In 1995, internationally acclaimed writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed along with eight of his colleagues. The Ogoni Nine's only crime was their success is exposing Shell oil's role in destroying their homeland, dismantling their communities, and killing their brothers and sisters. Since the Ogoni began a nonviolent campaign against oil destruction, over 2,000 people have died at the hands of a military that is armed by and paid for by Shell.
Today, another 20 Ogoni men are in prison in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, awaiting "trial" - framed for murder on the same charges that the Nine were killed for last year. Some have been in jail for over three years, and still the Nigerian government refuses to grant them bail, much less bring them to trial. Testimony by the 20 implicates Shell in their arrest and subsequent torture. As the most powerful entity in Nigeria, there is no doubt that Shell could choose to spare these men's lives, but instead, they are choosing to sit idly by as they waste away in prison.
"Nyieda Nasikpo had just been released from the dark room the other day. The dark room is a prison within prison, serving as punishment within punishment. In this room, communications within the prisons and other inmates is totally severed and the detainee is locked perpetually with 24 hours total darkness in a 3x3 feet cell at the pleasure of the authorized person." Robert Azibaola, ND-HERO, and lawyer for the 20, June 1997
The Nigerian military regime has gone to extreme lengths to keep the Ogoni 20 out of court. They know that another trial on the same charges for which Saro-Wiwa was executed will attract unwanted attention. They have repeatedly changed venues and used legal technicalities to keep the 20 in jail. On July 23 1997, Justice Daniel Kalio of the Rivers State High Court held that he did have jurisdiction to rule on the question of bail for the 20. Within a week, the government had filed an appeal, and now the hearing on that appeal will be held in late September.
The 20 Ogoni men remain in jail under appalling conditions. On August 11, the 20 began a hunger strike, which will initially continue for 10 days. They are calling for international solidarity and support.
Who are the Ogoni 20?
The Ogoni 20 currently are: Elijan L Baadom, John Banatu, Ngbaa Baovi, Kagbara Bassee, Kale Beete, Friday Cburuma, Paul Deekor, Godwin Gbodor, Blessing Israel, Adam Kaa, Benjamin Kabari, Baribuma Kumanwe, Baritule Lebe, Taagalo Kmonsi, Nyieda Nasikpo, Sampson Ntiginee, Nwinbari A Papah, Zorzar Popgbara, Samuel A Sigha, and Babina Visor.
The Ogoni 20 are supposedly being held in connection with the murders of 4 Ogoni chiefs in Giokoo on June 21, 1994. One of the 20 was arrested in May 1994, prior to this crime even being committed. At various times there have been 23 Ogoni (excluding the 9 who were executed in November 1995) arrested and charged in relation to those same murders. The last arrest was in November of 1996. 20 of the 23 are still in custody. Of the other three, one, Clement Tusima, died in custody in August 1995. The other two have been released, reportedly after their employers exerted pressure on the Nigerian authorities.
The men are kept in severely overcrowded cells, each with dozens of prisoners. All must sleep on the floor. Torture, denial of medical care, starvation, and poor sanitary conditions are all listed as complaints. All of them are currently in poor health.
The Ogoni 20 are in prison because they, like Ken Saro-Wiwa, opposed Shell's dirty operations in Nigeria and the devastation of Ogoni land through 30 years of oil drilling activities. Like Ken Saro-Wiwa, these men stood up for their rights when death squads began to sweep through their homeland in response to their nonviolent protests.
As the above quote attests to though, Shell had a direct role in the arrest, detention, and subsequent torture of at least some of the Ogoni 20. Shell's security force, known locally as the "Shell Police" are accused of numerous incidents of repression of peaceful protest and harassment of activists.
On January 30, 1996, in response to public outrage over Saro-Wiwa's execution, Shell stated "It is our established position that we recognise and support The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The issue of the right to fair trial is clearly of public concern and we felt it important that we reiterate the Group's position on this". Despite repeated requests, this is as far as the corporation has gone towards intervening in the Ogoni 20 case.
Is Shell going to stand by while 20 more people are hanged for murders they did not commit, before a kangaroo court? More probably, will they continue to congratulate themselves for being the world's most profitable corporation while 20 more people waste away in jail? Shell must take responsibility for the Ogoni 20.
"We have been dumped into detention without any hope of a fair trial, thus causing our families to suffer untold hardships. ...the Ogoni civil disturbance tribunal said the case against us 'is not an ordinary murder case'. So we know there is more to this than meets the eye. The Government is settling an old score." -The Ogoni 20
2. Organize demonstrations at Shell stations. Get a group together to go on hunger strike (even if only for a day!) In solidarity with the 20. Get involved in the Shell / Nigeria campaign.
Steve Kretzmann 510-705-8982 - office 510-705-8983 - fax project underground Exposing corporate environmental & human rights abuses Supporting communities threatened by the mining and oil industries 1847 Berkeley Way Berkeley, CA, 94703 __________________ It is time for urgent ACTION. Save the lives of the Ogoni people. Put pressure on Shell. Inform your friends. Get this issue known via media, organizations, politicians etc. ASAP. There are many ways to be part of the Shell in Nigeria campaign. Please let us know of your activities or your interest. There is NO TIME TO WASTE! For more infos contact firstname.lastname@example.org 'The struggle continues....' Last words of Ken Saro-Wiwa