Anniversary marked with actions and awards

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
Feature by Renata Sancken

On 10 November, nine nooses were hung outside the London Shell headquarters, paralleling the hangings of activist-author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni colleagues on 10 November 1995. The nine were arrested in Nigeria and held without charges, tortured, and eventually sentenced to death for their peaceful efforts to bring Shell's exploitation of the Ogoni people to light.

At his trial, Saro-Wiwa wrote for his closing testimony, “I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial ... there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished.”

No corporate impunity!

Ten years later, Shell's activities continue unabated - they and other western oil companies are still drilling in Nigeria - and they still deny any involvement with the death of Saro-Wiwa and other activists.

Yet not only does Shell pollute the air, water, and earth in the Niger Delta where it drills, it has also been implicated as a cause of the unjust trial of Saro-Wiwa. Both of the prosecution's two main witnesses later confessed that they had been bribed by Shell. (Shell denied involvement.) However, both Shell and the Nigerian government do admit that Shell contributes to military funding in Nigeria, and has a certain level of control over military actions.

In her book Ogoni: The Struggle Continues, Deborah Robinson quoted a classified memo in which the leader of the then State Internal Security Task Force stated that “Shell operations are still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken.” In 1994 the Task Force occupied Ogoniland, and the Ogoni people have lived under surveillance and threats ever since.

Amnesty International report that a new military and police Joint Task Force that guards oil personnel and facilities, set up in 2004 to restore order in the region, “has been no more accountable for its use of excessive and lethal force than its predecessor”.

In February 2005 Amnesty also reported on the killings and injuries of protesters at one of Chevron's oil facilities in the Delta.

Gone but not forgotten

Although oil companies have not yet been held legally accountable, their actions have also not been forgotten. This November, activists from London Rising Tide, Rhythms of Resistance and London Earth First! came together for Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa Day, with their protest outside Shell headquarters. Many other memorials - including dances and readings, as well as protests - happened elsewhere in the UK and around the world.

Another aspect of the tenth anniversary of Saro-Wiwa's death was the announcement of the winner of a Living Memorial contest, held by Remember Saro-Wiwa, a coalition of over a dozen different groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Minorities of Europe.

Sokari Douglas Camp and Siraj Izhar's memorial proposals were the joint winners of the contest. The Living Memorial is intended not only to remember Saro-Wiwa and others who have died in similar circumstances, but also to acknowledge London's dependence on oil and the fact that Shell is partially based in London.

The two winning proposals were sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp's stainless steel sculpture of a Nigerian bus, decorated with texts from Ken Saro-Wiwa's writings, and multimedia artist Siraj Izhar's plan to suspend helium filled representations of a carbon molecule above various locations in London, paralleled by a Living Memorial website.