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Nigeria: Shell Protests, 2
Nigeria: Shell Protests, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 970515
Document reposted by APIC
On May 14, date of the annual shareholder meeting of Shell Oil in London,
protests against the company for human rights and environmental abuses
took place outside the meeting and around the world. A resolution sponsored
by the Pensions and Investment Research Consultants and the Ecumenical
Council for Corporate Responsibility won 41 million of the total 357 million
shares (more than 10%). Demonstrations took place in a number of cities
in the US, Canada and elsewhere.
This posting contains a special issue on Shell of Rachel's Environment
& Health Weekly. The previous posting includes excerpts from press
releases from several groups involved in the protests, as well as notes
on other sources.
RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY
#546 (Electronic Edition) May 15, 1997
Environmental Research Foundation, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403;
Fax (410) 263-8944; Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back issues available by E-mail; to get instructions, send E-mail to
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Subscribe: send E-mail to email@example.com
with the single word SUBSCRIBE in the message. It's free.
CRIMES OF SHELL
The Shell oil corporation has blood on its hands, and a worldwide boycott
of Shell products is under way. Two recent reports[1,2] on the Shell subsidiary
in Nigeria, Africa, have documented massive environmental destruction in
the Niger River delta region, where Shell has spilled some 56 million gallons
of oil onto farmlands and into community water supplies.[1,pg.45] The destroyed
land and water formerly provided sustenance for an indigenous people, the
Ogoni. A recent video confirms these reports of Shell's environmental abuse
and mismanagement in Ogoniland.
But Shell's crimes are deeper still. When Ogoni activists organized
to demand that Shell clean up spilled oil, and share oil profits more equitably
with the Ogoni people, the Nigerian military dictatorship --with financial
assistance, logistical support, and guns provided by Shell[1,pgs.23,43,91-92]
--conducted a campaign of terror in which at least 1800 Ogoni people were
murdered, some of them tortured to death.[1,pg.95]
The Ogoni peoples' struggle against Shell burst into headlines November
10, 1995, when the Nigerian dictatorship executed 9 Ogoni environmental
activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa had received the Goldman
Environmental Prize for Africa April 17, 1995 in recognition of his environmental
work on behalf of the Ogoni people. Saro-Wiwa had also received the Right
Livelihood Award December 9, 1994.[1,pg.95] Both awards are said to carry
prestige equivalent to the Nobel peace prize. In addition to being an environmentalist
and community leader, Saro-Wiwa was well-known in his homeland, and internationally,
as a poet and essayist. His last words, just as he was executed by hanging,
were, "Lord, take my soul but the struggle continues!"
Within weeks of the executions, Shell contracted with the Nigerian dictatorship
to build a large liquefied natural gas plant, thus sending a signal that
it was business as usual for Shell and that Shell was continuing to support
the military dictatorship.[2,pg.10]
According to the World Council of Churches, key witnesses for the prosecution
at Ken Saro-Wiwa's trial have signed sworn affidavits saying they were
bribed by Shell to testify against Saro-Wiwa.[1,pg.43]
Since late 1995, the dictatorship has been holding 19 more Ogoni environmental
activists, charged with the same crime for which the Ogoni 9 were executed.
The World Council of Churches reported in late 1996 that, "...as a
result of the inhuman treatment, torture, denial of medical care, starvation
and poor sanitary conditions, most of the detainees are in very poor health."[1,pg.75]
The Ogoni people --500,000 of them[1,pg.8] --inhabit a 404-square-mile-area
called the Rivers State in Nigeria in west Africa. They represent 0.05%
of the Nigerian population, so they are a tiny minority. Ken Saro-Wiwa
compared the Ogoni to other indigenous people around the world: the Aborigines
of Australia, the Maori of New Zealand, and the native people of North
and South America. "Their common history is of the usurpation of their
land and resources, the destruction of their culture, and the eventual
decimation of the people," he wrote.[1,pg.19] Since 1958, $30 billion
worth of oil has been taken from beneath the land of the Ogoni, yet essentially
zero benefits have accrued to the Ogoni themselves. When the World Council
of Churches sent observers to Ogoniland in 1995, they found no piped water
supplies, no good roads, no electricity, no telephones, and no proper health
care facilities.[1,pg.24] Further, they reported that, in oil-rich Ogoniland,
gasoline is hand-pumped from a cement holding tank into large plastic containers,
then poured into a smaller can with a long neck, from which the gasoline
is finally poured into a vehicle's gas tank. Such is the state of modernization
made possible by Shell's post-modern colonial venture.
