2. Shell’s Oil, Africa’s Blood

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, Date: February 7, 1996, Title: “Shell Game,” Author: Vince Bielski; TEXAS OBSERVER, Date: January 12, 1996, Title: “Shell’s Oil, Africa’s Blood,”* Authors: Ron Nixon and Michael King; EDITOR & PUBLISHER, Date: March 23, 1996, Title: “Rejected Ad Flap,” Author: M.L. Stein; WORLD WATCH, Date: May/June 1996, Title: “Dying for Oil,” Author: Aaron Sachs; WORLD WATCH, Date: July/August 1996, Title: “Eco-Justice in Nigeria,” Author: Chris Bright; BANK CHECK, Date: February 1996, Title: “IFC Pulls Out of Shell Deal in Nigeria,” Author: Andrea Durbin

In the wake of Nigeria’s execution of nine environmental activists, including Nobel Prize winner and leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro Wiwa, evidence has indicated that Shell has fomented civil unrest in Nigeria, contributed to unfair trials, and failed to use its leverage to prevent the unjustified executions. The executed activists were involved in massive protests against Royal Dutch/Shell Group because of the environmental devastation it has caused—particularly in Southern Nigeria’s Ogoniland.

Since the executions, Shell has also managed to keep the United States media from informing the public of its actions.

Nigeria’s government, under the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, derives 90 percent of its foreign revenue from oil exports. The United States, home of Royal Dutch’s subsidiary Shell Oil Company, located in Houston, Texas, imports almost 50 percent of Nigeria’s annual oil production.

In October 1990, Nigerian villagers occupied part of a Shell facility demanding compensation for the farm lands which had been destroyed by Shell. A division manager at Shell Petroleum Development Company called the Nigerian military for help. The military forces then fired on the villagers, killing some 80 people and destroying or badly damaging 495 homes. A Nigerian judicial inquiry later concluded that the protest had been peaceful. The MOSOP was formed after the massacre to continue protests against Shell. And while Shell has denied having anything to do with the recent executions, Dr. Owens Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s brother, reported that on three occasions Brian Anderson, the managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Co. in Nigeria, offered to make a deal with Wiwa: Shell would try to prevent the executions if the activists would call off their protests. Wiwa refused, and Shell did not intervene.

After international pleas for Shell’s intervention, Shell claimed that it was not—and would not become involved in Nigeria’s political affairs. Internal documents uncovered by journalists and human rights groups contradict this claim.

According to a report by Andy Rowell in the Village Voice (November 21, 1995), there is evidence that Shell has been bankrolling Nigerian military action against protesters and that two key prosecution witnesses admitted in sworn affidavits that they were offered bribes by Shell to unjustly incriminate Saro-Wiwa in his trial.

In response to these allegations, Shell has mounted an international media campaign to combat negative publicity. Amnesty International USA said the Houston Chronicle refused to run an ad which questioned Shell’s stance on human rights violations in Nigeria and that three billboard companies, including Gannett Outdoor Co. Inc., also declined to sell space to the human rights organization.

SSU Censored Researchers: James Hoback, Anne Stalder

COMMENTS: Vince Bielski, author of the San Francisco Bay Guardian article, says, “While the execution of the environmental activists in Nigeria was widely reported, most of the media ignored what was the thrust of my story—the links between Shell Oil, the Nigerian military, and human rights abuses. Under pressure, Shell recently admitted it had paid the military to protect its facilities—further implicating the oil giant in the human rights abuses.

“Few Americans understand how a multinational corporation could be responsible for the repressive acts of a dictatorship. A better informed public would help pressure Shell into acting more responsibly.”

According to Michael King and Ron Nixon, co-authors of the Texas Observer article, “Although the SaroWiwa execution received extensive coverage, the larger Nigerian story has gone largely unnoticed—and in the months since the execution, there has been little subsequent coverage.

“The most obvious benefits of wider coverage of the Nigeria story would be greater public pressure for an end to Nigeria’s military dictatorship, an end to U.S. government favoritism to the Nigerian regime, and an end to the stranglehold that the multinationals hold on the economies of underdeveloped nations, particularly in Africa.

“The Ogoni people have been heroically fighting the Nigerian regime and the Shell corporations virtually on their own; international support makes it more difficult for that struggle to be isolated and defeated.

“In this country, the conventional African story is one of starvation and misery; Americans would do well to know more about the organized opposition to tyranny in Africa and elsewhere. Moreover, it would begin to undermine the millions of dollars expended by Shell and other multinationals in self-serving and intentionally misleading ‘public relations’ efforts.”

Michael King, associate editor of the Texas Observer, also mentions the boycott launched against Shell in the wake of Saro-Wiwa’s execution, “although its overall effect is unclear (yet another consequence of minimal news coverage),” and notes, “The Nigerian regime has continued to cultivate friends in Congress and the White House.” King hopes the wake of the recent Texaco racism scandal will encourage renewed interest in the Shell/Nigeria situation-and says, “The attention of Project Censored to this story could be an important catalyst to additional coverage.”

Aaron Sachs, author of the World Watch article, “Dying for Oil,” believes the mass media picked up the story of the struggle of the Ogoni people only for a few moments, right around the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the eight other activists. Yet coverage was limited and described the hangings “as an outrage and a blip in the Abacha regime’s `transition’ to democracy,” he says.

“The consumer ought to know—indeed, has a right and a responsibility to know—the consequences of his or her actions and decisions … you might want to know if some of the profits from the gas you regularly buy for your car are going into the pockets of an unelected dictator who is committing environmental genocide within his own country.

“Both the U.S. government and Shell—as well as a few other major oil companies—benefit from the lack of (media) attention. The car/oil lobby is the largest and richest interest group in Washington, and Clinton has refused to impose sanctions on Nigeria largely out of fear that he would alienate Shell and Friends and that gasoline prices might rise a few cents,” says Sachs.

M.L. Stein, author of “Rejected Ad Flap,” says, “To my knowledge, the story (of Amnesty International USA’s inability to purchase media space) did not receive any exposure in the mass media. I believe it was a legitimate story that should have run for its news value alone. I believe that at least a segment of the public is interested in the fact that mainstream newspapers reject some ads and the reasons for it.” Stein believes it is important that “the public was deprived of learning about a subject that is of interest to them.”

Andrea Durbin, author of “IFC Pulls Out of Shell Deal in Nigeria,” discusses another largely unknown aspect of the story: “The fact that Shell was just about to receive a loan from the World Bank to expand its operations was hardly mentioned in coverage.” Durbin believes the public would benefit from media exposure “by knowing what their taxpayer dollars, contributed to the World Bank, are used for. Without the campaign to stop the loan, the World Bank would have doled out a $100 million loan to Shell.”

Durbin adds, “We are raising the issues, the fact that the World Bank makes loans to corporations, many of them the most profitable companies. We want the public to know what their money is being used for and exactly what kind of `development’ is being promoted. The progress is slow, however, because the media is unwilling to cover the issues.”