Twenty five years ago this week nine protest leaders in Nigeria were executed who were fighting environmental destruction caused by fossil fuel giant Shell.
On 10 November 1995, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuine and Ken Saro-Wiwa were murdered by the Nigerian state that was colluding with the oil multiantional
Shell struck oil in the Niger Delta in the late 1950s. The company went on to plunder the region for the next 30 years.
Billions of pounds worth of oil were extracted, but the Ogoni people living in the region saw no benefit. In fact, oil was a curse.
Oil production in the region led to widespread environmental destruction. Fisheries were made unviable by pollution and oil spills.
All this was all done with the backing of the Nigerian state which relied on oil as its biggest export.
Such crimes were met by the fierce resistance of the Ogoni people. In 1990 Ken Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).
Saro-Wiwa recognised that the Ogoni people were facing what he described as “two grim wars.”
He said that “the first is the 35-year-old ecological war waged by the multinational oil companies.
“The second war is a political war of tyranny, oppression, and greed designed to dispossess the Ogoni people of their rights and their wealth and subject them to abject poverty, slavery, dehumanisation and extinction.
In 1993 MOSOP organised a number of mass peaceful protests against the destruction of their land.
Socialist Worker reported,”300,000 of the area’s 500,000 population turned out to demonstrate support.
“At the time the Nigerian regime was under pressure from strikes in many other areas. It wanted to demonstrate to the oil companies that it could maintain order.”
In order to suppress resistance, the Nigerian military occupied the region. And the government ruled that it was an act of treason to disrupt oil production.
The military forces rained terror down on the Ogoni people. There were shootings, assassinations and beatings. And thousands of Ogoni people fled their homes in fear.
Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the movement were arrested and imprisoned. After a sham trial where the accused were allowed no appeal, the nine were executed in 1995.
The killing of these nine campaigners sent shockwaves across the world. But the British government was careful not to upset Nigeria, its leading trade partner in Africa at the time.
These horrific crimes were done with the collusion of Shell with the Nigerian state. A leaked document apparently showed that the military had been discussing with Shell plans to violently suppress protesters.
And allegedly Shell provided the military with equipment, helped plan raids of communities and aided in arresting and executing the Ogoni nine.
In 2009 the family of Saro-Wiwa took Shell to court for complicity in his murder.
Hours before the trial the corporation settled the case out of court, terrified that evidence against them would be too damning.
The families of the Ogoni nine continue to fight for justice. Just last year, four family members of those murdered, Esther Kiobel. Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula stood in The Hague to accuse Shell of complicity in their deaths.
To this day those living in the region are still suffering the effects of the environmental destruction of their home by Shell.
The United Nations Environment Programme still found high levels of pollution and contaminated drinking water in the area in 2011.
Shell is currently desperately trying to rehabilitate its image by engaging in a number of “greenwashing” campaigns.
But however hard Shell tries, it can’t hide its bloody past.