Komo who said that the government has been discussing this with Shell.
MOSOP reports that further meetings between Shell and select Ogoni chiefs, other pro-government elements and government officials took place on October 12 and 24 in Port Harcourt and the Rivers State Secretariat, respectively. These were also to discuss Shell's return. Miss Priscilla Vikue vowed to ensure that who ever opposes Shell's return is summarily eliminated, and boasted that having eliminated Saro-Wiwa no Ogoni could prove difficult. The Internal Security Task Force has a list of MOSOP activists and sympathisers who are being hunted, and threats that people's names are on the list can bring in a bribe of N5000 a time.
In further evidence of Shell's divide and rule tactics, MOSOP also claim that the company is behind the setting up of phoney organisations such as the pro-government, pro-Shell 'Youth Association of Ogoni Oil Producing Communities' (YAOPCO) which is calling for Shell's return - and offering bribes and paramilitary training to create a 'buffer unit' for security as Shell resumes operations. Head of the occupation army in Ogoni, Major Obi Umahi of the Internal Security Task Force, regularly lectures YAOPCO, which he personally launched this April, on how much Ogoni has lost with Shell's absence and on the 'evils' of MOSOP.
Major Umahi has been appointed as a 'security adviser' to Shell on Ogoni issues, according to MOSOP. Umahi ordered military raids on Kegbara and Baranyonwa Dere in August where soldiers from the Task Force harrassed, arrested and tortured a number of innocent Ogonis and looted properties. Further attacks on individuals and communities continued throughout August, September and October, including the brutal beating to death of Joseph Kpakol. Umahi is also precipitating further 'communal clashes', while calling publicly for peace meetings.
The genuine Ogoni youth group NYCOP warned Shell in September never to "return to Ogoniland through the backdoor and under whatever guise". It deplores the company's on-going "nocturnal dealings with cursed chiefs, faceless elders... and a dozen fabricated Ogoni youth culminating in Shell's sponsored signing of documents" calling for its return. NYCOP stated that Ogoni youths and the entire Ogoni people would resist non-violently any move into the area by Shell. The company must dialogue only with the people's mandated representatives: MOSOP.
Nigeria's pro-democracy station, Radio Kudirat, was launched on June 12 this year to help further the cause of democracy in the country. Renamed from Radio Democrat in honour of assassinated Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the opposition station offers news, interviews, in-depth analysis, and religious sermons. According to Nigeria Now it is the only independent and uncensored information source in Nigeria.
But wait! Look a little more closely and we can see that the human face is.... a mask! The woman in the photo is not Mrs Ogbuyewe, nor are the twins hers - nor are they one day old. And the hospital featured is in Egbema, not Erhoike.
Shell Nigeria is now being sued by Chief Opara and his wife Jacinta, the real people in the photo, for defamation. Their solicitors state that the Advertorial was to publicise Shell's "saviour image at the expense, ridicule and injury" of the Opara's. They suggest that Shell apologises and pays N25m to the Opara's who will establish a fund for the welfare of the Niger Delta's exploited children. DELTA suggests they pay $30 billion.
Along with countless repressive governments and irresponsible corporations Shell employs a team of amoral PR executives to improve its image and ensure that the company does not need to change any of its appalling practices. PR company Shandwick has now been hired.
Shell has been arranging visas and sponsoring journalists' trips to Nigeria to help them see what is really going on over there. Dutch, German, British and other journalists have been visiting Shell installations and meeting Shell staff at Shell headquarters during these Shell trips. The program doesn't actually include much of a visit to the Niger Delta itself but they may see it by air; apparently it looks quite beautiful.
Not everyone is prepared to let Shell sponsor their journalism, however. Two from the Toronto Star refused on ethical grounds, but are now having difficulty getting visas for their own trip out to Nigeria.
Shell seems unable to agree to extending the visas for those who want to see a little more of the country while they are over there: campaigners have briefed some journalists on the full reality of the Niger Delta, and have suggested where they could visit to help build up a real picture. Some journalists have come back shocked at the company's arrogance and incompetance, at the hype of the many community projects which, actually, aren't ready yet. But no PR job is going to work 100%, and besides, Shell will soon know who are its enemies and who are its friends - very useful. The friends have a weakness for the saccharin taste of greenwash and have swallowed the lot.
Today Shell faces angry communities who find that no EIA's have been done after all. The company is even being sued over this irresponsibility.
Communities in Akwa Ibom State, furious about environmental damage, have stopped Shell and Western Geophysical from continuing seismic surveys in their area until the two companies produce Environmental Impact Assessments.
According to Theweek (7.10.96), Shell and Western Geophysical refused to do an EIA for the work, which is being done to find more gas for the newly confirmed LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) project, so as not to arouse "undue" environmental awareness amongst the people. Community representatives note that Shell has already caused severe destruction of houses, roads, and flora and fauna in the area. Furious at the double standards between the companies' practices and their environmental policy and principles, meetings were organised, 500 Western Geophysical workers went on strike for better conditions, and a blockade was mounted. Leaders in the regions of Eket and Uquo-Ibeno said that Shell and Western Geophysical would not be resuming work until an EIA is produced and the workers' demands had been settled adequately.
Western Geophysical told Theweek that they had lost millions of naira as a result. But they had no intention of producing an EIA, or increasing the size of the workforce or the wages.
Elsewhere, Mobil's EIA for part of the LNG project has been rejected by the Bonny and Finima communities and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. FEPA has allowed the project to commence but has directed Mobil to comply with certain requirements before full operations begin. The Bonny Youth Federation has guaranteed to stop the work unless a proper EIA is produced, and Shell, Mobil and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) are currently being sued within Nigeria with regards to the lack of a comprehensive EIA.
Furthermore, youths at Obite in Rivers State have also vowed to stop a gas project planned by Elf Petroleum Nigeria if that company doesn't produce an EIA.
Investigations by Theweek indicate that environmental awareness in Rivers and Akwa Ibom State is high. Environmentalist Jasper Jumbo from Bonny said that "Ken Saro-Wiwa has paid a price for the environmental consciousness in our people now. We will never let him down."
NjajaOn the 8th of May, Shell International issued a press release describing a plan for action for a return to Ogoni. As is usual with Shell, the statements made in the release bore no relation to the reality in the field. The press release, like many others before and since, emanated from the Shell wallpaper factory in Waterloo Road, London. The factory serves the company's inward looking philosophy nicely. A philosophy which papers over the social, economic and environmental problems which face the people of Ogoni and of the whole Niger Delta. Problems which have been caused by a Nigerian oil industry dominated by Shell.
Shell is a wealthy and internationally influential transnational company which is, by its very nature, more powerful than some governments because it is richer. Thus, the company is bound to accept that it has a moral duty to understand, to sympathise with and to support the people amongst whom it operates, who are, whether Shell likes it or not, its hosts. The interests of what Shell staff tend to call 'these people' are paramount, especially in a world where oil extraction is more likely, rather than less, to inconvenience (at the least) the local people. This is not a moral platitude but a political fact, and if Shell cannot realise that it must face its problems with more imagination than with public relations wallpaper then the company will continue to face problems.
Moreover, if Shell ever wants to be able to be taken seriously by the people of Ogoni and by the other peoples of the Niger Delta it must face up to its past record in the region. The cupboards must be opened and the skeletons exposed otherwise Shell can never gain the trust of the local people that it so badly needs. The analogy is Germany in 1945: unless it could face up to its past, it had no future in the international community and could expect no sympathy. But the wallpaper keeps rolling out: one of the latest designs suggests that the Korokoro incident did not even happen!
The Shell press statement and the plan for action it describes is wallpaper because it does not face up to the real problems of how oil extraction affects local people. In relation to Ogoni it continues to exemplify Shell's pig-headed inability to understand the locality.
There are six reasons for this:
Irene Bloemink - Friends of the Earth Netherlands"We have to admit that we have made mistakes every now and then." Chairman of the Royal/Dutch group, Cor Herkstroter, was trying to look serious as he spoke to the Dutch press at a specially organised lecture in Amsterdam on October 11. "Dealing with contradictory expectations are dilemmas that multinationals are facing," he told the audience, "and we don't have a clear answer to this."
Shell's language has changed. The we-know-what-is-best-for-the-world attitude seems to have made room for a more outward-looking perspective. As a result of recent major clashes with western society, over the Brent Spar and Nigeria, for example, the company suddenly realised it was living in an ivory tower and had become "somewhat isolated" from the rest of society, as Herkstroter put it.
In the Netherlands this realisation has led to a massive 'society offensive'. The policy of sponsorship is no longer limited to motorised sports. Shell logos are found on soccer fields and within other sports. Managers have apparently been given orders to get involved in the media: Dutch newspapers and magazines are being flooded with phone-calls from Shell managers asking to become members of the Board. One journalist was asked by seven managers if they could be represented; amazement or downright irritation has been the response. The company has opened up no less than 250 web sites to invite people to put forward their expectations from multinational companies. And indeed, the company seems to be willing to communicate more and better with NGO's in the Netherlands. It actually responds to questions rather than providing standard PR answers.
Notably absent in Herkstroter's speech, however, are the environmental performance problems in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. As far as Nigeria is concerned the Shell boss only refers to human rights problems: "The company has been asked to solve the developmental and political problems of Nigeria." Shell does not seem to have taken note of the opinion of Nigerian and western groups that it is Shell itself who have contributed to the problems over natural resources in the Niger Delta, and is responsible for solving the conflicts it has created.
The statement recognises that environmental and consumer groups in western countries have become more powerful, partly because they are quickly informed by modern communication techniques. Shell does not respond to the fact that these groups legitimately point to the environmental problems that it causes in different parts of the world.
The dumping of the Brent Spar platform, for example, is still referred to as technologically right, just not accepted by society. Shell has realised that Greenpeace was stronger, but does not want to see that Greenpeace had a point in objecting to dumping as a structural solution to oil platforms.
The double standards issue is largely avoided by Shell.
"Moral imperialists" is how Herkstroter refers to people calling for western [environmental] standards in other countries. The company does not seem to realise that, if environmentally sound technology is available, this should be applied worldwide, including in countries which don't have regulations or don't enforce the law.
Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Nigerian Environmental Rights Action, said during his recent visit to the Netherlands; "Shell has cleaned up its language, but not the environment." As long as Shell does not recognise that it has a major environmental performance problem, and primarily improves the communication with western NGO's, major clashes are likely to occur in the future between the company on the one hand, and environmental organisations and indigenous groups on the other.
Independent observerHas anyone noticed, by the way, how the Shell building in London - that phallic excrescence on the South Bank - dominates so many famous London scenes: look towards Whitehall from St.James' Park and you see the Shell building spoiling the view; look at the Gothic masses of Westminster (a World Heritage site) from Parliament Square and there is the damn Shell building again. It is like some lunatic uncle who always manages to get his stupid gormless face in all the family photographs. Reminding us that there is a nasty gene there somewhere.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands and other activists took a large photograph of Ken Saro-Wiwa in with them, hoping to place it on an empty chair to watch the proceedings. As this was forbidden, they demanded to see a Shell official who walked into an excellent photo opportunity which featured the protesters handing over the image to him. During the meeting a good, heated debate with Herkstroter continued until he actually offered to meet with FoE and Greenpeace. The chair of the committee of managing directors spoke about how Shell is changing and reorganising, reviewing its health, safety and environmental standards, and about how proud he is of what Shell does. He mentioned the LNG project and claimed that it would reduce gas flaring by 40% by 1998, but Shell technicians say that this is absolutely impossible: perhaps 15-20% by 2000-2005 is feasible, no more. Herkstroter denied that they have a paid police force, offering that they just have an intelligence team working there.
