Info & Resources
Who is Essential Action?
Shell in Nigeria: What are the issues?
- What is Shell?
- Why Boycott Shell?
Environmental Degradation (Natural Gas Flaring, Oil Spills, Pipelines and Construction, Health Impacts)
The "Shell Police"
The trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8: The Struggle Continues
The Ogoni 20 and others...
Not just the Ogoni!
- Why does the Nigerian government allow this to happen?
- What are groups in Nigeria doing about stopping Shell?
- What are the United States and other countries doing to stop Shell?
The United Nations
The US: words without action
Return to Info & Resources
The "Royal Dutch/Shell Group," commonly know as Shell, is an amalgam
of over 1,700 companies all over the world. 60% of the Group is owned by
Royal Dutch of the Netherlands, and 40% is owned by the Shell Transport
and Trading Group of Great Britain. These two companies have worked together
since 1903. Shell includes companies like Shell Petroleum of the USA (which
wholly owns Shell Oil of the USA and many subsidiaries), Shell Nigeria,
Shell Argentina, Shell South Africa, etc.
1. What is Shell?
Shell Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers in the Royal Dutch/Shell
Group. 80% of the oil extraction in Nigeria is the the Niger Delta, the
southeast region of the country. The Delta is home to many small minority
ethnic groups, including the Ogoni, all of which suffer egregious exploitation
by multinational oil companies, like Shell. Shell provides over 50% of
the income keeping the Nigerian dictatorship in power.
Aside from letters, the only way to reach the powers of Shell Nigeria
is through other Shell companies like Shell Oil of the USA. When Shell
Oil feels the impact of a boycott and understands that our grievances lie
with Shell Nigeria, it puts pressure on the Shell Group to influence change
2. Why boycott Shell?
Since the Nigerian government hanged 9 environmental activists in
1995 for speaking out against exploitation by Royal Dutch/Shell and the
Nigeria government, outrage has exploded worldwide. The tribunal which
convicted the men was part of a joint effort by the government and Shell
to suppress a growing movement among the Ogoni people: a movement for environmental
justice, for recognition of their human rights and for economic
justice. Shell has brought extreme, irreparable environmental devastation
to Ogoniland. Please note that although the case of the Ogoni is the best
known of communities in Shell's areas of operation, dozens of other
groups suffer the same exploitation of resources and injustices.
"The most conspicuous aspects of life in contemporary
Ogoni are poverty, malnutrition, and disease."
Although oil from Ogoniland has provided approximately $30 billion to the
economy of Nigeria1, the people of Ogoni see little to
nothing from their contribution to Shell's pocketbook. Emanuel Nnadozie,
writing of the contributions of oil to the national economy of Nigeria,
observed "Oil is a curse which means only poverty,
hunger, disease and exploitation" for those living in oil producing
areas2. Shell has done next to nothing to help Ogoni:
by 1996, Shell employed only 88 Ogoni (0.0002% of the Ogoni population,
and only 2% of Shell's employees in Nigeria)3. Ogoni
villages have no clean water, little electricity, few telephones, abysmal
health care, and no jobs for displaced farmers and fisher persons, and
adding insult to injury, face the effects of unrestrained environmental
molestation by Shell everyday.
-Ben Naanen, Oil and Socioeconomic Crisis
in Nigeria, 1995, pg. 75-6
When crude oil touches the leaf of a yam or cassava,
or whatever economic trees we have, it dries immediately, it's so dangerous
and somebody who was coming from, say, Shell was arguing with me so I told
him that you're an engineer, you have been trained, you went to the university,
I did not go to the university, but I know that what you have been saying
in the university sleeps with me here so you cannot be more qualified in
crude oil than myself who sleeps with crude oil.
Since Shell began drilling oil in Ogoniland in 1958, the people of
Ogoniland have had pipelines built across their farmlands and in front
of their homes, suffered endemic oil leaks from these very pipelines, been
forced to live with the constant flaring of gas. This environmental assault
has smothered land with oil, killed masses of fish and other
aquatic life, and introduced devastating acid rain to the land of
the Ogoni4. For the Ogoni, a people dependent upon farming
and fishing, the poisoning of the land and water has had devastating
economic and health consequences5. Shell claims to
clean up its oil spills, but such "clean-ups" consist of techniques like
burning the crude which results in a permanent layer of crusted oil meters
thick and scooping oil into holes dug in surrounding earth (a temporary
solution at best, with the oil flowing out of the hole during the Niger
Delta's frequent bouts of rain) 6.
