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Pressure Mounts Against Oil Companies in Nigeria
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.

Monica Wilson is campaign coordinator for Essential Action's Boycott Shell/Free Nigeria campaign. Essential Action, PO Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036, USA.

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