In London a large vocal and musical demonstration alongside a gallows with images of the Ogoni 19 continued outside while dissident shareholders entered - or rather tried to enter - the venue: DELTA had bought 30 shares for concerned shareholders to register their opposition to company policy, but Shell seemed to be delaying the transfer of the shares into individuals' names.
Three times on the morning of the AGM were Shell telephoned to see whether the transfer had happened so they could participate. A spokeswoman said that they were urgently looking for the documents but they seemed to be still in the post or moving between departments. She was very apologetic - these things do happen. Finally, just 20 minutes before the start, they found them, and the fifteen shareholders could get into their company's AGM. At the very back of the hall and out of the way., of course.
John Jennings was asked near the beginning the excellent question of whether he would like to call for a minute's silence for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogonis killed last November. The man hesitated and stumbled in his speech but realised that he just had to say yes.
Certainly all the shareholders seemed to be aware of the issue of Nigeria. Jennings described some of the company's community-based work, and confirmed that Shell would talk to MOSOP. He emphasised that Shell wouldn't work behind a security shield, but wouldn't call for the demilitarisation of the Niger Delta: "It's improper to interfere in the political process", or to call for the release of the Ogoni 19, although they should of course have a fair trial. Accusations of arms imports by Shell were not answered satisfactorily, but the World in Action TV programs did the job.
The statement by former senior Shell employee Mr Bopp van Dessel concerning double standards and poor environmental performance, as featured on World in Action that week was also addressed, and Jennings invited van Dessel to come back and see what Shell in Nigeria is like now. The one MOSOP representative at the meeting was treated poorly, with inadequate responses to questions about collusion with the regime, demilitarisation and reparations. MOSOP asked for Shell to "Clean-up its act, not its image".
Gbenewa Phido"If babies could talk, they would ask for the best". So goes the popular adage. But can the Ogoni child talk? Does she have a say? Is she allowed to voice what she feels under the circumstances? And who cares to know what the child feels ? Who is listening to the cries of the bewildered Ogoni child, struggling to come to grips with her shattered world? A horrendous reign of beatings and maiming, rape and killings, destruction, extortion and intimidation replace the mother's love and attention.
My late Cousin Letam, burnt alive by the invading army, said, "The Ogoni child is born with head hitting the hard bare mud floor. This heralds the beginning of the child's sufferings." Imagine being an Ogoni child for a moment: empathise with her. You are born with no beginning. There is no luxury of a maternity unit or midwife to take care of you and your mother while you were in her womb. Your mother saw no doctor for ante-natal check up because none existed. No-one knew if you were alright or in distress; no-one knew if you were developing properly, adding the necessary weight, if your mother was getting the proper nutrition to nurture you to a strong and healthy birth. You were never scanned for a moment to see if you were in breech or even if you were still alive in there.
But nine months must come and go; so, your birth arrives. But not before your mother has laboured for days with no medical assistance - and, if lucky, with your grand-aunt by her side acting as midwife, coercing and encouraging her to be strong and brave through the labour pains. Labour is the same everywhere but it is a nightmare when there are no facilities to ease the pains. At delivery time there are no emergency facilities if complications occur. Indeed you are lucky to be born alive: not so many are that lucky as often the mother and child die.
Now, alive with your mother, the struggle continues. There are no post-natal support services of any kind. So any problems that could have been detected at childhood will develop with you and there is nothing your parents can do about it. There are no vaccines to immunise you against childhood diseases, and you may or may not survive childhood.
A stolen / deprived beginning I will call it. This is considering that the Ogoni child would have been born blessed by nature, born to an environment which would not lack anything in natural resources but for the exploitation of crude oil by the Nigerian Government and its cohort Shell. An environment which has provided them more than $30 billion revenue. This is an area that now introduces her children to no beginning. No future for the supposed leaders of tomorrow.
You then face starvation, staring at you every day. Starvation to be expected in Ogoniland. Our fertile land has been polluted with over 30 years of oil exploitation. Nothing grows on an otherwise rich and fertile soil known to our great grand-parents of old. Our waters are polluted and no longer fit for human consumption. Our air is so rich in dangerous fumes and deadly gases that it baffles your imagination how humans survive in it. Our surface land is so heavily clogged up with dangerous pipes that it becomes a struggle for space between the villagers and the pipes. Our children have to try to live and survive in this environment. But Shell staff are humans and have children of their own. Abacha and his henchmen have children of their own. The question, then, is would they raise their own children in this environment?
The Ogoni girl's suffering does not end: it continues for life, and grows. In adolescence, the child suffers more deprivation. Girls are often left naked with no clothes to cover their developing bodies. But does this mean an invitation to Abacha's henchmen who come into the villages to chase, beat and kill our young men and fathers to carry the young girls off to satisfy the animal lust and beast in them? These young girls are taken in for 'capture', the army slang for forced arrest. They are then raped by so many men that they barely survive afterwards. The experience is so traumatic and humiliating that the girl loses interest in life. Where she is lucky to survive the rape, she is then faced with a lifetime remembering the incident. Why does Abacha allow his men to inflict this kind of pain on innocent young girls? These children are usually 10 to 15 years old. What society would allow her youth to be so destroyed?
The Ogoni children are suffering due to no fault of their own. It is not by acts of design or omission on their part. It is due to designs deliberately inflicted upon them by the same government that is meant to look after their welfare and interest. They have sold our children's future for their selfish interest. For monies they will launder in foreign accounts, for skyscraper houses they will build around the world, for the jewellery they will buy for their wives and for the special foreign schools they will send their children to, for this they have sold the Ogoni child's future.
For daring to question this corrupt system, for asking what future awaits the Ogoni child, our leaders are being killed in gruesome ways after kangaroo courts sentence them; our villages are being burnt, our girls raped, intimidation and terror is being served on the Ogoni society. Our leaders are being exiled, and we are turned into refugees and beggars in other countries. Our church leaders and traditional chiefs are constantly intimidated to submission and forced to lie and sign documents to suit the government and vindicate its actions on the Ogoni people.
Who has bothered to find out what the Ogoni child is feeling under the circumstance? These children have seen so much, they have experienced so much. Does anyone care to know what the effects of these actions witnessed by these children will have on their development? Physically and emotionally, these children are wounded and no child should be made to undertake the kind of traumatic experience that the Ogoni child has been subjected to. She is so vulnerable and yet at Abacha's mercy. Civilised nations of the world will offer counselling and therapy to people under these circumstances. But in Ogoniland terror is the norm, and being justified by the military junta. What kind of future do we expect of these children? Have Abacha and Shell asked themselves this question? Has Shell asked it while they are busy counting profits in their balance sheet and justifying their actions for doing more business in Nigeria? But while they and the Nigerian government count and add an extra penny to their bank accounts, they should remember the Ogoni child. Like Lazarus in the Bible, the rich man will continue to eat and look down on him begging for food. But the day of judgement will definitely come.
The question the children want answered if anyone is listening are: When will these sufferings end? When will support come to release her from her present predicament? When will the Ogoni child be treated like other children elsewhere in the world? She lacks all the basic needs of life: education, health facilities, good drinking water, clean air, food, clothes, good roads, a free and fair society where no-one is oppressed. When can her future and happiness be considered in place of greed and profits by a few individuals? How long will the Ogoni child continue to be the target of destruction by enemies of progress?
Our problem needs attention and support from everyone. Abacha is not prepared to listen to the Ogoni people. He thinks he is God and can take people's lives whenever it pleases him. He is proud of himself and thinks he is untouchable. He has killed all our leaders and no-one did anything to him. Life in Ogoniland is not what anyone would wish for. We the Ogoni people cry for your help, we need you to continue to assert to Abacha and Shell that lives mean more than money.
Please continue with your campaigns to help make Ogoniland a place where our children can hope for a future, our youth can plan for a decent life and the elderly can heave a sigh of relief knowing that in their lifetime, Ogoni saw peace. We appeal to all lovers of peace, people with a conscience, people who believe in justice to come to our aid and continue to support our work for a fair society. The legacy left by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa must not be forgotten. "The struggle continues!" he said before finally giving up to the grip of a rope around his bare neck. We the Ogoni people hope that someday we will be able to look back on this time and have cause to thank Ken Saro-Wiwa for the sacrifice he made for us. And in the meantime, the struggle will continue.
50% of Nigerian girls and women are affected by the practice1, with up to 98% in countries such as Somalia2. 10,000 girls are estimated to be at risk in the UK3, and worldwide over 100 million women may have undergone the operation4.
Most FGM is performed on girls between one day and 16 years old5, with the age of mutilation decreasing. The operation has been described as comparable to torture: up to six adults may be required to hold down the girl as older women use rough unsterilised knives, razors or glass to cut, excise or infibulate. It is done almost invariably without anaesthetic, the girl suffering extreme panic and shock, convulsing, sometimes even biting through her tongue. It risks her immediate death from shock, severe bleeding, or subsequent infection.
As well as the serious psychological trauma, many will permanently suffer pain during sexual intercourse and face complications or death during delivery of their future children as a direct result of the tradition.
Defenders of the practice give a number of psycho-sexual, religious, sociological and even hygiene justifications. However, attitudes towards FGM are changing for the better. The 1984 seminar in Dakar on 'Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children' called for its abolition, and other bodies such as the WHO, UNICEF, Amnesty International, the World Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have condemned it too. Furthermore, in 1992 Minority Rights Group International published a detailed report 'Female Genital Mutilation: Proposals for Change', 6 covering the issues surrounding FGM and making suggestions on how to prevent it.
African women have been at the forefront of trying to eradicate FGM; the Inter-African Committee (IAC), for example, has met with much success through community education programmes in rural Africa, hosting zonal meetings for traditional midwives and birth attendants to promote positive practices. Such meetings involve education about the issues surrounding FGM, and aspire to giving the midwives other economically valuable skills so that financial reliance on excision is reduced. Grassroots and official campaigns, sometimes with wide media coverage, have considerably raised awareness, breaking the taboo and leading in some cases to governments making FGM a criminal offence.
Contact: Womankind Worldwide: tel: +44 (0) 181 563 8607
I have been a student activist since my secondary school days, but I became a full-time activist in 1990 with the introduction of the famous Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) and the subsequent formation of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), an umbrella organisation through which the OBR is pursued using non-violent struggle.
As readers will know, the Ogoni are a distinct ethnic minority located in the eastern part of Nigeria. The Ogonis, with a population of about 500,000, inhabit part of the Niger Delta and have fishing and farming as their main occupations. And although we occupy a seemingly small area compared to the Nigerian nation, we are blessed with abundant natural resources, particularly crude oil. Before Shell came to Ogoni in 1958, the land on which the Ogonis live and the rivers which surround them were very important. They provided not only material sustenance but a spiritual inheritance. The beliefs and cultural values of the Ogoni make the environment particularly significant, and inform the need to preserve it.
But for 38 years, Shell - now joined by Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) - has flared gas into hitherto pure Ogoni air, polluted and degraded our environment through oil spills and blow-outs, seized fertile and sacred lands without compensation of any sort to those affected, and has not bothered to conduct Environmental and Social Impact Assessments as performed in other parts of the world where similar activities are carried out. The Ogonis' sources of sustenance - fishing and farming - have failed: marine life, soil fertility, and flora and fauna have become seriously affected.
In a bid to check this worsening trend, the Ogonis in 1990 came up with the OBR and MOSOP. The OBR was in the same year presented to the people and the Federal Military Government of Nigeria then under the leadership of General Ibrahim Babangida. Until January 4, 1993, when the Ogoni struggle was brought into international focus in celebration of the United Nations World Day of Indigenous Peoples, the government and Shell remained unyielding to these wholesome demands of the Ogoni people: the right to self-determination, to protect the Ogoni environment from further degradation, to fair representation in all Nigerian national institutions, and to use a fair proportion of the Ogoni resources for Ogoni development.
