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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Action Alerts

Nigeria: Action Alerts
Date distributed (ymd): 970818
Document reposted by WOA

This posting contains an action alert from Project Underground on the current hunger strike by Ogoni political prisoners, and an action alert by the Sierra Club on behalf of a coalition of organizations supporting a Nigeria Advocacy Week in September. These alerts and more frequent updates on related actions are available on the shell-nigeria-action listserv. For information on subscribing to the listserv, send the message "help" to

Ogoni 20 factsheet / action alert

Project Underground (contact: Steve Kretzmann),
1847 Berkeley Way Berkeley, CA, 94703;
Tel: 510-705-8982; Fax: 510-705-8983; E-mail:



"Abacha knows that executing them or even trying them will draw unwanted attention. Instead, he seems prepared to let them die in jail untried"
- The New York Times, August 6, 1997

In 1995, internationally acclaimed writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed along with eight of his colleagues. The Ogoni Nine's only crime was their success is exposing Shell oil's role in destroying their homeland, dismantling their communities, and killing their brothers and sisters. Since the Ogoni began a nonviolent campaign against oil destruction, over 2,000 people have died at the hands of a military that is armed by and paid for by Shell.

Today, another 20 Ogoni men are in prison in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, awaiting "trial" - framed for murder on the same charges that the Nine were killed for last year. Some have been in jail for over three years, and still the Nigerian government refuses to grant them bail, much less bring them to trial. Testimony by the 20 implicates Shell in their arrest and subsequent torture. As the most powerful entity in Nigeria, there is no doubt that Shell could choose to spare these men's lives, but instead, they are choosing to sit idly by as they waste away in prison.

Current Situation

"Nyieda Nasikpo had just been released from the dark room the other day. The dark room is a prison within prison, serving as punishment within punishment. In this room, communications within the prisons and other inmates is totally severed and the detainee is locked perpetually with 24 hours total darkness in a 3x3 feet cell at the pleasure of the authorized person." Robert Azibaola, ND-HERO, and lawyer for the 20, June 1997

The Nigerian military regime has gone to extreme lengths to keep the Ogoni 20 out of court. They know that another trial on the same charges for which Saro-Wiwa was executed will attract unwanted attention. They have repeatedly changed venues and used legal technicalities to keep the 20 in jail. On July 23 1997, Justice Daniel Kalio of the Rivers State High Court held that he did have jurisdiction to rule on the question of bail for the 20. Within a week, the government had filed an appeal, and now the hearing on that appeal will be held in late September.

The 20 Ogoni men remain in jail under appalling conditions. On August 11, the 20 began a hunger strike, which will initially continue for 10 days. They are calling for international solidarity and support.

Who are the Ogoni 20?

The Ogoni 20 currently are: Elijan L Baadom, John Banatu, Ngbaa Baovi, Kagbara Bassee, Kale Beete, Friday Cburuma, Paul Deekor, Godwin Gbodor, Blessing Israel, Adam Kaa, Benjamin Kabari, Baribuma Kumanwe, Baritule Lebe, Taagalo Kmonsi, Nyieda Nasikpo, Sampson Ntiginee, Nwinbari A Papah, Zorzar Popgbara, Samuel A Sigha, and Babina Visor.

The Ogoni 20 are supposedly being held in connection with the murders of 4 Ogoni chiefs in Giokoo on June 21, 1994. One of the 20 was arrested in May 1994, prior to this crime even being committed. At various times there have been 23 Ogoni (excluding the 9 who were executed in November 1995) arrested and charged in relation to those same murders. The last arrest was in November of 1996. 20 of the 23 are still in custody. Of the other three, one, Clement Tusima, died in custody in August 1995. The other two have been released, reportedly after their employers exerted pressure on the Nigerian authorities.

The men are kept in severely overcrowded cells, each with dozens of prisoners. All must sleep on the floor. Torture, denial of medical care, starvation, and poor sanitary conditions are all listed as complaints. All of them are currently in poor health.

Shell's Role

"Shell Police replied that nothing can make us free from their hand, and that even if they forgave others, they cannot forgive the indigenes of Bomu and Dere communities because they are the causes of the hindrances to their operations in Ogoniland" - written by two of the Ogoni 20, September 21, 1996.

The Ogoni 20 are in prison because they, like Ken Saro-Wiwa, opposed Shell's dirty operations in Nigeria and the devastation of Ogoni land through 30 years of oil drilling activities. Like Ken Saro-Wiwa, these men stood up for their rights when death squads began to sweep through their homeland in response to their nonviolent protests.

As the above quote attests to though, Shell had a direct role in the arrest, detention, and subsequent torture of at least some of the Ogoni 20. Shell's security force, known locally as the "Shell Police" are accused of numerous incidents of repression of peaceful protest and harassment of activists.

On January 30, 1996, in response to public outrage over Saro-Wiwa's execution, Shell stated "It is our established position that we recognise and support The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The issue of the right to fair trial is clearly of public concern and we felt it important that we reiterate the Group's position on this". Despite repeated requests, this is as far as the corporation has gone towards intervening in the Ogoni 20 case.

Is Shell going to stand by while 20 more people are hanged for murders they did not commit, before a kangaroo court? More probably, will they continue to congratulate themselves for being the world's most profitable corporation while 20 more people waste away in jail? Shell must take responsibility for the Ogoni 20.

