Because we became aware of Shell and Chevron destroying the Niger River Delta in the 90s, we raised funds for a project inspired by author Ken Saro-Wiwa. Of the Ogoni people of Nigeria he had written, “What Shell and Chevron have done to Ogoni people, land, streams, creeks and the atmosphere amounts to genocide. The soul of the Ogoni people is dying and I am witness to the fact.”
More recently, we raised some funds for Earth Rights International which has been seeking justice on the same issues, but we do not feel that even a historic victory in the courts could ever compensate or correct the horrors inflicted.
At the beginning of 1995, Shell’s general manager in Nigeria, Naemeka Achebe, explained why his company supported the military government: “For a commercial company trying to make investments, you need a stable environment…. Dictatorships give you that.” A few months later, the dictatorship hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other Ogonis for resisting companies that were destroying their villages and turning their country into a vast wasteland. Many Ogonis had already been murdered for the same reason.
Saro-Wiwa’s prestige gave this crime a certain international resonance. And so… the president of the United States at the time announced that his country would suspend arms sales to Nigeria, and the world provided the obligatory applause in spades. The announcement wasn’t intended as a confession, but that’s what it was: Bill Clinton — still wildly applauded in certain quarters, still raking it in, still making others wretched — acknowledged that his country had been selling weapons to the bloody, unconscionable regime of General Sani Abacha, responsible for executing a hundred people a year by firing squad or hanging in what had become a long run of disgraceful public spectacles.
The U.S. government, of course, has a long track record of looking the other way, and its enabling general public is still… buying gas from Shell.
An international embargo blocked new arms deals with Nigeria for short while, but the Abacha dictatorship continued adding to its arsenal thanks to “addenda” that appeared miraculously on previously signed contracts. After a dip in this convenient fountain of youth, these contracts lived on forever.
There have always been tricks up the sleeve which the U.S. could take advantage of or fabricate on short notice for its self-serving purposes, but today — as is the case with Saudi Arabia, and his been the case with them for a very long time — there’s little need for such subterfuge. Blatant behavior carries the day… no apologies necessary, no finesse required now.
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