Violence begets Violence
You may have heard that a Scottish oil worker has been taken hostage in the Niger Delta (news update). Its interesting how narrow the reporting on this case is. Anyone reading would assume that this is quite a situation. Its true that the hostage taking aspect of the struggle is relatively new, having started in the last two years. But this masks an entirely different story, one running for over a decade…
Shell oil have been at work in the Niger Delta since the 1950’s, responsible for over half the oil extraction within Nigeria. The lands are inhabited by the Ogoni people, yet they have never received a cent for the inconvenience. And inconvenience it certainly is, because their land has been polluted heavily by the process; Shell, it seems, can’t care less about how much mess it makes as it extracts the oil. That said, their gas extraction in Western Ireland is no cleaner.
The Ogoni and their supporters formed a peaceful campaign called MOSOP, demanding compensation from Shell. The Nigerian government sent in the military to sort the problem out, killing and torturing thousands of Ogoni in the process. The protesters accused not only the government, but also Shell, who they saw as using the troops as a private police force; its likely that Shell paid towards the costs of the attacks.
In 1993 Shell left the Ogoni lands. A key leader of the army is quoted as having written of his intention to resort to “ruthless military operations” to get Shell back into the region. On 10th May 1994, the leader of MOSOP, now Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Ken Saro-Wiwa spoke of his belief that he and others would be arrested and executed “all for shell”. 12 days later the arrests took place.
Amid international civil society pressure and pleas from the Canadian, Australian, French and German governments, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on November 10th, 1995 alongside 8 other Ogoni leaders. The story made international headlines and was protested worldwide. It became the first major campaign against an oil company, and one of the earliest brand-based campaigns.
At his trial, Saro-Wiwa talked of Shell also being on trial, saying that “its day will surely come”. Perhaps it has. Sadly, the tale is no longer one of peaceful protest to human rights violations, but of violent retribution. While the media may paint the militias as being the initiators of violence and greed, Shell and the Nigerian government fired the opening shots and it is Shell are paying for their inability to respond to Indigenous pressure.
While on an individual level this case is worrying, every single person working for Oil Companies in the Niger Delta and surrounding coasts knows that they are destroying the lives and livelihoods of these Indigenous people, and it is somewhat arrogant to condemn them for responding in force when for decades they have not been listened to while acting peacefully.
(For this article I have relied heavily on Naomi Klein’s No Logo. If you’ve never read it, you really should. Part marketing-critique, part protest-history, its widely regarded as the first textbook of the anti-globalisation movements and is still relevant today).