"We have been dumped into detention without any hope of a fair trial, thus causing our families to suffer untold hardships. ...the Ogoni civil disturbance tribunal said the case against us 'is not an ordinary murder case'. So we know there is more to this than meets the eye. The Government is settling an old score." -The Ogoni 20


  1. Contact Shell immediately. Demand that they use every bit of their influence in Nigeria to ensure a swift, speedy and just trial. In the US, call 1 800 845-5264 or fax 713-241-4044 and address Mr. Phillip J. Carroll, CEO, Shell Oil Corporation, Houston, TX 77252. Email Shell at "" and cc: "" or visit their website at ""
  2. Organize demonstrations at Shell stations. Get a group together to go on hunger strike (even if only for a day!) In solidarity with the 20. Get involved in the Shell / Nigeria campaign.

Sierra Club Call for Action Week

Environmental Rights are Human Rights

Come to Washington, D.C. to participate in

Sept. 15-19, 1997

Join activists from environmental, human rights, labor, religious, African American and Nigerian democracy organizations to demand a return to democracy, an end to human rights violations and an end to environmental devastation in Nigeria.

On Nov. 10, 1995, the Nigerian military government hanged writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other minority rights campaigners. The Sierra Club and others believe that the nine were executed because of Saro-Wiwa's effective grassroots organizing directed at the environmental devastation caused by Shell's oil exploitation.

According to the New York Times, among Nigeria's roughly 7,000 political prisoners, are 20 Ogoni activists still being held for the same murders for which Ken Saro-Wiwa was falsely accused. Most have been in prison for three years, several in solitary confinement. One of the group died, one has gone blind and another lost his fingers during torture. "Mr. Abacha knows that executing or even trying them would draw unwanted attention," said the Times editorial. "Instead he seems prepared to let them die in jail untried."

Nigeria's military junta has suspended the democratic constitution, stripping the Nigerian people of their most basic human and civil rights, including the right to demonstrate, organize or protest for environmental protection. In wealthy Nigeria, nearly 40 percent of Nigerian children suffer from malnutrition and the diseases of acute poverty while the generals spend millions of dollars on lobbyists in Washington.

The U.S. Responds

In response to this crisis, Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ10) has introduced H.R. 1786, "The Nigeria Democracy Act." The bill currently has 22 cosponsors. In addition to codifying limited sanctions already imposed by the Clinton administration, the bill would also ban new U.S. corporate investment in Nigeria until such time as the country has demonstrated progress toward restoring democracy. The bill's other key provisions include:

  • A ban on U.S. arms sales
  • Denial of visas to member of the military government
  • A ban on direct air travel between the U.S. and Nigeria
  • Denial of U.S. economic aid except for human rights and democracy programs
  • A freeze on the personal assets of members of the regime
  • U.S. opposition to loans from the IMF and the World Bank

The Nigerian government, in conjunction with the multinational oil companies that do business in Nigeria, lobbied hard to defeat similar legislation in the last Congress. We are sure that they will marshal their vast resources to do again. That's why we need YOUR help. The Washington Post reported that Nigeria spent more than $10 million in the U.S. on lobbying and public relations efforts in the year following the execution of Saro-Wiwa.

Nigeria receives more than $10 billion a year from oil -- accounting for more than 90 percent of its foreign export earnings and 80 percent of government revenues. While royalties from these sales line the pockets of Nigeria's military leaders, rich farmland has been poisoned by oil spills and the venting of toxic gasses. Meanwhile many communities lack running water, electricity, or adequate schools or health care. Americans are the largest customer for Nigerian oil, approximately 8% of our total oil imports. However, this amounts to only 3.5% of our total oil consumption in this country. Americans can do without Nigerian oil.

In brief, there has been no change in the horrible conditions in Nigeria's Ogoniland since Saro-Wiwa's execution, except for the fact that Ogoni is now a military zone and MOSOP has been forced underground. Not only are outside visitors strictly prohibited, but the Ogoni themselves are forbidden to assemble in groups larger than two, to discuss environmental protection, or even to mention Ken's name or work. Teachers are arrested if they mention Ken Saro-Wiwa in the classroom, preachers are arrested if they mention Ken in church.


Come to Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15 and 16 to participate in the "Nigeria Advocacy Days."

During the week of Sept. 15, call or fax your Representative to urge support for H.R. 1786, "The Nigeria Democracy Act". The phone number for the U.S. Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121.

The Sierra Club has long held that citizen participation in government decision-making is indeed the key to environmental protection. In order for people worldwide to take action to protect their environment, their rights concerning political participation, personal security, and personal autonomy -- for example, the freedom to speak and organize -- must be recognized and respected by their governments. Environmental activists must be free from the threat of retaliation for exercising these rights.

Nigeria's human rights and environmental crisis can, we believe, only be solved together. Without respect for human rights, the Nigerian government will continue to repress Ogoni demands for justice from Royal/Dutch Shell and other multinational oil companies. At the same time, the powerful democratic spirit unleashed in the Ogoni struggle for environmental justice will contribute mightily to the broad campaign for democracy and human rights in Nigeria.

For more information about the Nigeria Advocacy Days, contact

(1) Stephen Mills, Human Rights and the Environment Campaign Director, Sierra Club, 408 C Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002. Tel: (202) 675-6691, Fax: (202) 547-6009, E-mail:, or visit our web page at


(2) Doug Tilton, Washington Office on Africa, 110 Maryland Ave. NE #509, Washington, DC 20002. Tel: (202) 546-7961, Fax: (202) 546-1545; E-mail:


(3) Mira Tanna, St. Louis AFSC and the St. Louis Support Committee for MOSOP, 438 N. Skinker Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63130. Tel: 314-862-5773; Fax: 314-862-8155; E-mail:

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Washington Office on Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil rights group supported organization that works with Congress on Africa-related legislation. WOA's educational affiliate is the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC).

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