Fifteen years after the execution of Nigerian playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, new compelling evidence has surfaced that suggests that the Nigerian military killed the four Ogoni elders that Saro-Wiwa was later accused of murdering.
The new evidence also reveals that the soldier’s commander, the notorious Lt Col Okuntimo, who was implicated in murder and rape, was being paid millions of Naira by Shell at the time and was being driven around in a Shell vehicle.
These new testimonies contradict what Shell has said for fifteen years. Since the time of Saro-Wiwa’s death, Shell consistently told the press and its share-holders that it had no financial relationship with the Nigerian military.
Shell later admitted paying what is known as field allowances to the military on two occasions, but has always consistently denied widespread collusion and payments of money.
OilChange has gained access to court testimonies that were recorded to be used in evidence in the landmark trial of Wiwa versus Shell.
This legal case was settled last May for $15.5 million, just days before the trial was due to start in a New York court room.
The settlement meant the testimonies were never made public. Until now.
An analysis of these depositions provides new evidence of Shell’s financial and logistical involvement with the Nigerian military and Okuntimo personally.
One of the key witnesses who had been due to testify in court was Boniface Ejiogu, who was Okuntimo’s orderly in the Internal Security Task Force, a coalition of military, navy and mobile police. The Force had been ordered into the Niger Delta, ostensibly to maintain law and order but embarked on a brutal spree of raping, torture and killings, documented graphically by groups such as Human Rights Watch.
Ejiogu testified that he personally stood guard whilst Okuntimo raped people and he saw his boss torture semi-naked Ogoni youths.
Asked under oath if he ever saw his commander receive money from Shell, Ejiogu says that he witnessed it on two occasions from
George Ukpong, who was head of security for the eastern division in the Delta for Shell at the time.
Ejiogu describes in detail the incident with the money in mid May 1994, just days before the Ogoni elders are murdered on the 21st May 1994. He drove with Okuntimo to what was known as the Shell Industrial Area, which was the company’s main base in the town of Port Harcourt.
He testified that Okuntimo received seven huge bags of money in what are known as “Ghana Must Go” bags. These large striped bags are common in the region, and are normally used for transporting clothes. “I was there when other soldiers are carrying the Ghana Must Go bags,” Boniface testified. However the bags were so heavy that the soldiers were having difficulty actually carrying them, leading to one of the soldiers to bounce the bag on the ground.
He continued: “The thing opened. I saw that was money in bundles, 20 Naira nomination. He said, wow, this is money. I say, yes man, it is money.” In all the figure of over 50 million Naira is mentioned by the lawyers.
Later Ejiogu heard Okuntimo squabbling over the money with fellow officers at the local Garrison in the town of Bori, leading to one of the officers to fire a gunshot in rage. The fellow officers were annoyed that they were not going to get one million Naira each from Okuntimo.
On another occasion, Ejiogu also witnessed four Ghana Must Go bags being given by Shell’s head of security, George Ukpong to Okuntimo at Ukpong’s house late at night. The money was brought out by Ukpong’s cook and driver.
Another witness corroborates seeing further payments from Shell to Okuntimo in these types of bags. Raphael Kponee, whose testimony was due to be heard at trial, was a policeman working for Shell, known as the SPY police. On a different occasion, he witnessed three Ghana Must Go bags being loaded into Okuntimo’s pick-up truck by his driver as well as George Ukpong’s driver in front of the Security building at the Shell Industrial Area.
Ukpong also testified for the trial. In his evidence he admitted that money was paid to Okuntimo, but argued it was purely as field allowances for his men who were protecting Shell property in Ogoni. He denied giving money to Okuntimo personally.
Ejiogu also provides new compelling evidence as to who may have killed the four Ogoni elders who were murdered on the 21st May 1994 at a meeting at Giokoo in Ogoni.
Saro-Wiwa had been due to speak at the public meeting but had been turned away by the Task-Force. When Human Rights Watch investigated the killings they concluded that, although the men had apparently been attacked by a “mob”, but “the precise chain of events leading to the murders is a source of great controversy”.
Describing what happened on that fateful day, Ejiogu said he heard Okuntimo tell his commander in Giokoo to “waste them”. Asked by the lawyer: “You are saying waste them?” Ejiogu replies: “ Waste them, waste them means in the army you waste them is when you are shooting rapidly.”
Later that day Ejiogu witnesses Okuntimo talking to a military investigator about what had happened over the deaths of the Ogoni four. Okuntimo said: “Maybe the boys started getting crazy. That is all.”
When Ejiogu was asked by the lawyer “When he said the boys are getting crazy who did you think, who did you understand he meant by the boys?” he replied that the boys “are the soldiers in Giokoo and officers.”
The following day, Ejiogu went to Giokoo where he saw the burnt out VW Beetle in which the four Ogoni had been murdered. Ejiogu heard Okuntimo talk to one of his officers: “Did you remove the dead bodies?” to which the officer replied: “Yes, sir.” And Okuntimo then said; “Okay, that is good.”
Ejiogu also testified that Okuntimo was driven to Giokoo in a white Shell Isuzu pick-up. Another witness due to testify at the trial, was Kpobari Tusima, who corroborates that he saw Shell vehicles carrying Mobile Police as part of the Task Force convoy.
These new revelations are seen as highly significant because within 24 hours the Nigerian Government arrested and charged Saro-Wiwa for the murders. It was implied that he had them killed for their moderate stand on Ogoni issues. He would later be hung in a sham trial described by John Major as “judicial murder” in November 1995.
A spokesman from Shell dismisses the new claims: “Allegations concerning Okuntimo and Shell are not new. They were widely reported in the mid-1990s and our response is on the record at the time. There is a lack of any credible evidence in support of these allegations. SPDC and Shell at the time spoke out frequently against violence and publicly condemned its use.”
An edited version of this article appeared in the Independent on Sunday.