In order to achieve grassroots support and maximum mobilisation, MOSOP under its first President Dr Garrick B Leton established and inaugurated other units within MOSOP such as the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP), the Federation of Ogoni Women Association (FOWA), the National Union of Ogoni Students (NUOS) at tertiary level, the Ogoni Students Union (OSU) at primary and secondary levels, the Ogoni Teachers Union (OTU), the Council of Ogoni Churches (COC), and others.
These affiliates had chapters at local, state and national levels, thereby incorporating all Ogonis in the struggle, irrespective of age and residence.
From 1993 when the first Ogoni Day was successfully celebrated in spite of serious opposition from the Nigerian military government, NUOS and OSU under my leadership continued the mobilisation of students and youths with the organisation of rallies, seminars, symposia, workshops, quizzes, debates and other enlightenment programmes at all levels. Topics like 'The role of students in the present Ogoni struggle', 'Does age determine public leadership?' and many more featured prominently during these programmes, and the activities greatly mobilised and sensitised the students and youth who subsequently occupied their rightful position of championing the cause.
Having noticed the unity, commitment and dedication of the students' body to the struggle, the government and Shell in particular introduced their usual tactic of divide and rule into the body, but to no avail. Unimpressed with the negative result, the government in collaboration with Shell chose to harrass, intimidate and threaten me and other student activists and attempted to proscribe the union. But we remained resolute and dedicated our lives, energies and resources to the furtherance of the struggle.
The mobilisation continued till that fated Saturday May 21, 1994 when the government and Shell stage-managed the massacre of four Ogoni elders at Giokoo and thereafter constituted the Internal Security Task Force, fully militarily equipped and charged with the sole responsibility of systematically wiping out the Ogonis. In spite of the constant raids, arrests, torture and killings carried out by these genocidal troops stationed in Ogoniland which sent or drove several MOSOP activists and sympathisers underground, the NUOS remained undaunted. The students' body, against the order by the then chairman of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force Major Paul Okuntimo (later promoted to Lt. Col. Okuntimo after completing the genocide in Ogoniland), organised the annual NUOS student week. This involved visits to victims of government / Shell instigated clashes against the Ogoni, visits to Ogoni communities destroyed during the said clashes and the pogrom after the Giokoo killings, an appeal for funds through a Rag Day, a 'Bob -a-Job' environmental clean-up (symbolising what the MOSOP environmental struggle is all about), and a seminar entitled 'The need for peace and unity in Ogoniland'. This climaxed on October 10, 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa's 53rd birthday, which was celebrated in a grand style.
With these activities, the government and Shell through the instrument of the Internal Security Task Force, beamed their satellite on the leadership of NUOS and the entire student population with intensified threats, harrassment, torture and intimidation. Not minding the consequences of defying the orders of these genocidal troops, the students mobilised the masses with renewed vigour and gave Ken Saro-Wiwa and the others detained since March 1994 without trial a heroic and civic reception in February 1995 at the Rivers State House Complex, Port Harcourt, venue of the kangaroo court. The sensitisation and mobilisation of the students and the entire Ogoni people, particularly the youths, continued till November 10, 1995, when against all pleas for clemency, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were hanged in Port Harcourt Prison, Rivers State.
Based on my democratic belief and principles, I relinquished power after conducting a successful election at the end of November 1995. As expected, my successor comrade Sunny Kogbo continued the same process of mobilisation, and on my advice and assistance alongside other student activists and elder statesmen, and in collaboration with the National Union of Rivers State Students (NURRS) led by comrade Kemedi von-Dimieari, successfully organised a rally in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the others on Sunday December 10, 1995 (World Human Rights Day) at the Nkpolu Campus of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt. During the celebration, Hostel E was renamed Ken Saro-Wiwa Hall and a road named after the dictator and killer General Sani Abacha was also renamed Ken Saro-Wiwa Road. During the rally, two mock pauper coffins constructed for and dedicated to General Abacha and to Lt Col. Komo were handed over to the University Vice-Chancellor for burial.
Although other rallies organised at the University of Port Harcourt and at other tertiary schools by the present leadership of Sunny Kogbo were aborted by Nigerian security operatives drafted into the schools during the rallies, the NUOS defied the military to hold the annual Ogoni Day celebration on January 4, 1996 at Bori and throughout Ogoniland. The army went to work, increasing the troops by thousands, and shooting, killing and looting. Several persons, including students, were killed, wounded and arrested.
It will be recalled that on the eve of these celebrations an elder statesman and life member of NUOS, comrade Charles Wiwa was arrested, tortured and detained without charge, and shortly after dragged before a magistrate court in Port Harcourt for unlawful assembly and breach of the peace. He never even participated in the Ogoni Day celebrations, but his crime is that of being Ken Saro-Wiwa's nephew. My father, Bishop A N John-Miller, the Secretary-General of the Council of Ogoni Churches (COC), and my uncle Sir Felix Barido Fomsi had also been detained incommunicado by the security forces. At the time of writing, they are underground with their families. Due to incessant threats and harassment on my person, including my family after the Ogoni Day celebrations, I had to flee to Benin Republic, seeking political asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) while at the same time championing the cause from Benin.
It will also be recalled that prior to the arrival on April 9 this year of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission to Ogoniland, NUOS leaders Sunny Kogbo and Lete Gbarale were abducted and spent four months in detention. Instead of dampening their spirit, however, the action of the genocidal troops gingered the students who came out en masse and peacefully protested the senseless hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the abduction of our leaders - to the astonishment of the team - while ignoring the consequences of their protest when the team departed.
"The government in collaboration with Shell chose
to harrass, intimidate and threaten me and other
student activists and attempted to proscribe the union.
But we remained resolute and dedicated our lives, energies
and resources to the furtherance of the struggle"
For now I have resettled in the United States of America and in line with the last injunction of Ken Saro-Wiwa on November 10, 1995, "Let the struggle continue!" I, in collaboration with other student activists, have started mobilising and sensitising the world on the Ogoni cause through the international wing of the NUOS.
I wish to thank all individuals and NGO's, the international community and various governments who have demonstrated their love in one way or another towards Ogoni. I strongly urge you all not to relent till Ogoni is free, and humbly request that you assist NUOS morally, financially and otherwise in our efforts to immortalise Ken Saro-Wiwa and the ideals for which he died.
Only at the end of August 1996 did the members of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) serve notice on the Abacha junta that they plan to initiate another nationwide strike action if the union's general secretary Chief Frank Ovie Kokori was not released. Kokori and several members of the union were arrested in 1994 following the popular strike against continued military rule, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election which was won by Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the detention of hundreds of pro-democracy activists.
The failure of that strike was a major lesson for the union. Though it had successfully paralysed the government and economy, it failed to unseat the government of the new dictator, General Sani Abacha. As a NUPENG official in Lagos noted, "You learn everyday. We were betrayed by several unions and political figures. But I can assure you that this will not happen again."
What were the lessons from the 1994 strike? Most NUPENG officials interviewed in 1994 point at: first, insufficient groundwork and preparation for a long drawn out strike; second, limited interaction and alliances with rural based organizations, especially in the oil producing areas; third, insufficient mobilization of the strategic oil tanker drivers and gas station workers; forth, limited internationalization of their agenda including the mobilization of global public opinion; and fifth, the non-involvement of non-trade union organizations like students, ethnic and minority movements, and other professional movements. For the future they have promised "to cover all loopholes and articulate a comprehensive agenda to challenge military dictatorship in Nigeria."
It is instructive that the oil workers have now discovered their strategic location in the Nigerian economy. For a country that depends almost exclusively on their labor for the production and refining of oil from which the government gets over 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings through the sale of 2.1 million barrels of oil per day which in turn brings in about $41 million daily, oil workers are the most strategic segment of the labor force. The government realized this in the 1970s and moved to promulgate several draconian decrees designed to eliminate industrial unrest from the oil industry. This was because the government realized that a strike in the sector has the potential of not just paralyzing the economy but also of affecting foreign exchange earnings, foreign reserves, and investor confidence especially in the oil industry. In addition, the various governments, especially since 1973 when oil became the country's major export and foreign exchange earner have taken a keen interest, in collusion with the oil companies, in the domestication and control of the oil workers union through all sorts of repressive and manipulative strategies.
Of course, such control measures have only forced the workers to resist capital and the state through several complex covert strategies of resistance and struggle. It has also forced the union to develop a radical worker education program, construct informal levels of leadership, grant some autonomy to its various Zones, and emphasize the need for alliances with other militant unions and organizations. The 1994 strike was the very first 'political strike' in the union's history and it took Nigerians by surprise that workers in a strategic industry, who are relatively well paid and 'comfortable' by Nigerian standards should embark on a strike for political reasons. As one of the leaders at the NUPENG Headquarters in Lagos put it: "You get pushed to the wall and you react. Our members are Nigerians too, and they see the brutality of the regime and the poverty around them. Things get to a stage and you just have to sacrifice your so-called comfort for the general good."
Since the failed 1994 strike and the detention of Kokori the oil workers have embarked on a series of meetings and consultations designed to strengthen the union and prepare for another showdown with the government: "There is no doubt about it. The big one will come. The junta does not seem ready to leave office. We are not prepared to stand for that. The fact that our secretary general remains in detention only makes the fight easier to sell to Nigerians." The strategy this time is to forge very strong alliances with grassroots organizations especially in the Niger Delta. The oil workers believe that among other things, the government-sponsored attacks against the Ogonis, the occupation and destruction of Ogoni villages by Nigerian troops, and the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in November 1995 is not just an intrusion into their areas of concentration (the oil producing areas) but also a pointer at the nature of future struggles and possible state response. For these future struggles the oil workers believe that they have to work with the various ethnic and professional organizations in the Niger Delta and in the country at large, and steps are being taken in this direction. The recent clashes between oil tanker drivers and members of the Nigeria police are pointers to the unpreparedness of the workers to tolerate the corruption, harassment and excesses of agents of the military junta.
NUPENG is expanding and improving its worker education program as a direct way of increasing the consciousness of wider society. This is to make it easier for the larger society to support future struggles of the union and make mobilization easier. In the 1994 strike, many unions, communities and political constituencies did not understand the issues, the importance of oil workers in the economy, and why they should join the struggle. Educating the Nigerian nation about the dangers of environmental abuse is also a critical aspect of the new NUPENG agenda. The majority of Nigerians know absolutely nothing about the conditions which drove communities like the Ogonis to mass mobilization and to making peaceful demands for compensation. Decades of gas flaring, poor responses to spills and blowouts, and insensitivity to the plight of oil producing communities by the oil companies and the oil-dependent Nigerian state have totally devastated the lives of the people. Yet, only those in the Niger Delta, who ironically do not enjoy the benefits of oil wealth know the pains and frustrations of living in those areas. NUPENG plans to change all that. Finally, NUPENG hopes to capitalize on the international momentum which accompanied the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections; the detention of the winner of that election Chief Abiola; and the judicial murder of Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues to keep international attention focused on Nigeria and its peculiar type of brutal military dictatorship.