-Chief GNK Gininwa of Korokoro, "The Drilling
Fields", Glenn Ellis (Director), 1994
Natural Gas Flaring
Ken Saro-Wiwa called gas flaring "the most notorious action" of the
Shell and Chevron oil companies7. In Ogoniland, 95% of
extracted natural gas is flared8 (compared with 0.6%
in the United States). It is estimated that the between the CO2 and
methane released by gas flaring, Nigerian oil fields are responsible for
more global warming effects than the combined oil fields of the rest of
Although Shell drills oil in 28 countries, 40% of its oil spills
worldwide have occurred in the Niger Delta10. In
the Niger Delta, there were 2,976 oil spills between 1976 and 199111.
In the 1970s spillage totaled more that four times that of the 1989
Exxon Valdez tragedy12. Ogoniland has had severe
problems stemming from oil spillage, including water contamination and
loss of many valuable animals and plants. A short-lived World Bank investigation
found levels of hydrocarbon pollution in water in Ogoniland more
than sixty times US limits13 and
a 1997 Project Underground survey found petroleum hydrocarbons one Ogoni
village's watersource to be 360 times the levels allowed in the European
Community, where Shell originates14.
Pipelines and construction
The 12 by 14 mile area that comprises Ogoniland is some of the most
densely occupied land in Africa. The extraction of oil has lead to construction
of pipelines and facilities on precious farmland and through villages.
Shell and its subcontractors compensate landowners with meager amounts
unequal to the value of the scarce land, when they pay at all. The military
defends Shell's actions with firearms and death: see the Shell Police
The Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team observed increased "discomfort
and misery" due to fumes, heat and combustion gases, as well
as increased illnesses15. This destruction has not been
alleviated by Shell or the government. Owens Wiwa, a physician, has observed
higher rates of certain diseases like bronchial asthma, other respiratory
diseases, gastro-enteritis and cancer among the people in the area as a
result of the oil industry16.
The Shell Police and the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force
Both Shell and the government admit that Shell contributes to the
funding of the military in the Delta region. Under the auspices of
"protecting" Shell from peaceful demonstrators in the village of Umeuchem
(10 miles from Ogoni), the police killed 80 people, destroyed houses and
vital crops in 199017. Shell conceded it twice
paid the military for going to specific villages. Although it disputes
that the purpose of these excursions was to quiet dissent, each of the
military missions paid for by Shell resulted in Ogoni fatalities18.
The two incidents are a 1993 peaceful demonstration against the destruction
of farmland to build pipelines and, later that year, a demonstration in
the village of Korokoro19. Shell has also admitted
purchasing weapons for the police force who guard its facilities, and there
is growing suspicion that Shell funds a much greater portion of the military
than previously admitted. In 1994, the military sent permanent security
forces into Ogoniland, occupying the once peaceful land. This Rivers State
Internal Security Task Force is suspected in the murders of 2000 people20.
In a classified memo, its leader described his plans for "psychological
tactics of displacement/wasting" and stated that "Shell operations
are still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken."21
Since the Task Force occupied Ogoniland in 1994, the Ogoni have lived under
constant surveillance and threats of violence. The Nigerian military stepped
up its presence in Ogoniland in January of 1997 and again in 1998 before
the annual Ogoni Day celebrations.
The trial and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8: The Struggle
Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were leaders of MOSOP, the Movement for
Survival of the Ogoni People. As outspoken environmental and human rights
activists, they declared that Shell was not welcome in Ogoniland. On November
10, 1995, they were hanged after a trial by a special military tribunal
(whose decisions cannot be appealed) in the murder of four other Ogoni
activists. The defendants' lawyers were harassed and denied access to their
clients. Although none of them were near the town where the murders occurred,
they were convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that many heads of
state (including US President Clinton) strongly condemned for a stunning
lack of evidence, unmasked partiality towards the prosecution and the haste
of the trial. The executions were carried out a mere eight days after the
decision. Two witnesses against the MOSOP leaders admitted that Shell and
the military bribed them to testify against Ken Saro-Wiwa with promises
of money and jobs at Shell20. Ken's final words before
his execution were: "The struggle continues!"
The Ogoni 20 and others...
