Fifteen years ago today the Nigerian activist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by the Nigerian military government in collaboration with Shell. I can remember clearly writing my letter to Shell condemning their actions. I wish I still had the response. To call it patronizing would be an understatement. To call it PR spin would be generous.
Shell worked with the Nigerian government to kill and torture many other Ogoni protesters by providing vehicles, patrol boats, ammunition, as well as planning raids on Ogoni villages. They did this because the Ogoni people were protesting the extreme environmental degradation to their land.
Nearly 3000 separate oil spills occurred in the Niger delta causing irreparable damage. Gas flares burn 24 hours a day near the Ogoni villages, sometimes as long as 30 years causing noise, water, and air pollution. Pipelines are rerouted through what was once agricultural land, further oppressing the Ogoni people.
Every year people gather to commemorate the brutal executions of the nine Ogoni leaders protesting these injustices. Many years, including this one meet violence. The Nigerian police exercise brutal and excessive force. And the human rights abuses continue.
International pressure has made some progress. In 2009 many activists that had been tortured and illegally detained were released. Also in 2009 Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a legal action accusing them of colluding with the Nigerian government in the deaths of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders.
So why am I talking about this? Yes it is the 15th anniversary. Yes this event was a pivotal moment in my early activism. Yes this why I still boycott Shell. But more than that, this is an example of what happens to a huge company without real checks and balances. What happens when a company does something that harms people, harms children?
But more on that tomorrow… for now, what is the role of the consumer? What is the role of business, government? What message do you send when making your purchases?