Local confrontation with the Abacha junta therefore will precipitate a comprehensive response from the international community. Of course, oil companies like Shell, long steeped in corruption, exploitation, oppression, and total insensitivity to the communities they exploit and destroy are still in full support of the military junta. As well, Shell in particular continues to work against the interests of the Ogonis, the oil producing communities, and NUPENG by harassing people, collaborating with the military, importing weapons into the country, funding a massive anti - Ogoni international publicity campaign, and increasing investments in Nigeria. By refusing to condemn the continued occupation of Ogoniland, the detention of hundreds of innocent Ogonis, the trial of nineteen more Ogoni and members of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP); and by refusing to distance itself from the Abacha junta, Shell "could easily become the target of very serious political action" in the future.
The current Abacha transition agenda shows very clearly that nothing has changed or is changing in Nigeria. The society is still being terrorized by the military and its security agencies. Even Nigerian exiles abroad are no longer safe. The economy, in spite of support from Shell and by ineffective sanctions from the West continues to sink deeper into crisis. Crime has taken over the major cities. Civil society remains suffocated as pro-democracy, civil liberties and media organizations suffer from 'mysterious' fires and attacks. Scores of activists remain in jail and more have been forced into exile. Poverty has become the lot of most Nigerians as the junta busies itself rehabilitating discredited politicians and plotting how to succeed itself.
Yet, as a NUPENG official in Lagos has noted, "Abacha is helping us directly and indirectly. The people can see through these inhuman policies and tricks. It is their fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, neighbours, and relatives who are being assassinated, jailed, or forced into exile. They are already mobilized and are ready for action. What we, and others, need to provide is the powerful and sustained leadership to take back our country from the crooks." With increasing support from abroad, the new unity among foreign-based opposition movements evidenced in the establishment of the United Democratic Front of Nigeria (UDFN), and stronger alliances between opposition organizations, future struggles led by the oil workers and other movements will have far-reaching impact on the organization of politics and society in Nigeria.
TgeoIt is a paradox that often the most accessible political causes are those furthest away from where we live. When I was at university, in the mid-'80s, the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign attracted huge support; today I would be surprised if the current campaign against the Nigerian regime didn't attract equally strong support. Of course there is nothing at all wrong with this - in fact it would be worrying if such a spirit of internationalism did not exist. What is concerning however is when such international vision blinds us to what is happening within our own country, and we then miss the vital connections which need to be made.
Shell is the world's 3rd largest Transnational Corporation (TNC) with a market capitalisation of $102.871 billion (according to the FT's Top 500 Companies, 1996). Approximately 14% of its oil comes from Nigeria, and I do not need to detail here the catalogue of environmental devastation caused by its operations in Ogoniland and the whole Niger Delta. And the human casualties have been many, with Ken Saro-Wiwa being only the most well-known among thousands killed. Since Ogoniland became 'visible' on the world media stage Shell have had to try to clean up their image, and adjust their operations - virtually pulling out of Ogoniland, setting aside a paltry $20 million for community programmes. However the main thrust of their operations in Nigeria continues - even the executions on November 10, 1995 didn't stop Shell announcing, 5 days later, that it would go ahead with its £2.5 billion liquified natural gas plant at Bonny at the mouth of the River Niger.
There has been, of course, an enormous double standard in operation regarding Shell's international behaviour. In June 1989, they pleaded guilty to spilling 40 tonnes of crude oil into the River Mersey, and were fined £1 million, and gave subsequent large donations to local arts and culture. In the Niger Delta their gas flaring has been for years one of the world's greatest sources of greenhouse gases; some of the land is carbonified down to a depth of 3-4 feet making recovery of the land all but impossible; massive oil spills are commonplace. Out of 67 world oil spills by Shell (the reported ones, that is) between 1982 and 1992, a staggering 26 of those took place in a single country - Nigeria (Oil Spill Intelligence Report, 1992). This is precisely why Ken Saro-Wiwa branded Shell and the other involved TNCs racist: "In Britain, Shell produces oil, but you look at the adverts - they are talking of keeping the valleys neat and clean so that human beings will not know that anything is going on there. In Ogoni, Shell pipelines are there for everyone to see... I accuse Shell of racism because they are doing in Ogoni what they dare not do in Europe or America, where they also prospect for oil." (Independent, 14.11.95)
However, Shell's ruthlessness in terms of profit maximization regardless of the cost in human rights can also be seen in its operations within Britain. And it is this aspect that I would like to address specifically in this article. Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) speaking in Oxford in May 1995 made this human rights connection quite specifically: "Shell's actions in both countries are in clear breach of all standards of decency and justice. The pursuit of profit has meant that the company does not care whose rights they trample on. I express my union's solidarity with the Ogoni people and call on Shell to recognise the tribal lands of the Ogoni and pay them the rate for the oil extracted. I also call on Shell to retore trade union rights to their employees in the UK in line with international law."
Some readers might be shocked by this analogy - how can such abuses be compared? Some may not even be particularly sympathetic to trade unions, and what might be perceived as an ananchronistic, often male-dominated political culture. So I feel I should preface the main body of this article with some observations.
One of the clearest characteristics of the Conservative governments of the last 17 years in Britain has been an unprecedented and extreme hostility to the very basis of trade unionism. The infamous "enemy within" remarks of Mrs Thatcher made during the 1984/85 Miners' Strike were only the most overt manifestation of this approach. There have been dozens of legislative changes involving everything from secondary picketing to numerous restrictions on strike organization. In the last month there has even been talk of banning strikes altogether in parts of the public sector.
What has been equally disturbing however has been to see the 'trickle down' effect of such continuous hostility and propaganda in the media, to the extent that unionphobia has spread to whole sections of supposedly progressive opinion - on the left and in the green movement. In an age where the image of organizations is paramount, perhaps the unions have not helped themselves, by being slow to understand this and spend the necessary millions on PR campaigns. Yet this must not mean that we become blind to the fact that trade unions are still potentially forces of great radicalism in our society, and around the world. To enable workers to have their voices heard; to create a culture of participation and democracy; to counteract the enormous power of large corporations or employers; to campaign for continually higher safety standards in the workplace; to enable fractured and isolated individuals to come together with a united strength. These are just some of the facets of effective trade unionism - principles that our ancestors struggled and even died for, principles that are at the heart of struggle today. It is no coincidence that opposition to Abacha's regime is centred around the Nigerian trade unions - they are the harbingers of democracy.
With so much remembering in this country, why are we so incapable of remembering our radical heritage? Where are the memorials to the Tolpuddle Martyrs? Where is the statue of Shelley? When do we celebrate the foundation of the NHS? How are the Grunwick women remembered? Many of the greatest achievements we take for granted; every time a woman is given maternity leave, every time you receive sick pay and next year, when millions of people's lives will be improved by having a decent minimum wage - think of the trade unions that brought these things about, standards that are now internationally recognised. In its charter the International Labour Organization, recognised by the United Nations, states that Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining are fundamental human rights. Freedom of Association - the right to meet with your fellow workers, the right to make common cause, so that together you're stronger than you can ever be alone. Collective Bargaining - the ability to have a workforce democratically represented in negotiations about pay and conditions of work, so that together you're stronger than you can ever be alone. Bill Morris is right to link the situation in Nigeria with the situation in Britain - both involve breaches of fundamental human rights.
Since the early 1990's Shell and BP particularly have waged a concerted campaign to de-recognise trade unions within the U.K. oil industry, and it is these two, the UK's two largest oil TNCs which I will be focussing on in this article. It is hard to determine the immediate impetus for this, whether it was a co-ordinated policy and when the first, preliminary steps were taken. Rumours of impending de-unionisation were certainly current in 1990, for that was when the National Oil Refinery Coordinating Committee was set up, a national liason group for shop stewards across the industry, precisely in response to what they correctly saw as a major threat from the oil TNCs - "a clear strategy by the oil companies to attack the collective bargaining rights of their workers in order to de-recognise unions." ('The Oil Industry - A Dossier of Disgrace', TGWU) The oil corporations have always denied that they work together, stressing the very competitive nature of the industry. However, historical precedent would seem to work against their contention - witness the infamous Achnagary Incident of 1928, when, at a time of crisis for the oil industry, it was discovered that the bosses of Exxon, Shell and BP 'just happened' to be meeting together at a remote Scottish castle. Or in more recent times, the high degree of co-operation: Shell and Esso merging their fuel additives research programme in July this year; BP and Mobil merging their retail and distribution operations. So, despite the protestations of 'no conspiracy' by the oil TNCs it does seem inevitable that there would have been some degree of co-ordination in the timing of the attack on the unions.
BP was the first to attack, moving its staff at the Baglan Bay chemicals plant in South Wales onto 'single staff status'. This effectively means that the corporation has an "individual relationship" with each employee. BP emphasises that staff are still free to join a union, but that any representation will only be on health & safety issues and grievance procedures. On the critical issues of contracts and pay, there is no union representation, no 'collective bargaining'. The Baglan Bay inititiative was followed by a similar procedure at the BP oil refineries at Grangemouth in Scotland and Llandarcy in Wales, and the whole process was completed this summer with the workforce at the Chemicals plant at Grangemouth also moving to single staff status. BP's press officer David Nicholas wished to impress upon me that at all these sites "staff had voted for the change to single staff status". The words 'Turkeys' and 'Christmas' did come to mind. Why on earth would employees vote away their only voice, their only power against such a formidable force as a major TNC? BP suggested individual assessment and bonuses were the reasons; the unions have another view which emphasises the enormous pressures applied. Bill Hodge, TGWU London regional official, told me of a distribution depot where road tanker drivers arrived at work one morning to be greeted by their manager brandishing new contracts and telling them to sign. Doing this they would sign away all their union representation. If they didn't sign? The corporation had a fleet of contract drivers already in their lorries and ready to go. A strange form of 'consultation'.
There have also been numerous reports of financial inducements to move onto the new contracts. A senior shop steward at Mobil's Coryton refinery on the Thames told me that 2 days before Christmas last year staff at BP's Grangemouth refinery had been offered cash payments of £1,000 each if they signed away their union representation.
Similar cash inducements have been offered to tanker drivers at Shell's Shell Haven refinery near Southend over recent years. In August this year I met a Shell Haven driver delivering oil in South London. He was contemptuous of the majority of his colleagues who had signed away their rights - the printable aspect of what he said was that these people were complete "mugs", and that they were being paid only £16,000 p.a. for the same work that they'd been paid £24,000 p.a. a year before. They'd been bought off "for 30 pieces of silver". BP's comment on such financial inducements? They "hadn't heard of anything like that."
The wider situation at Shell is more complex than that at BP, with a more varied, site-by-site approach to its 10,000 UK employees. As long ago as 1987 saw the setting up of the Stanlow Staff Group at their largest refinery at Stanlow, Cheshire. This was originally for supervisory staff, but over the years it extended to administrative, technical and maintenance staff. It was encouraged by the corporation as a way of undermining the traditionally strong union presence, and this tactic has partially worked. Individuals joining the SSG do so on a similar "staff status" basis to B.P. employees.
However, the TGWU still retains collective bargaining rights among certain sections of the workforce, in particular the maintenance and technical staff. Within Shell Expro (Exploration & Production) there has never been full union representation. In 1986, 6 out of Shell Expro's 33 offshore installations voted for ASTMS (Association of Scientific, Technical & Managerial Staff) to be recognised; 3 other installations voted for recognition in 1989 and 1993, this time with MSF (Manufacturing, Science & Finance union - the successors to ASTMS). However, such recognition only relates to grievance and disciplinary procedure not collective bargaining.
The most bitter struggle at Shell though has involved its Shell Haven refinery and the distribution section (principally road tanker drivers). In June 1993 Shell unilaterally imposed new contracts on its Shell Haven employees, saying that "collective bargaining arrangements were complex and innappropriate for a site of its size". Unlike BP there was no attempt to consult its workforce, however cosmetically, about the move to individual contracts. As Shell put it in its report to the House of Commons Employment Committee (18.10.94): "The arrangements which involved 3 separate unionised groups (TGWU, MSF and a joint craft agreement) have therefore been replaced with a single and effective process of direct communication between employees and line manager."
