On November 10, 1995, Greenpeace released the following statement:
The blood of Ken Saro-Wiwa will permanently stain the name of Shell, Greenpeace said today in response to the news that Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni were, according to widespread rumours, hanged this morning in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
"Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged today for speaking out against the environmental damage to the Niger Delta caused by Shell Oil through its 37 years of drilling in the region. Ken Saro Wiwa was campaigning for what Greenpeace considers the most basic of human rights: the right for clean air, land and water. His only crime was his success in bringing his cause to international attention," said Thilo Bode, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.
Greenpeace warned that any protest in the Niger Delta today, non violent or otherwise, would likely be met with military force and further massacres. Bode appealed to General Sani Abacha to let the Ogoni people voice their grief without fear of violence and further deaths.
Shell's call for "quiet diplomacy" in the 11th hour following the confirmation of the death sentence by the Nigerian Ruling Council has a hollow ring. Shell had ample opportunity to demonstrate concern over the 17 months of Ken's incarceration and trial. They chose to maintain their cosy relationship with the military dictatorship to secure oil profits rather than condemn, the brutal and unjust arrest and later sentencing of non-violent environmental campaigners.
For many, it began their first full-scale boycott of an oil company. Not that the alternatives were ideal, but this was beyond rationalization or reconciliation. For others, it added Shell Oil to what was now becoming a list that had begun with Exxon. For some, the Autumn of 2007 added Chevron to the list. For some with longer memories, it might all have started in August, 1953, when the Eisenhower Administration did the British a favor by brutally overthrowing Iranian democracy. For the benefit of the Anglo-Iranian oil company. Which subsequently changed its name to British Petroleum.
Last Sunday, McClatchy's Tom Knudson added a broader perspective to BP's latest contribution to global degradation:
There's no denying that the rust-red plumes of oil and tar balls in the Gulf of Mexico are a potential ecological calamity for American Southern shores. More than half the petroleum consumed in this country, however, is imported from other countries, where damage from exploration and drilling is more common but goes largely unnoticed.
No one's tallied the damage worldwide, but it includes at least 200 square miles of ruined wildlife habitat in Alberta, more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater spilled into the rainforests of Ecuador and a parade of purple-black oil slicks that skim across Africa's Niger Delta, where more than 2,000 polluted sites are estimated to need cleaning up.
"The Gulf spill can be seen as a picture of what happens in the oil fields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa," Nnimmo Bassey, a human rights activist and the head of Environmental Rights Action, the Nigeria chapter of Friends of the Earth, said in an e-mail.
"We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the USA," Bassey added. "In Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihood and environments."
In Ecuador, an estimated 2,500,000 acres have been deforested by the ravening greed for oil. There are over 2000 official oil spill sites in Nigeria, alone. In northern Alberta, indigenous people are suffering and being ignored, as tar sands are mined and converted to crude, leaving behind environmental devastation. Worldwide, where oil is in the ground, democracy is not above it. Worldwide, the toxicity of the oil industry is everywhere. It is a crisis within a crisis.
We can't simply boycott offending oil companies, because none have anything close to clean hands. Every step of the industry's process, from drilling to burning, damages the environment and hurts people. We can't look at oil industry offenses situationally. We can't compartmentalize. Climate change cannot be isolated or contained. But even if the climate were perfectly stable, the industry is responsible for countless other disasters and violations. We have to boycott the entire industry, but we can't realistically do that until we have alternatives. Certainly, we can do a far better job of conserving. But that has to become a national and international priority. But we also need to be developing clean, renewable alternatives, and more viable forms of infrastructure. We need to be doing it with a fierce urgency. It cannot be said often enough.
Almost a year ago, and nearly 15 years after Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni colleagues were hanged, The Economist had this much-ignored news:
ON JUNE 8th Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay out $15.5m to the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta to settle a long-running court case brought against the oil giant in America by nine plaintiffs, including relatives of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an environmentalist and writer. He was executed by the brutal government of General Sani Abacha after a charade of a trial in 1995. Mr Saro-Wiwa had led a successful campaign against Shell’s activities in his homeland, even forcing the company to quit Ogoniland in 1993. The plaintiffs accused Shell of complicity in the activist’s death.
Shell denies any wrongdoing. It says the payout was a “humanitarian gesture”; some of the money will go to a new trust fund for the Ogoni. Shell now hopes that it might even resume oil production in the region. But things are unlikely to be that simple.
There has been a mixed reaction to the settlement in Ogoniland. Some Ogonis are disinclined to forget years of mistrust and others are in talks to clean up the oil spills that have been left untended, still oozing into farmland and rivers after 15 years. Ogoniland is just a sliver of Shell’s onshore oil fields, and the out-of-court settlement is unlikely to end the company’s longstanding troubles in a volatile part of Nigeria that is even more violent now than it was back in the 1990s.
A humanitarian gesture? These people are without shame or conscience. They are poisoning the world, and they just don't care. It cannot be said often enough.
At his trial, Saro-Wiwa said:
We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginilization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.
It's about oil. It's about fossil fuels. It's about our future. It's about whether or not we have a future.
The environment is not a sexy political issue. We take our collective survival for granted. We no longer can afford to take our collective survival for granted.