On September 7, 1998, the Ogoni 20 were released on bail! The
20 had been imprisoned for the past four years under the same unsubstantiated
charges as those used to execute Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8. It is unclear
whether they will be tried. Sadly, another 25 people were arrested in January,
1998 for organizing the annual peaceful Ogoni Day celebration. There are
unknown other Ogonis imprisoned because they appeared to support the Ogoni
cause or for helping others remember Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Not just the Ogoni
The majority of Nigeria's oil comes from the Niger Delta in Southeast
Nigeria. All across the Niger Delta, ethnic minority communities suffer
the same environmental devastation and oppression under multinational oil
companies and the Nigerian military. In 1990, Shell specifically requested
that the military protect its facilities from nonviolent protesters in
the village of Umeuchem. 80 villagers were killed in two days of violence.
A later judiciary panel determined that the villagers posed no threat against
Shell21. There have also been accusations of the
military arming some communities to fight other communities and prevent
the growth of cohesive groups like MOSOP, because wide-spread movements
could lead to the end of the flagrant prosperity for Shell and the military.
However, communities like the Ijaw, Ekwerre, Oyigba, Ogbia, and others
in the Niger Delta have taken measures to reclaim their despoiled lands
and human rights22. Since October 1998, Ijaw groups have
been occupying oil industry platforms and pipeline transfer stations, at
one point blocking a third of Nigeria's oil exports. As of early December,
1988, the groups were still shutting off flow and demanding environmental
and economic justice.
3. Why does the Nigerian government allow this
In Nigeria, it is questionable whether it is multinational oil companies
like Shell or the military which hold ultimate control. Oil companies have
a frightening amount of influence upon the government: 80% of Nigerian
government revenues come directly from oil, over half of which is from
Shell. Countless sums disappear into the pockets of military strongmen
in the form of bribes and theft. In 1991 alone, $12 billion in oil funds
disappeared (and have yet to be located)23. Local governments
admit that oil companies bribe influential local officials to suppress
action against the companies. Hence the interests of the Nigerian military
regime are clear: to maintain the status quo; to continue acting on Shell's
requested attacks on villagers whose farms are destroyed by the oil company;
to continue silencing, by any means necessary, those who expose Shell's
complete disregard for people, for the environment, for life itself. Shell
and the Nigerian military government are united in this continuing violent
assault of indigenous peoples and the environment. And just as oil companies
exploit numerous communities in the Niger Delta, the government's involvement
in the above crimes is not limited to the Ogoni.
To allow the Ogoni to continue raising local and global awareness and
pressure would be political suicide for an oppressive, violent military
regime, whose only mandate is its own guns24. The Nigerian
military government could not allow this movement of empowerment to spread
into other impoverished communities of the Niger Delta. By harassing, wounding
and killing Ogoni and others, the military ensures that it remains in power
and that its pockets remain lined with the blood money of Delta oil.
4. What are groups in Nigeria doing to stop Shell?
The first highly visible action organized by the Movement for Survival
of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) occurred on January 4, 1993 with 300,000 Ogoni
(3/5 of the population) participating in the peaceful "Ogoni Day" demonstration.
The overwhelming turnout signals a solid consensus for change, for freedom
from the oppressions of Shell and the military regime. MOSOP is an umbrella
association of ten Ogoni groups encompassing over half of the Ogoni population.
Today, MOSOP's leaders live in exile, but MOSOP remains a significant presence
both in Nigeria and abroad. Since MOSOP became highly visible, other groups
in oil producing regions have begun modeling their actions on MOSOP's tactics
of intense yet peaceful demonstrations, pan-ethnic-group organizations,
and charters based on the Ogoni Bill of Rights. The military and Shell
have been careful to prevent any movements from gaining MOSOP's momentum.
See The MOSOP Story
by MOSOP Canada.
There are currently many groups in the Niger Delta working on researching
and educating about the environmental and social impacts of the oil industry
on the Niger Delta. A few of these are Environmental
Rights Action (ERA) and Niger Delta Human and Environmental
Rescue Organization (ND-HERO). Additionally, many ethnic groups other
than the Ogoni are vocalizing and demonstrating
against the environmental racism and human rights abuses of Shell, Chevron,
Mobil, and many others.
In 1990, MOSOP created the Ogoni
Bill of Rights, which outlines the major grievances of the Ogoni, and
applies to the peoples of many other oil producing areas. The major points
of the Ogoni Bill of Rights are:
clean up of oil spills
reduction of gas flaring
fair compensation for lost land, income, resources, life
a fair share of profits gained from oil drilled at their expense
An oft forgotten element of the Ogoni struggle are the thousands of
people who have fled Ogoniland under threat of violence from the Shell
Police and the Rivers State Task Force. Ogoni refugees are found in Benin,
Togo, and Ghana and other countries25. A majority
of these refugees are students. There are also many people living in exile
in the US, Canada and Europe. In 1997, Diana
Wiwa visited Ogoni refugees throughout the region.