Throughout this process Shell, while stating that it "is not predisposed against trade unions", have continually painted the unions as backwards-looking and insufficiently aware of the need to be competitive - "collective bargaining can be an impediment to change"; "traditional forms of collective representation appear increasingly peripheral" etc (both quotations from the above report). So how do the unions themselves respond to such assertions? Bill Hodge completely refuted the claims and explained that when the TGWU first heard about Shell's plans to change the relationship with the union at Shell Haven, he repeatedly offered meetings with an open agenda: "We went to Shell and said:'look, what do you want to talk about? We'll start with a blank piece of paper". And they refused point blank to even meet us!" He also added that he particularly objects to the unions being painted as some kind of outmoded, conservative force, when the reverse is true. He explained that the TGWU, for example, had just recently negotiated an agreement with ICI that has already yielded a 40% increase in productivity. Indeed, this is one of his particular frustrations with regard to the Shell Haven situation, that management were so short-sighted that they couldn't realize that de-unionising the site with all the bad feeling created wouldn't lead to productivity increases. For him, there is no contradiction between strong union representation and progressive working practices; indeed he would see the former naturally leading to the latter.
The tanker drivers have been treated even more shabbily. In July 1992 they were told by Shell that they were "insufficiently flexible" and that the corporation would have to unilaterally end its Marketing Distribution Salary Agreement with the TGWU. Individual staff contracts followed, and later on contracting out of the distribution operation. The result? Tanker drivers today are doing the same work as they did 5 years ago, but for approximately £7-8,000 less p.a. Not only that, but because the vast majority are now employed on a contracted out basis, drivers are only paid for contracts completed, not hours worked. In practice this means a company puts in a tender to Shell to deliver a certain quantity of oil; to win the contract this often means promising that a particular delivery can be made in an unrealistically short time. And who suffers? The drivers again. The same Shell Haven driver I met this summer gave me a concrete example. The following day, a Friday, a colleague of his was expected to go from Shell Haven to Chelsea and back to Shell Haven within 3 hours. At night with no traffic it would be extremely difficult, but this was on a Friday afternoon at the height of the rush-hour. It would take a minimum of 5 hours, yet the individual would only be paid for 3 hours. Shell proudly reports that driver productivity is up by 15%, but would it be so proud if practices such as the above became commonly known? If people began to realize that such 'gains' are made by treating its staff in such a thoroughly exploitative manner? Not surprisingly stress levels are up massively among the drivers and morale is at an all-time low. And then Shell have to carry out an 'employee attitude survey' in 1995 to find out what's wrong with their workforce!
Two ironies to end with. Firstly, although we do not usually regard the US as a hotbed of trade unionism and workers' rights, it is an American oil TNC, Mobil, who at least still operate with a strongly unionised workforce at their Coryton refinery. Although it should be noted that in other countries, in particular New Zealand, Mobil have been active in denying its workers collective employment contracts. A further cloud on the horizon for Coryton is that BP have now merged their retail and distribution sectors with Mobil, and are making threatening sounds about such "out-dated" working practices. A British company from the country that gave the world trade unionism now seeking to extinguish it.
The final irony emerged at the end of my conversation with Bill Hodge. He asked me who this article was for, I explained, and we then started discussing the linkage beween what was happening in Nigeria and Britain and the importance of publicising human rights abuses, of not allowing TNCs to get away with double standards:
"Like the Body Shop" he said.
"What do you mean? I thought...."
"Oh yes, they've done a very good job publicising Nigeria, Ogoni etc... Brilliant. The only problem is they refuse to recognise trade unions themselves! I've been down to Littlehampton several times, oh it's all very friendly, you know we all sat round on bean bags, eat veggy vol au vents, but they categorically refuse to have their own staff represented."
But it seems to be true. As Body Shop managing director, Stuart Rose, put it in a letter to the TGWU: "The company does not formally recognise any trade union as representing any of our employees, and has no plans to do so."
Still incredulous, I contacted the Body Shop directly and quizzed a 'Corporate Communications' spokesman, who was extremely defensive about the issue. He said yes, people could join a trade union, it's just the unions are not recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining. (Now where have I heard that before?) He kept repeating that the Body Shop was a "democratic" company, that it had its own "special processes and systems already in operation" and that if any individual employee was unhappy they could go straight to a member of the board. Absolutely in the tradition of Victorian paternalism, but surely somewhat at odds with its modern, ethically sound image, the pioneering Social Audit, etc? Finally I explained that I was extremely well-disposed towards the Body Shop, but what concerned me was what could be made of this by say a journalist who was not. The Body Shop was leaving itself wide open to a charge of gross hypocrisy. "Yes, I can see that argument," the spokesman concurred, and then said that if in the future more individuals requested union representation then he was sure it would be looked at "sympathetically". Let's hope so.
Over the last months of research into the impact of the oil industry one question has come back again and again: What is the inter-relationship between Environmental Rights and Human Rights?
Often it might seem that they are inextricably linked - for example in Nigeria. Yet what happens if one examines this case more closely? Let us look at the trade unions in Nigeria, and in particular, the oil industry unions. In the most highly unionised of any African country, NUPENG and PENGASSAN have a pivotal role to play, for over 90% of the country's income stems from oil revenues. So, do they support international calls for an oil embargo? How could they? Even though they know such a measure could bring Abacha's dictatorship down within 6 months, it would bring thousands of its members down with it. In a situation such as this, when unions are fighting to deliver minimal living conditions to their people, environmental issues - however acute - will not over-ride the daily issues of survival.
I can hear the voice of a fundamental ecologist, arguing with the entire approach of this article: in a world where mad consumption of oil and other fossil fuels is contributing to massive environmental damage, to argue for the fair treatment of oil industry workers is the historical equivalent of lubricating the railtracks taking millions to Auschwitz - it simply helps to facilitate a new holocaust. I cannot agree with this position. I have always felt that people can only start to fight about environmental issues when they feel a minimal level of security, when their stomachs are not aching.
But this is the most complex of areas, and beyond this complexity lies another vital question - that of political convergence - the Red and the Green. In Britain, the odd, brave figure such as Robin Cook edges towards a new type of radical politics. In Italy such convergence is already beginning - Walter Veltroni, Deputy Prime Minister and a leading figure of the Democratic Left has spoken recently of "creating a new left which is capable of reconciling the socialist inspiration of the twentieth century with other philosophies from the liberal to the environmentalist - a left which does not confine itself to defending what has been achieved." On a less institutional level, perhaps we can see further signs of convergence in actions such as September's 'Reclaim the Future' event, which linked sacked Liverpool dockers and environmental activists.
When such convergence is established it will not be necessary to write articles emphasising the linkage between human and environmental rights. In the meantime, and it could be a long and mean time, we need to shout from the rooftops that Shell's treatment of peoples in the Niger Delta is intimately related to its treatment of its workforce in Britain; that BP's treatment of peoples in Columbia is of a piece with its treatment of its employees here. Transnational Corporations behave in fundamentally the same way the world over, from Bonny to Baglan Bay.
These are areas that 90% CRUDE will be working on over the next few months. 90% CRUDE is an initiative bringing together journalists, artists, activists and social scientists who are interested in looking at the impact of transnational corporations and the oil industry. We look forward to dialogue with all other individuals and groups concerned with these fundamental questions. 90% CRUDE can be contacted at 0171 403 5896.
Black sheepShell has won one of the best prospecting licenses given by the Falkland Islands government for potentially huge reserves of oil beneath the fragile ecosystems of the South Atlantic islands. 12 other companies will benefit from the licenses, none Argentinian. However, a secret deal between the Argentinian navy and Rolls Royce to repair damage done during Thatcher's 'election war' of 1982 has kept them happy - particularly as the Argentinian government is still laying claims to the 'Malvinas'.
Corporate WatchingThe long-awaited newsletter of Oxford-based Earth First! investigators 'Corporate Watch' has now been produced. For some interesting background on some of the dirtiest companies and their grassroots opposition, contact:
Corporate Watch, Box E, 111 Magdalene Road, Oxford OX4 1RQ Tel: 01865 791391
An unpublished official government report ordered by Colombian president Ernesto Samper and covered by the Observer on 20.10.96 details the behaviour of oil companies BP, Triton, Total and Ecopetrol (sic).
The report accuses BP of passing photographs and videos of local protesters to the army - which they fund to the tune of tens of millions of pounds - leading to killings, disappearances, torture and beatings. Striking BP employees have also been kidnapped and arrested. Colombia has the worst record of human rights in the western hemisphere, according to Human Rights Watch.
Senior spokesman for BP in London, Ian Stewart, dismissed the report as 'an ad hoc local thing', but added that he hadn't read it. Director of Corporate Relations, Richard Newton, denied the accusations but noted that "there are great opportunities for British companies" and that BP is "well-placed to make a positive contribution to Colombia's economic and social development." Indeed it is.
Labour MEP Richard Howitt tabled a motion at the European Parliament which called for Samper to publish the report and for oil companies to 'observe the highest respect for human rights and environmental protection'. They have all promised to do so from now on.
An international consortium led by Total of France and Unocal of the US is using forced labour to construct a $1 billion pipeline from the Yadana gasfield across the Burmese peninsula to Thailand. The Bangkok Post of May 1995 estimated that thousands of villagers are subject to forced labour on the pipeline. The well-organised Burmese forced labour system draws on a pool of three million people, and 500,000 are estimated to be in slavery at any one time during the dry season, often in chains.
The pipeline will certainly cause massive damage and disruption to one of the last undefiled rainforests of south-east Asia and to the indigenous Mon, Karen and Tovoyan people. Most disturbingly, however, it will ensure finance to sustain the Burmese military, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which is notorious for its widespread and systematic abuse of human rights - including the massacre in 1988 of 8000 pro-democracy activists and the continuing use of forced labour.
An oil company executive cited in Infrastructure Finance (Feb / March 1996) but keen to remain anonymous, defended the use of forced labour as reasonable considering the country couldn't borrow money to build its infrastructure.
Many corporations clearly prefer working with brutal regimes for the stability and brutal efficiency they provide. Unocal's president, John Imle, says of SLORC, "What we look for is a government that delivers on its commitments. This one has." Shell's very own Mr Achebe has said of the Nigerian junta: "For a commercial company trying to make investments, you need a stable government. Dictatorships can give you that." And oil company analyst Mark Gilman of UBS is quoted in Infrastructure Finance saying, "There are a lot of folks in the industry who would rather deal with an authoritarian regime than with the chaos often associated with an emerging democracy."
Nevertheless, Unocal and Total insist that it is possible to do business ethically in Burma, and that commerce can be a civilising influence. John Imle has blamed campaigners against the pipeline for the military's atrocities.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights, however, believes otherwise, and this autumn has filed a lawsuit against SLORC, Unocal and Total.
The Centre for Constitutional RightsViolations of international human rights law by individuals within government security forces and by organisations such as paramilitary units and corporations are increasingly being challenged by the victims in high-level legal actions.
Transnational corporations such as Unocal are increasingly being recognised as quasi-states and therefore, like the traditional nation-state, also subject to human rights legislation.
The US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights supports such individuals and progressive groups in such legal challenges to further struggles for economic, social and political justice. In 'An Activist's Guide: Bringing International Human Rights Claims in United States Courts', the CCR introduces the background behind such legal action:
"The inability to enforce human rights protection is perhaps the most glaring weakness of international law. As long as human rights abusers know that they are likely to escape punishment, people all over the world will continue to suffer gross human rights violations, with no justice and no redress. Governments should provide a means to obtain justice. In practice, however, political and economic interests often block state action. Where governments are unwilling to act, victims of human rights abuses and activists working with them must consider other means of redress which are less dependent upon the political process.
