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The Nigerian Activist Whose Death Shamed Shell

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SHELL RELATED EXTRACTS FROM AN ARTICLE BY JACOBIN PUBLISHED UNDER THE HEADLINE “THE NIGERIAN ACTIVIST WHOSE DEATH SHAMED SHELL”

AN INTERVIEW WITH ROY DORON / TOYIN FALOLA: 10 NOV 2019

Twenty-four years ago today, environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Nigerian state. His death brought international attention to the rapacious behavior of oil companies like Shell — and their complicity in the most violent forms of repression.

Born in 1941, Ken Saro-Wiwa came of age as Nigeria gained independence and became a lifelong advocate for the importance of minority rights within a unified national identity. A member of the Ogoni ethnic group, who at only half a million hold little sway in a country of two hundred million, Saro-Wiwa was central to mobilizing a popular movement that demanded accountability for companies like Shell that were extracting oil in the creeks of the Niger Delta.

In 1994, four elder elites who had taken a more conciliatory stance toward Shell were murdered by a mob. The military dictator, General Sani Abacha, used the killings as a pretext to arrest Saro-Wiwa and unleash punitive raids on over sixty villages. On November 10, 1995, after a trial marked by irregularities and naked brutality, Saro-Wiwa was hanged alongside eight other activists known as the Ogoni Nine.

Many of the oil companies today talk about corporate responsibility, and many of their apologists in the media and academia cheer Shell, Eni, and other oil companies’ initiatives to clean up their act after decades of devastation and collusion to pollute and destroy environments. However, much of the oil companies’ work is little more than public relations aimed at Western audiences and allaying investor guilt than actually making a difference to the communities impacted by years of oil spills, gas flaring, and systemic land dispossession.

Where able, those communities have been forced to use foreign court systems with varying degrees of success. In the United States, Shell successfully fought Ogoni plaintiffs in the Kiobel case all the way to the Supreme Court and changed the interpretation of the Alien Tort Claims Act to better suit corporate interests. In the Netherlands, environmental plaintiffs have had more successes, but these are long and costly battles that poor farmers generally cannot sustain.

FULL ARTICLE

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