5. The UN, the Commonwealth and the US
International condemnation of Nigeria is widespread, but there
has been much more talk than action.
In a surprising and welcome move, the United
Nations Special Rapporteur's report on Nigeria (released 4/15/98) accused
Nigeria and Shell of abusing human rights and failing to protect the environment
in oil producing regions, and called for an investigation into Shell. The
report condemned Shell for a "well armed security force which is intermittently
employed against protesters." The report was unusual both because of its
frankness and its focus on Shell, instead of only on member countries.
This was repeated in a November
1998 visit by the same official to Nigeria and the Delta region.
The Commonwealth is a group of 53 developed and developing nations
around the world. Almost all members have had a past association with another
Commonwealth country, as colonies or protectorates or trust territories.
The Commonwealth believes in the promotion of international understanding
and co-operation, through partnership. Nigeria's membership of the Commonwealth
was suspended by Commonwealth Heads of Government on 11 November 1995.
Despite repeated pleas from Nigerian human rights activists, the Commonwealth
has failed to follow through on threats of expulsion.
The US: words without action
In word, the United States is a strong critic of the Nigerian government,
both past and present. It has condemned the existence of the military regime,
of election cancellations, and of the situation in Ogoniland. It has threatened
to take action. Yet it never does. As the largest consumer of Nigerian
oil, the US could be the strongest advocate for human rights and
justice, yet it refuses to take on that role. The US government has even
protected Nigeria from economic sanctions by states and cities within the
US. In March 1998 an official from the Clinton administration warned the
Maryland House and Senate that bills creating state-wide economic sanctions
against Nigeria for human rights abuses are a violation of US commitments
to international trade agreements and to membership in the World Trade
Organization. The Clinton administration termed such bills a "threat to
the national interest." Not surprisingly, multinational oil companies such
as Shell, Mobil, and Chevron lobby heavily against aggressive US policy
towards Nigeria, an approach which appears to be working.
1. Watts, Michael, "Black Gold, White Heat," in Geographies
of Resistance, Steve Pile, Michael Keith,eds., London: Routledge, 1997.
2. Nnadozie, Emmanuel, Oil and Socioeconomic
Crisis in Nigeria, Lewiston: Mellon University Press, 1995.
3. Watts, op.cit.
4. Nigeria Environmental Action Study Team (NEST), Nigeria's
Threatened Environment, Ibadan, 1991.
5. Saro-Wiwa, Ken, Genocide in Nigeria, Port Harcourt:
Saros International Publishers, 1989.
6. Ellis, Glenn (Director), "The Drilling Fields," 1994,
text from film by Catma Films.
7. Saro-Wiwa, Ken, Genocide in Nigeria.
8. Shell, 1996.
9. Ake, Claude, "Shelling Nigeria Ablaze," Tell, 1/29/96,
10. Cayford, Steven, "The Ogoni "Uprising: Oil, Human
Rights and a Democratic Alternative in Nigeria," Africa Today, vol. 43,
no. 2, Apr/June 1996, p. 183.
11. Ellis, op.cit.
12. Watts, op.cit.
13. Project Underground, The Flames of Shell: a fact
sheet, Berkeley, 1996.
14. Project Underground and Rainforest Action Network,
Human Rights and Environmental Operations Information on the Royal Dutch/
Shell Group of Companies: 1996-1997 Independent Annual Report, 1997.
15. NEST, op.cit.
16. Marrah, Kofi, "No Let-up in Ogoniland Struggle",
African Agenda, Third World Network Features, June, 1998.
17. Ellis, op.cit.
18. Ellis, op.cit.
19. Nigerian News du Jour, "Environmental Action Group
says military on Shell's payroll," 4/23/98.
20. Human Rights Watch, The Ogoni Crisis, report
7/5, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1995.
21. Robinson, Deborah, Ogoni: The Struggle Continues,
Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1996.
22. Birnbaum, Michael, QC, "Nigeria: Fundamental Rights
Denied," Article 19, Appendix 10.
23. Kudirat Institute for Nigerian Democracy, "Oil Economy,"
KIND Website <www.igc.org/kind/economy.html>
24. Watts, op.cit.
25. Wiwa, Diana, "The Role of Women in the Struggle for
Environmental Justice in Ogoni," Delta website, <http://www.oneworld.org/delta/news4.html#1>,