"Private legal action by individuals seeking monetary damages or injunctions may provide one alternative means to hold human rights abusers accountable.
"Some legal systems require that criminal prosecutions be initiated first or pose other barriers to such litigation; in the United States and other countries, however, it is possible to file civil actions independently, without any prior governmental involvement. US law also allows such lawsuits to be filed for abuses which took place in another country."
Other legislation from elsewhere in the world which also deals with human rights issues may be utilised if a particular case cannot be filed in the US.
The groundbreaking Filartiga case in 1980 brought the Paraguayan police officer Americo Norberto Pena-Irala successfully to court in the US for the torturing to death of 17 year old Joel Filartiga in Paraguay, and since then a number of multi-million dollar judgements have been brought against other human rights violators.
Although the money owed may not be easy to secure afterwards, plaintiffs consider a US court decision upholding their charges against the perpetrator of the crime to be a major victory in their struggle for justice. When successful, human rights issues are highlighted publicly, and the guilty are forced to answer for their crimes.
Further legislation has been introduced in the US since some of the early successful cases: victims of torture and relatives of those murdered around the world are now enabled to bring cases to court in the US.
Of course, the risks, the time and energy needed, and the dangers of losing the case - such as creating 'bad law' - need very careful consideration.
Current challenges include Doe v Karadic for murder, torture and brutal sexual assault in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Doe v SLORC, Unocal, and Total with regard to corporate collusion with the Burmese dictatorship.
CCR, 666 Broadway, New York, NY 10012
Tel: +1 212 614 6464 Fax: +1 212 614 6499
Until recently the corrupting of 'third world' officials has been regarded as an economic necessity both by managers and politicians in the 'north'. Some have even attempted to defend this widespread practice with ideological arguments: "Is it up to companies of the industrialised world to act as missionaries and export our own morals to other parts of the world? We merely adapt to local customs." The cynicism of this reasoning is evident - not only because so-called 'grand corruption' by companies of the 'north' in developing countries has multiplied over the last ten years, but also because many mega-projects, the famous 'white elephants', would never have been attempted without the assistance of such corporations and the money-lending institutions. There is no doubt about the detrimental effects of the influx of large corruption-payments to the economy and the political system of the 'victim country': fragile democracy stands no chance so long as dictators receive funds to pay for allegiances.
For quite different reasons the 'north' is building up a front against international commercial corruption. Since 1977 the US has been punishing citizens, residents and particularly corporations corrupting abroad, in order to maintain the competitive clout of their own export industry. More recently other major industrialised countries are joining the US in order to "establish a level playing field of commerce" worldwide.
In June 1996 the prime-ministers of the G7-countries meeting in Lyon issued a public statement asking for the criminalisation of the bribery of a foreign official. One month earlier the ministers of 26 OECD countries adhered to a statement banning tax deductability of bribes worldwide. Since 1994 the OECD has been preparing a whole program of action against international commercial bribery, including new rules on bookkeeping and auditing of companies to raise standards of transparency.
Other international organisations are taking up the issue of international corruption too. Regional organisations like the OAS and the EU have very recently passed international treaties against corruption. The Council of Europe is preparing a comprehensive set of international instruments against corruption, and the World Bank has taken decisions to raise levels of awareness against it.
Even if this new activity is primarily motivated by a 'first world' agenda, it will have dramatic effects on countries like Nigeria: if companies continuing to corrupt Nigerian officials are publicly exposed and sanctioned internationally, if they risk criminal charges and loss of contracts in other regions of the world, they will develop a strong self-interest to stop large-scale bribery.
I bumped into my friend Pete1 today as he emerged from the newsagents clutching Guardian and fags. He'd just handed in his notice to one of the most prestigious firms specialising in environmental law, after anguishing over whether they were mainly in it for the kudos and the dosh. Now he wants to hit the corporate bastards2 where it hurts.
Mercurial lights were shining in his eyes. Wouldn't it be good if Shell could be brought to its knees in a British court? If only the world's biggest oil company were stripped to its barest assets after paying out massive compensation for environmental damage, land seizure, and complicity in murder. Oh, if only Shell could get religion and become a moral force!
None of this will happen of course. To be sure, Australia's biggest company, BHP, is now shelling out millions of dollars to 30,000 Indigenous Ok Tedi landowners in Papua New Guinea, after clogging up one of the country's biggest rivers with toxic tailings. But the case was settled out of court: lines formerly drawn, dissolved soon afterwards. RTZ may also get dragged screaming into the British High Court in a few months or years - charged with negligence leading to the severe diseasing of possibly hundreds of former workers at its huge Namibian uranium mine. And Tom Beanal, Agungme chair of the Lemasa community association in West Papua (Indonesian-occupied 'Irian Jaya') has just passed the first hurdle in a compensation claim for damages against US mining monster Freeport McMoran, which has ravaged his people's land and waterways for thirty years3.
Beanal is suing for US$6 million. Freeport pays Henry kissinger a tenth of this each year to act as their advisor and hit man with the US State Department.
We shouldn't minimise the publicity gains that can be made by a relatively miniscule community organisation, faced with unprecedentedly monolithic multinationals, and finally dragging its adversary before the bench.
But there is something disquieting to me in the grand gesture, the David versus Goliath scenario, played out by cross-dressed4 poseurs, looking like they've strayed from the set of Poldark, in order to debate how many angels were stabbed by a single pin. Britain's 'top ten' lawyers are paid a million quid a year. Even the average brief will take a ten percent that looks monstrously excessive to ordinary mortals. The silks then slide into the next bullring, the next corporate gameshow. This time around, though, they may be advising Tesco on how to sidestep planning regulations, or Allbright and Wilson on avoiding penalties for chemical discharges to the sea.
Legendary US lawyer, the late Bill Kunstler, once said, "I stand like a colossus with a foot in two camps. A marvellous position for getting screwed!" You can also piss from a great height - but on no-one in particular.
Certainly we can all use the law. People ought be able to use the law, and the poorer or more exploited they are, the more the courts should be open to them. Environmental law should mean just that: nowhere for the criminals to hide and cook up other ways of appropriating our commons for future devastation.5
The question is whether it should also mean tying up our hands and precious piggy banks in costly litigation, with only a handful of lawyers willing to act on a pro bono basis. Or whether plaintiffs should have to face serried ranks of so-called 'experts', slicing the finer points of which poison killed which fish, or whether this particulate choked how many crustaceans. ("Arguing about a church's eastward position," as Thomas Hardy put it in the mouth of Jude, "while all creation is groaning".)
And at the end of the day, even if the skirmish is won, the battle may be lost: the wider struggle for community control, the right to a full life for all living creatures; for a world where the cleaner earns no more than the chair; for one where the real obscenity isn't seen as a picture by Robert Mapplethorpe, but a pension of forty odd quid. Or where a man like Goldsmith - whingeing about the lack of democracy under Maastricht, while sitting on a fortune based on the merciless exploitation of forests and mines - would have to sell the Big Issue in order to pay for the rent.
It's not that we should disavow the legal system altogether. Sometimes, when we're attacked, there is no option but to fight back using legal tools (as Greenpeace London had to with McDonalds). But the great danger is that court action inexorably drives us to dilute our politics. The compromises may seem to be slight (debating whether a felled coco palm is worth $100 or five times as much). But the very act of agreeing to price the unpriceable, to commoditise the cultural, is a form of betrayal. It's not that you shouldn't put a price on any natural or social resource (Northern views of what Southerners are willing to sell are often highly selective in this respect). Rather, it is that the long term costs of the damage suffered - the sequestration of land, the undermining of community livelihoods, the displacement of traditional economies - are literally incalculable.
By rights, if Shell were sued for what it has done across the world, it should be out of business altogether. And it is not what it has done, but the very business of what it is - the secrecy with which it operates, the abusive acts it has to commit, the grotesque alignment of military and economic power to which it is pivotal, the unacceptable concentration of economic power - that should be in the dock.
More than a decade and a half ago, the German philosopher Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in a seminal essay on radical ecology, pointed to the growth of multinational corporatism. He described it not primarily as a creeping disorder of the body politic (with which everyone is now familiar), but much more insidiously as a usurping system which is dealing out the solutions to the very crises it creates. Appropriately, Enzensberger cited Shell as a major polluter on the one hand, and a busy propagator and purveyor of technical fixes for its transgressions on the other.
This was a fundamental lesson of the Brent Spar episode, which proved so damaging to Greenpeace credibility: the organisation had chosen just one field on which to do battle, and it turned out to be the wrong one. Instead of recognising the error, Greenpeace is now compounding it, finally throwing away any radical credentials it might have once possessed: forging 'alliances' between big business and the 'movement' it no longer represents, and holding seminars to bring the 'two sides' together. 'Greening' industry is a pretence which has been around a long time, but at least it could sometimes be tested in the field. 'Greenpeacing' commerce is far more insidious and destructive of human values: it delivers exactly what industry needs in order to survive its victims' wrath.
We may vaguely understand, if not forgive, when erstwhile 'green gurus' cross the floor. Tom Burke, former FoE director and Greenpeace adviser who now works for RTZ, dealing out the hints on how to combat the opposition, was probably never a true believer in the first place. But what to make now of Greenpeace Australia, which has allegedly mandated a worker to advise the Placer mining company on how to fend off the claims of Papua New Guinean villagers, suffering from poisoned waters downstream of the Porgera mine! It seems the organisation is supping with the devil, but dispensing with a spoon: more like engaging in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
More than ten years after Union Carbide's chemical holocaust at Bhopal in India, the company survives and prospers. Warren Anderson, its chair, has never been in the dock, let alone been prosecuted for manslaughter. Union Carbide long ago restructured, sold off some of its heavier long term liabilities (for example, its unique responsibility for military uranium processing in the US) and continues to metaphorically stomp over the graves and sickbeds of thousands of dead and dying people. Of course the company had to be sued; of course the battle to bring it to justice must continue.
But if any corporate enterprise should have been destroyed - lock, stock and barrel - surely this was it. The failure to do so must not be laid at the door of Bhopal activists, nor the legal lobbyists as such. The need for cash to save people from dying, to prevent them going blind, to rebuild something of their homes and livelihood - all these factors understandably powered the campaign to 'bring Union Carbide to justice'.
Ten years on, however, with derisory compensation, a case which still lumbers through the courts, and a chemical industry left unscathed by the biggest crisis it faced this century, the justification for taking the wrongdoer to court must, at the very least, be viewed with scepticism.
"What then to do?" In DELTA #3 Roger Moody puts forward some ideas for a methodical campaign to dismantle multinationals.
1 'Pete' is a pseudonym
2 The use of this term is not meant to suggest any prejudice against those born out of wedlock
3 Freeport's most recent expansion of its Grasberg copper/gold mine in West Papua has been funded by RTZ of Britain which also hold a 12% of Freeport McMoran USA
4 'Cross dressed' is a descriptive term and not intended to prejudice anyone who adopts clothing of an alternative gender
5 One possible strategy, to my knowledge only mooted in the USA at present, is introducing 'Bad Actor' legislation, whereby the state can prohibit a company operating, if it has a history of violation of social or environmental standards elsewhere.
Disarmament made simpleFour women who disarmed a British Aerospace Hawk jet bound for Indonesia - using household hammers - were this summer acquitted of criminal damage by a jury sympathetic to pleas of moral justification.