Shell, a Dutch company, is the 10th largest corporation in the world,
and No. 1 in profitability.[2,pg.4] Shell has 96 oil production wells in
Ogoniland, 5 flow stations (large pumping stations), and numerous gas flares
which have operated continuously for 35 years.[1,pg.31] In addition, Shell
maintains many high-pressure oil pipelines criss-crossing Ogoniland, carrying
oil from other parts of Nigeria to the shipping terminal at Bonny.[1,pg.32]
In response to growing pressure for reform in Ogoniland in 1993, Shell
ceased oil production there, but retained its network of pipelines carrying
oil produced elsewhere in Nigeria. (The World Council of Churches finds
evidence that Shell has not in fact ceased oil production in Ogoniland,[1,pgs.31-33]
but Shell insists its production wells are idle.)
Between 1976 and 1980, Shell operations caused 784 separate oil spills
in Nigeria.[1,pg.45]. From 1982 to 1992, 27 additional spills were recorded.
Since Shell "ceased oil production" in Ogoniland in 1993, Shell
admits another 24 oil spills have occurred there.[1,pg.33]
Shell operates in 100 countries, but 40% of all its oil spills have
occurred in Nigeria.[1,pg.28] Shell says the spills result from "sabotage"
but the World Council of Churches reports "there has not been one
single piece of evidence produced by Shell to back up its claims that oil
spills in Ogoniland were caused by sabotage."[1,pg.39]
Shell controls at least 60% of all the oil reserves in Nigeria and oil
accounts for 80% of Nigeria's total revenues and 90% of its foreign exchange
earnings.[1,pg.44] As a result, Shell is an extremely powerful political
force in Nigeria. The World Council of Churches has described a revolving
door --Shell executives becoming Nigerian political officials, and Nigerian
political officials becoming Shell employees.[1,pg.44] However, Shell maintains
that it has no political influence and cannot affect the fate of political
prisoners in Nigeria.
Shell admits to 3000 polluted sites affected by oil operations on Ogoni
soil. According to the World Council of Churches, Shell also admits to
flaring 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day for 35 years, causing
acid rain in the Niger delta during about 10% of the days each year.[1,pg.41]
Furthermore, the flares produce a rain of fine particles, a cancer-causing
soot that permeates everything --land water, homes, lungs.
Shell's environmental abuses in Ogoniland came as a shock to observers
sent by the World Council of Churches. They wrote, "Having followed
all the events in Ogoniland, reading all the reports and seeing the videos
such as DRILLING FIELDS and DELTA FORCE3, did not prepare us for the devastation
we saw at the numerous spill sites we visited," they wrote.[1,pg.24]
Observers from the World Council of Churches describe a site where Shell
had spilled oil in 1969: "Even though this spill occurred 26 years
ago, its devastating impact is still very apparent," they wrote.[1,pg.34]
"The soil and oil are caked together into a thick black crust which
covers the area. Liquid crude oil is still present in deep crevices (2
to 3 feet deep), formed in spots where trees once stood.... The air remains
polluted by the vapour from the spilled crude oil; this becomes particularly
noticeable when the south-west wind blows. The oil spill seems to have
polluted the creek nearby. The oil flowed into the body of water and we
were told that it can still be seen floating on the surface of the creek
water that people still drink. We were unable to move near the creek as
the earth was dangerously soggy with a combination of soil, oil, and water....
It is amazing that so much devastation exists after 26 years."[1,pg.34]
Since the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, his brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa, has been
touring the world describing the Ogoni peoples' struggle against the combined
forces of Shell and the military dictators of Nigeria. Dr. Wiwa, an articulate,
soft-spoken physician, was himself held prisoner (without charges) by Nigerian
authorities on more than one occasion.[1,pg.93] He is now a political exile
living in Toronto, Canada, though most of his time is spent on the road,
urging people to boycott Shell products.
