In an out of court settlement oil multinational Shell has paid £9.5 million to the family of Nigerian author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The family had taken the company to court in New York, accusing it of complicity in the execution of Saro-Wiwa in 1995.
He was executed by the country’s then military dictatorship in 1995. He had been involved in campaigning against the social and environmental destruction of the Ogoni area of Nigeria caused by Shell’s oil drilling. The military campaign to suppress resistance to oil drilling left around 2,000 dead and 30,000 homeless.
Activists have argued ever since that Shell maintained close relations with the government and was partially responsible for the government’s actions.
Some of the evidence that was due to come up in the trial has still emerged, including a memo from Shell recommending a payment to a military unit that had helped recover a company lorry.
In one document from May 1993 Shell wrote to the local governor asking for the ‘usual assistance’. The Nigerian military were called in, resulting in at least one death.
Problems remain for oil companies operating in Nigeria. Oil production is currently at half capacity at about 1.6m barrels a day. It is kept down partly by a 14-year armed struggle by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend). Armed gangs also siphon huge amounts of oil to sell on the international black market.
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