The jury at Liverpool Crown Court ruled that it was a legal act for someone to disarm military equipment if it is going to be used to break international law, in this case for further genocidal attacks on the East Timorese people.
The women have now begun a private prosecution against BAe and the Department of Trade and Industry for their role in supplying Hawks to Indonesia's regime.
Bronwen ManbyOn September 27, 1996, Human Rights Watch/Africa, part of the New York-based international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch, published a report on Nigeria called Permanent Transition: Current Violations of Human Rights in Nigeria.
The report describes developments in Nigeria since the November 10, 1995 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Ogoni activists who were convicted of murder after an unjust trial before a special tribunal.
HRW/Africa concludes that, despite its stated commitment to return Nigeria to elected civilian rule by October 1, 1998, the military government shows no signs of intending to leave power. The rights of Nigerians to free political activity are violated daily, including the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, freedom of movement, and freedom from arbitrary detention and trial.The security forces in Ogoniland and elsewhere persist in a longstanding pattern of human rights abuses. Head of state General Sani Abacha continues to hold in arbitrary detention the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, Chief M.K.O. Abiola. Nigeria appears to be in a state of permanent transition, still governed by the armed forces a decade after a programme to restore democracy was first announced by former head of state General Ibrahim Babangida.
Recent reforms announced by the government, including the restoration of a right to appeal to a higher court in some cases where it had been denied, the repeal of a decree preventing the courts from granting writs of habeas corpus in favor of detainees held without charge, and the creation of a human rights commission have had no effect in practice, and do not begin to address the need for fundamental reform and renewal. The transition programme announced on October 1, 1995, is already slipping behind schedule, while the conditions that have been set for political participation seem designed to exclude the great majority of credible and committed pro-democracy activists. Above all, the transition programme does not address the current status of the June 12, 1993 elections, the fairest in Nigeria's history, thus ignoring the central issue of Nigerian politics since the elections were annulled by the current regime. The report details the transition program, and the steps that have been taken towards its implementation to date, including an assessment of the unfree and unfair local government elections of March 1996. The report describes the impediments to free political activity that destroy the transition program's credibility, including the detention and imprisonment of opposition politicians, human rights and pro-democracy activists, trade unionists and journalists, as well as other restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement. In the meantime, ordinary Nigerian citizens are regularly subjected to arbitrary detention and torture by the police, prison conditions are appalling, and forced evictions of market traders in Lagos have been carried out without any regard for due process, adding to Nigeria's army of dispossessed. Repressive legislation remains in place, including numerous decrees that prevent the courts from inquiring into the legality of acts carried out by the military government.
In July 1995, HRW/Africa published a report focusing on human rights violations in Ogoniland, called The Ogoni Crisis: A Case-Study of Military Repression in Southeastern Nigeria. The latest report includes a section on the current situation in Ogoniland, birthplace of executed minority rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, where repression continues. Nineteen Ogonis continue to face trial before the same Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal that convicted SaroWiwa and eight others and sentenced them to death in October 1995, executions later described by British Prime Minister John Major as "judicial murder." Others suspected to be sympathizers of Saro-Wiwa's organization, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), were detained after demonstrations on January 4, 1996, celebrated by the Ogonis as "Ogoni Day" since 1993; still more were detained in March and April 1996, before or during the visit of a fact-finding team sent by the U.N. secretary-general - despite assurances given to the U.N. by the Nigerian government that nobody would be victimized for attempting to speak to the team. It is virtually impossible for outsiders to visit Ogoniland, where army and Mobile Police maintain a heavy presence, without government consent. While the Nigerian government has put in place token efforts at "reconciliation" in Ogoniland, it has not made any move to pay compensation to the families of the executed activists, as recommended by the U.N. fact-finding team. The report also briefly considers the response of Shell Nigeria to the executions of the Ogoni Nine, and the allegations surrounding the involvement of Shell in importing weapons for the Nigerian police, for use in defending its installations in the Delta.
HRW/Africa observes that international attention has shifted from Nigeria during 1996, after an outcry following the November 1995 executions of the Ogoni Nine. Although sanctions imposed following the executions remain in force, as well as those put in place in 1993, no further measures have been imposed, despite the lack of genuine progress in returning the country to a civilian elected government. The Commonwealth, which suspended Nigeria from membership in November 1995, has halted the implementation of further sanctions recommended in April 1996 pending further discussions with the Nigerian government. It has agreed to send a fact-finding mission to Nigeria, despite failing to get guarantees from the Nigerians that the mission would be able to speak to political detainees, including Abiola. The Organization of African Unity has failed to take any measures against Nigeria, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, which held an extraordinary session on Nigeria in December 1995, has yet to follow this up with further action or recommendations. The United States and the European Union, which imposed various measures in November and December 1995, including an arms embargo and visa restrictions, have stated that they prefer to act in concert in taking any further action, and have thus failed to do anything concrete since last year, while maintaining that all measures are still under consideration. Short-term economic considerations within Nigeria's largest trading partners appear to have taken over from the moral and political outrage expressed at the executions of the Ogoni Nine in the face of international pleas for clemency.
HRW/Africa believes that international pressure must be maintained and increased to ensure that the Nigerian government takes steps to improve the human rights situation. Detainees must be released, free political activity restored, the rule of law respected, and fundamental human rights guaranteed. Above all, further sanctions are necessary to ensure that Nigeria is returned to rule by an elected civilian government as soon as possible, and certainly well before the current proposed date of October 1, 1998.
Amongst the measures recommended are the extension of sanctions already imposed by the European Union and United States at U.N. Security Council level, so that they will bind all member states of the U.N., including a total arms embargo and visa restrictions for members of the government. HRW/Africa also recommends a freeze on the assets in other countries of members of the Nigerian armed or security forces or members of the Provisional Ruling Council or Federal Executive Council and their families. HRW/Africa calls on international bodies to research and publish reports on the Nigerian situation, including reports on the effectiveness of an oil embargo or other economic measures to bring about positive change.
Human Rights Watch calls specifically on Shell to clarify whether it is currently engaged in negotiations for the purchase of weapons for the Nigerian police and undertake not to make any such purchases now or in the future; to clarify the role and responsibilities of the "supernumerary police" that protect Shell installations and in particular their instructions with regard to the use of weapons; and to clarify the role, responsibilities and numbers of security guards employed by Shell itself, whether they are armed, and their instructions with regard to the use of weapons. HRW/Africa also calls on Shell to include explicit reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its General Business Principles, to publicly and privately condemn individual cases of violations of the Declaration, and to ensure that the Nigerian management of Shell is aware of the implications of support for international standards of human rights.
Copies of the Human Rights Watch/Africa report are available from:
Human Rights Watch, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH
Tel: 0171 713 1995 / Fax: 0171 713 1800
International pressure on Shell had been increasing dramatically over the weeks preceeding his arrest. Grenada Television's World In Action documentaries 'The Price of Petrol' in May 1996 helped expose Shell's involvement in imports of arms to Nigeria and the massacres of peaceful anti-Shell protesters in Ogoni and elsewhere in the Niger Delta.
In a statement issued in Benin City, Nigeria, Chief Campaign Officer of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Mr Uche Onyeagucha said: "Nnimmo has clearly been detained for his work on environmental and human rights. The abuse of these rights in Nigeria is undeniably linked to the presence of oil multinationals such as Shell which sustain the illegal and brutal military regime of General Abacha. It is no coincidence that his arrest comes at a time when Shell's corporate irresponsibility is in the spotlight again."
'Intercepted' is a collection of unpublished poems written by Nnimmo Bassey in detention this summer. DELTA is featuring a selection in each [printed] newsletter.
Nigeria: Detained without chargeFrank Ovie Kokori - secretary-general of NUPENG
Kebir Ahmed - chair of Sokoto branch of Campaign for Democracy (CD)
Milton Dabibi - secretary-general of PENGASSAN
Gani Fawehinmi - human rights lawyer and leader of the National Conscience Party
Femi Aborisade - deputy head of the National Conscience Party
Femi Falana - president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL)
George Onah - defence correspondent for The Vanguard newspaper
Abraham Adesanya, Ayo Adebanjo and Ganiyu Dawodu - NADECO leaders
Nigeria: Imprisoned for alleged 'coup plotting'Beko Ransome-Kuti - chair of the Campaign for Democracy (CD)
Shehu Sani - vice-chair of CD, Kaduna Zone
Rebecca Ikpe - sister-in-law of Col. Bello Fadile
Christine Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, Georghe Mbah and Ben Charles Obi - journalists
The Amnesty International National Student Speakers Tour is an annual event organised to bring high-profile speakers to universities across the country. Dr Owens Wiwa, MOSOP activist and brother of murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa, is the guest speaker for 1996. He will be touring from Monday 18 November - Sunday 1 December.
Contact Amnesty International for further details: tel 0171417 6374
Amnesty write: "Owens Wiwa was involved in MOSOP from its inception, after experiencing the environmental problems in Ogoniland at first hand as a result of his position as a medical practitioner in Ogoniland. When people began arriving at his clinic with gunshot wounds he had to drive to Port Harcourt to get extra supplies of medical equipment. On the way he saw large numbers of people carrying bundles of clothes and other things on their heads. He was told that the army were shooting at their villages, burning their houses and killing people.
"Owens Wiwa has a dramatic and disturbing tale to tell: after taking a journalist to visit the villages, to witness the destruction, he was detained and charged with the arson of six villages and the mass murder of the inhabitants - the very crime which he had originally tried to report. He tells of his eventual release, his continued MOSOP activism and his escape from Nigeria on 13th November 1995, three days after Ken was hanged.
"Since being in Britain, Owens has been disappointed at the UK government's lack of responsiveness. "We need people to make the British government take greater concern over human rights abuses in Nigeria. Nobody overrates its influence and opinions about what is happening in a former colony, in this case Nigeria."
For a summary of the program and for a full copy of Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights (AI Index: AFR 44/14/96), or Nigeria: human rights defenders under attack (AI Index: AFR 44/16/96), contact the International Secretariat on 0171 413 5500
Please contact your MP and ask them to sign the Early Day Motion on Human Rights in Ogoni and Nigeria tabled by David Steel MP.
Andrew Rowell's Green Backlash documents a rapidly growing international movement to counter environmentalists. For the first time, the violence, the deaths, the threats, and the organised global backlash against environmentalists has been drawn together in one volume. And it makes a chilling tale.
"The lessons learnt from the stories in this book are that with the collapse of communism, environmentalists are now increasingly being identified as a global scapegoat for threatening the vested interest of power: the triple engines of unrestricted corporate capitalism, right-wing political ideology and the nation state's protection of the status quo."
The backlash tracked from the US to the UK, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, the South Pacific and India, involves multinational industry in collusion with the governments who benefit from the vast profits to be made at the expense of the environment. Add huge PR companies to the mix and a new web of "grassroots" coalitions and campaigners comprised of people whose jobs would be affected by environmental controls. The money, the power and the use of environmentalists' own tactics add up to an effective and lethal combination. The result? "What we find is that violence and intimidation are on the increase around the world against environmentalists," writes Rowell.
The themes and the tactics around the globe are similar, but one thing is clear: the less money the country has, and the poorer the people, the more deaths and violence there is. In the North, in the US and the UK, more sophisticated means are used to fight the environmentalists, with the PR machines and front groups. In the developing world, the authorities are less inclined to appear concerned and balanced, and the environmentalists more likely to be arrested, shot or 'disappeared'.