In late March of this year, U.S. environmental justice activists met
in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss environmental justice struggles across the
U.S. and abroad. Dr. Wiwa gave the keynote address. "Our people are
dying at the hands of our government and Shell Oil," Dr. Wiwa told
the assembled activists in Atlanta. Dr. Robert D. Bullard, a well-known
environmental justice leader and author of CONFRONTING ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM:
VOICES FROM THE GRASSROOTS, told the Atlanta meeting, "the quest for
healthy and sustainable communities and environmental justice does not
stop at U.S. borders... we have a moral and ethical obligation to direct
our collective action and purchasing power to respond to Dr. Wiwa and the
Ogoni's struggle in Nigeria, just as we responded to the oppression of
apartheid in South Africa."
Asked recently what Americans could do to help the Ogoni people, Dr.
Wiwa gave four recommendations:
- Boycott Shell. Do not buy ANY Shell products.
- Encourage selective purchasing contracts, such as the one now in force
in Oakland, California. Last fall the Oakland City Council passed a city-wide
ordinance prohib-iting the city from doing business with Nigeria. Dr. Wiwa
is urging all city councils to adopt selective purchasing laws to prevent
their city from investing in or trading with Nigeria OR ANY COMPANIES
CARRYING OUT BUSINESS IN NIGERIA.
- Pressure Congress to impose sanctions against Nigeria, just as the
U.S. has recently done against Burma for human rights abuses.
- Contact the president of Shell's U.S. subsidiary: Philip J. Carroll,
Shell Oil Company, P.O. Box 2463, Houston, TX 77252; (800) 248-4257; fax
Mr. Carroll may respond that Shell's U.S. subsidiary has nothing to
do with what's happening in Nigeria. But 10% of Shell's profits come from
its U.S. operations, so the U.S. subsidiary has major clout with its Dutch
parent corporation. Refusal to exercise that clout is a moral failure.
Up to now, Mr. Carroll himself has blood on his hands, in our view.
Even if Mr. Carroll cannot understand the moral argument, you could
tell him you will be boycotting Shell's products until they clean up their
environmental mess in Nigeria and fully compensate the Ogoni people for
past damages and injustices. Mr. Carroll will certainly understand the
meaning of "boycott."
To get breaking news about the campaign to end Shell's environmental
and human rights abuses in Ogoniland, you could join the internet discussion
group, Shell-Nigeria-action. To subscribe to the list, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
with the message: subscribe shell-nigeria-action <your email address>.
To post information to the list, address your message to: Shell-Nigeria-Action@essential.org.
For further information, contact:
- Dr. Owens Wiwa: email@example.com
- Stephen Mills at Sierra Club in Washington, D.C. Telephone (202) 675-6691.
Mr. Mills has organized a petition campaign that could use more volunteers.
- Ann Leonard, Essential Action, P.O. Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036.
Telephone (202) 387-8030. An important source of information.
What is the top priority? BOYCOTT SHELL.
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Deborah Robinson and others, OGONI, THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES (Geneva,
Switzerland: World Council of Churches, December, 1996). Available from
World Council of Churches, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland; telephone
(+41) 22 791-6111; fax: (+41) 22 791-0361. [In the US, also available from
the Washington Office on Africa (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or the Africa Fund (email@example.com).]
 PEN Center USA West, FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, SHELL AND NIGERIA
(Los Angeles, California: PEN Center USA West, March, 1997). Available
from: PEN Center USA West, 672 South Lafayette Park Place #41, Los Angeles,
California 90057; telephone (213) 365-8500. PEN is a worldwide association
of professional writers.
 The most recent video, DELTA FORCE, is available for $10 from Ann
Leonard, Essential Action, P.O. Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036. Telephone
 Ken Saro-Wiwa, A MONTH AND A DAY: A DETENTION DIARY (London: Penguin
Books, 1995). Ken Saro-Wiwa, ON A DARKLING PLAIN (Port Harcourt, Nigeria:
Saros International Publishers, 1989). Ken Saro-Wiwa, OGONI MOMENT OF TRUTH
(Lagos, Nigeria: Saros International Publishers, 1994).
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington
Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate
in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa,
by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and
analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.