From March Earth First! Journal
On February 17, 1999, hundreds of villagers marched through the
Nigerian village of Opia, many returning for the first time since
Chevron helicopters appearing on January 4, 1999 deploying
soldiers who razed the village, burning houses, raping and in
other ways torturing residents. Chairmen of the villages of Opia
and nearby Ikiyan estimated the deaths at 71.
For forty years, residents of Nigeria's Niger Delta have endured
polluting, negligent multinational oil corporations. Decades of
pollution have left scars on the land; decades of repression and
human rights violations have left physical and psychological
scars on the on the population. Violence against residents of the
Delta skyrocked last January, as protests and demands for
environmental justice spread in the region.
Residents of the Niger Delta have never been willing to endure
the inequalities of living in dire poverty, lacking basics such
as clean water and education, while the oil under their feet
provides 80 percent of the military government's income. The same
government with hoards oil money and deprives people of the Delta
basic services, allowing land, air and water to be polluted by
the oil industry. There is a strong history of civil disobedience
and activism in the Delta, which unfortunately has been ignored
by international media for decades.
In recent years, international outcry against environmental
racism in Nigeria has targeted Shell Nigeria's pollution and
cooperation with the violent military. As the recent crackdowns
on residents increase, other oil companies are being scrutinized
for their own ties to the military and attacks against nonviolent
protesters at oil facilities. Chevron helicopters transported
members of military forces at least twice to different protest
sites, in May of 1998 and the January 4, 1999 incident. This
February, three protesters were killed by soldiers near a
facility operated by Agip, an Italian oil corporation. Nineteen
people were reported dead Monday, February 1, 1999 outside
Shell's major Forcados terminal.
The issue of environmental justice in Nigeria became
international in 1995 with the military execution of nonviolent
Ogoni rights leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, following a
sham military trial. Now, in 1998 and 1999, a more unified demand
for justice and dialogue with oil companies, the military, and
communities emerges, led by members of the Ijaw, Nigeria's fourth
largest ethnic group. Tragically, unification has lead to
violence instead of dialogue from oil companies and the
government. Their response includes flooding the Niger Delta with
warships, tanks and hundreds of military troops.
The Opia protest against Chevron's cooperation in the attack on
the villages of Opia and nearby Ikiyan was followed that day by
two actions in the United States in an unified international call
for suspension of oil company operations in Nigeria. [Feb. 17 Action]
Activists in Washington, DC targeted Mobil to demand that Mobil
suspend operations in Nigeria until all oil companies negotiate
with communities effected by the oil industry. (Mobil's
headquarters are located near Washington, DC in Fairfax,
Virginia) After Shell, Mobil extracts the most crude from
Nigeria, creating tremendous revenues for the coffers of the
government and military.
In San Francisco, a team hung two banners from flagpoles in front
of Chevron's headquarters. The San Francisco
action intensified public scrutiny of Chevron, coming on the
heels of a large demonstration at the same location in January.
The activists extracted a promise for a meeting from Chevron
officials to discuss Chevron's role in the recent crackdowns and
use of Chevron's equipment by the military.
Nine months earlier and thousands of miles away, a request for a
meeting with Chevron received a very different response from the
multinational corporation. In May, 1998, twenty unarmed youths
occupied Chevron's offshore Parabe platform in May, 1998, asking
to discuss grievances from local communities. Three days later,
Chevron helicopters arrived carrying members of the Nigerian
military and feared Mobil Police (MoPo). The troops shot the
unarmed activists, killing two, scaring many into jumping in to
the Atlantic Ocean, and arresting eleven (the eleven were
released after three weeks). Chevron in Nigeria has admitted to
both calling and transporting the military.
Despite increased attention to the environmental and human rights
conditions in Nigeria's Niger Delta, pollution and environmental
racism continues. A Nigerian newspaper reported on February 2,
1999 that fresh spillage from two Shell locations in Ijaw areas
has spread through waterways, affecting 29 communities,
destroying some communities' economic reliance on fishing. At
another Shell site, reported by Shell to have been previously
closed at the request of Ijaw activists, an explosion injured
eight workers, all Nigerian.