Rowell takes us through harrowing tales of company collusion with military regimes, such as Shell in Nigeria and Texaco in Ecuador. Always, the same trend emerges: where environmentalists are becoming effective in bringing world attention to an issue, such as Chico Mendes' fight for the Amazon, the fight for forests in Sarawak, Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria, the road protestors in the UK, they are met with increased violence. Government authorities either turn a blind eye to it, or actively participate by labelling the protestors 'violent' in order to sanction the use of violence against them.
'Wise Use': the US right wing takes over
Toward the end of the 1980's, with the threat of communism receeding, the right wing movement in the United States began to realise they had a 'new' enemy to focus on: environmentalists. Effective environmental legislation in the US began to stop industry continuing its slash-and-burn attitude which it had been getting away with for decades. It was starting to cost them money.
Enter the Wise Use movement, headed by Ron Arnold, whose advice to the multinationals was not to fight environmentalists at a corporate level where the public would inevitably support the David rather than the Goliath. Rather, pitch up ordinary folk who were simply defending their own jobs, forming grassroots groups to counter the greenies at the their own level. The movement started with various legal bodies being set up to represent a multitude of industries to effectively lobby government against putting through environmental legislation.
"We know how to lobby better than they do and we've got coalitions that can overwhelm them. That's never happened to them before. It frightened them big time," commented Arnold after the Wise Use movement's first legislative victory which had been opposed by environmentalists.
In the late 1980's, Arnold went to Canada and was hired by McMillan Bloedel, the company clearcutting Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island. McMillan Bloedel was being targetted by environmentalists trying to stop the logging. Arnold told McMillan Bloedel to "give them [the coalitions of pro-logging citizens groups] the money. You stop defending yourselves, let them do it, and you get the hell out of the way. Because citizens groups have credibility and industries don't". Soon after, the first of many grassroots groups was formed, well-funded by the forestry industry.
UK: change the label, change the tactics
In the UK, Rowell writes, there are two groups of campaigners who have suffered most from the state's attempts to silence them: anti-nuclear activists in the 1980's and the anti-roads protestors in the 1990's.
"Moreover, the state has attempted to demonise both sets of protesters, either as 'communists' in the case of anti-nuclear protestors or 'terrorists' and 'fascists' in the case of anti-road organisations. Incorrectly labelling people as communists, terrorists and fascists justifies a different response to that of a mere protestor. They can be deemed a threat to national security, whereas protestors are not. It can also vindicate violence, harassment and surveillance of them by the state as has happened with the anti-nuclear movement."
Rowell documents the past five years of grassroots road protesting in the UK, and the picture, never before seen as a whole, shows an official use of and increase in such violence and harrassment. The rising use of private security firms to defend roadbuilding contractors is at the heart of it, and there's little happening to stop it.
When we move to the developing world the story is far, far worse. The pressure on governments here is to pay back their debt: the ideal feeding ground for a multinational company whose greed for resources fits snugly with the governments' commitments to the World Bank. Environmental laws are either dropped or ignored, soldiers laid on to quell local protests from the peoples whose only crime is to live on the land where the resources are found. Forests, minerals and oil are the major resources which bring violence in these areas; and the more money to be made from the resource, the harsher the crackdown against the protestors.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Nigeria, where nearly 2000 Ogoni people (2% of their total population) have died at the hands of the Nigerian military for their protests against 35 years of Shell's oil drilling operations in the Niger Delta. 'A Shell-shocked Land' tells the awful tale of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people's non-violent protests against Shell, Ken's subsequent persecution and then execution after a trumped up military tribunal found him 'guilty' of murder.
While all the communities around the Delta were protesting at Shell's activities, the most organised of these communities were the Ogoni. Saro Wiwa's ability both to effectively mobilise the grassroots through the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and to bring international attention to their plight brought reprisals from the Nigerian military and resulted in Shell all but pulling out of Ogoniland in early 1993. Shell's refusal to officially re-enter Ogoniland infuriated the Abacha regime military, which stepped up the crackdown.
"Ogoni has been driven to the abyss of annihilation, crushed by a military regime who have had one simple aim: to silence Ogoni and to stop other communities from voicing their legitimate concerns," writes Rowell.
Shell continued to attempt to distance itself from the conflict, believing that the campaign was "overtly political". Shell's contention - writes Rowell - that Saro-Wiwa was "using" the company to raise his international profile, simply doesn't hold up. "For over 25 years the communities throughout the Delta have complained of pollution, exploitation and appropriation of their resources, and have severely suffered because of Shell's operations. For Shell to state that the Ogoni are "using" them is simply misleading and such corporate arrogance just adds to the bitterness felt by the people of the Niger Delta."
Green Backlash paints a grim picture of the anti-environmental movement. The words 'know thine enemy' spring to mind whilst reading this book.
Rowell leaves us with words of wisdom of which the larger environmental groups especially need to take note: if we don't get back to the grassroots campaigning ideals and start organising, campaigning and talking face to face, door to door, street to street, community to community, the anti-environmental movement will win.
"Grassroots organising is definitely an area where the anti-environmental movement has beaten the environmentalists over the last few years. There is no doubt either that they have been able to exploit the weaknesses of the mainstream groups."
"The backlash is now an intricate part of working on, writing on, speaking on, campaigning on or even teaching on ecological issues. The paradigm shift that is occurring across the globe looks set to continue."
He also warns that the environmental movement must build a new vision for the future, instead of simply opposing current practices. It has failed to take into account its apparent neglect of people and social concerns, leaving the right wing to step in and accuse it of putting wilderness preservation before the human consequences of such policy decisions.
"The backlash has given the environmental movement the opportunity to change for the better, it should not blow that chance."
Green Backlash is mandatory reading for any environmentalist who wants to win their campaign against a polluting corporation, anywhere in the world. There are lessons to be learnt and Rowell's book provides a baseline educative tool for campaigners worldwide.
Reviewed by Cindy Baxter
Hugh MartinsThere is news that within the next couple of months the 40-year-old war in Guatemala, the only remaining civil war in Latin America and hopefully the last, will be brought to an end by the signing of the final accords between the government and the guerrilla resistance movement.
A million people have been displaced, either to exile in foreign countries or to less exposed corners of their own country, the jungles of the north and the shanty towns of the cities. More than a generation of people have never known any other circumstances except war and its aftermath. The brutality of the army towards its own fellow citizens is well documented. The widespread unease caused by crime and public violence is the experience of most people in a population demoralised by poverty, the breakdown of law and order and the abuse of basic rights.
Open protest was smashed years ago: a whole generation of protesters, community organisers and leaders was picked out, tortured and killed. The voice of resistance was silenced. Most people are still too cowed to talk about the past or the politics of the present, especially to strangers.
"The courage to fight and the will to resist torture
frequently arose in tiny communities in which trust and organisation
achieved what military discipline or industrial management could never hav done."
So it almost seems contradictory in the drab, polluted environment of Guatemala City, or amongst the poverty and deprivation of a rural village, to find laughter, warmth, kindness and hope. In our own relative comfort and affluence, we may find ourselves thinking that perhaps if living conditions are inadequate, if the external society in which we live is violent and threatening, and if there has never seemed to be any real hope of change, then normal human relationships, a chat between neighbours, a gesture of love or generosity, a belly laugh at the street corner, must be impossible as well.
But this is not true. One of the most obstinate contradictions of human social life is that in conditions which may seem desperately adverse there is still evidence of quality of life, of dignity and morality which seem to spring from an unspoken conviction that reciprocal concern and respect are higher social goals than wealth or comfort. The internal coherence and motivation of possibly very small social nuclei is often the wellspring of resistance. The courage to fight and the will to resist torture frequently arose, in Guatemala, in tiny rural communities in which trust and organisation achieved what military discipline or industrial management could never have done.
This is yet another respect in which "small is beautiful". In everyday talk it often happens that reference to the nation or the world induces the most overwhelming gloom, whereas the discussion of something achieved at domestic or community level brings out the commitment - and the smiles.
The pantomime of political parties struggling for electoral control throws up every day unwieldy theoretical questions about the rle of government and the nature of the state. There is always the tension between the creation of wealth, giving incentives to industry, promoting success, on the one hand, and the more and more reluctant provision of encouragement and support, on the other, to individuals or sectors of the community who cannot take part in wealth-creation or are prevented from doing so. The capitalist vision of the state is that of a large-scale, competitive, money-making enterprise - and this is the concept that most political parties now accept - so it is no wonder, in view of the history of such organisations, that it pays scant attention to those who hold it back in its fine endeavour, the old, the sick, the victims, the reluctant and the disillusioned.
The laughter of women standing for hours in the water queue in a small African village, gossiping until their turn comes - and they then have to walk two miles home with three gallons of water on their head - this laughter is the counterpoise to the values and systems which put them in this position: as is the laughter of resistance fighters holed up in mud amongst clouds of mosquitoes in the Central American rainforest, or the laughter of children in a makeshift hospital, recovering from wounds caused by anti-personnel mines. Wherever there has been brutality there has been resistance, and five hundred years of colonial history have shown that the resistance is tough.
The story of brutality has tended to indicate that its perpetrators work best in obscurity. Amnesty International's emblem of a candle was inspired by the old proverb "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness". Publicity has in recent years been half the task of resistance and this gives a special role to international solidarity. There are many faces to human rights work: one is to expose, to shed light on abuse and make it visible; another is to educate the victims of abuse themselves, so that they come to realise that they are part of a wider network of law and reciprocal support and gain more strength in their resistance. In this way resistance works from the inside and the outside, and, crucially, there is a link between the two. Both the groups on the inside and those on the outside are tiny compared with the size of the enemy they are fighting, but the strength is in the organisation, the communication - the network.
Very recently, the efficiency of resistance has increased out of all proportion with the availablity of new means of communication such as the fax and particularly the internet. It is delightfully ironic that an international system of linked computers was first invented by the military, and is now so well used by small networks all over the world. It has become, despite itself, one of the ideal instruments of resistance.
A few years ago, a Guatemalan refugee organisation in Mexico, its members scattered over a wide area hundreds of kilometres apart, started to publish a small newspaper. A group of young people took on the task of compiling and distributing it, creating a network of young people who helped to write and disseminate the paper. It acquired a tremendous amount of respect amongst the refugees and became more than just a means of passing on ideas, policy and information: it became a symbol of the unity of the group, expressing their future, their tragic history and their determination, despite the Guatemalan government and army, to return to a dignified future in Guatemala and not to a repetition of the past.
The paper, El Porvenir (The Future), is now on the internet, available to the whole world, as is the organ of communication of the Zapatista movement in the Chiapas rainforest in the south of Mexico - and many others besides. The internet has created a new relationship between the small and the large.
The signing of the peace in Guatemala will signal, we hope, the beginning of a new era in that battered country. The terms of the agreement, involving human rights, justice for displaced peoples, recognition of indigenous groups, land rights and a development programme for the whole country, reflect not the benevolence of the new government or a change of face by the army, but the unceasing activity of organised citizens' groups, supported by the guerrilla, over a long period of time. And second, but not least, it will reflect wide participation by the international community, churches, volunteers, local solidarity groups and non-governmental organisations.
And in the background, not too far away, the laughter will go on.
STOP PRESS: Claude Ake dead?Close friend of Ken Saro-Wiwa and highly respected academic, Prof Claude Ake, may have been killed on Thursday November 7 as Lagos airport lost touch with a Boeing 727 which is feared crashed, killing all 141 passengers and crew. As we go to press the fate of the flight is still not clear.
Ake has been a very outspoken critic of Shell in Nigeria, exposing the company's arms procurement, challenging its pollution, and ultimately resigning in open disgust from the Shell-sponsored Niger Delta Environmental Survey after the executions of the Ogoni 9. Sabotage of the flight cannot be ruled out.
Note: This virtual copy of the DELTA newsletter was created by
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