Sometimes the long, lonely struggle for justice does not take years, but decades. And at long last, four Nigerian women’s search for justice against Shell may be coming to an end.
Last week in a Dutch court, some twenty two years after the deaths of their husbands alongside the Nigerian writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ester Kiobel and three other Nigerian women sued Shell for being complicit in their husband’s deaths.
Esther Kiobel is the widow of Dr Barinem Kiobel, who was one of the eight Ogoni hung alongside Saro-Wiwa on 10th November 1995. She is bringing the case with Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, whose husbands were also hung on that fateful day that still stains Nigeria and Shell decades later. Collectively the men were known as the Ogoni Nine.The executions sparked global outrage.
Esther and the others have locked battle with Shell ever since and the oil giant now stands accused of complicity in the unlawful arrest and detention of their husbands; the violation of their personal integrity; the violation of their right to a fair trial and right to life, and their own right to a family life. The claimants are demanding damages and a public apology for the role that Shell played in their husband’s deaths.
Their legal case is being backed by Amnesty International. It is being watch from around the world of people who feel that Shell has serious questions to answer about their complicity in the men’s deaths.
“I still feel the pain in my heart from when my husband was killed and I need justice for him and for my people,” says Esther in a video recorded by Amnesty International.
According to the writ served against the oil giant last week: “Shell and the military regime formed an alliance in the events leading to the deaths of the Ogoni 9.”
The writ continued: “Their relationship was one of mutual dependence: the Nigerian state was dependent on the income from oil that Shell generated; in turn, Shell was dependent on the benevolence and protection of the regime to pursue its activities in Nigeria and in this way realise a substantial part of its turnover.”
Audrey Gaughran, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International argues: “The executions of the Ogoni Nine shocked the world. Shell has been dodging accountability for its complicity in these deaths for more than twenty years but now, thanks to Esther Kiobel’s determination and bravery in taking on this corporate Goliath, the past is finally catching up with it.”
She adds: “Today is a watershed moment in Esther Kiobel’s uphill battle for justice. Shell has to answer for the bloody footprints it left all over Ogoniland.”
I have written on the Ogoni struggle against Shell for decades, including exposing Shell’s collusion with the Nigerian military and what I have called the vortex of violence that has swirled around the Delta for decades, with Shell at its heart.
For years Shell denied collusion with the authorities, but was then forced to admit that it had paid field allowances and offered logistical support to the Nigeria Government forces and Mobile Police Force.
Shell also denied any involvement in the trail of Saro-Wiwa and the others who were accused of being complicit in the murder of four Ogoni elders, but as Amnesty pointed out last week, “at least two prosecution witnesses came forward to say that they had been bribed by the government to incriminate the accused, including with offers of jobs at Shell, and that Shell’s lawyer was present when they were bribed.” Shell has always denied these claims.
“Shell encouraged the government to stop Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP, knowing this was highly likely to result in human rights violations being committed against them. Shell had plenty of evidence that the Nigerian military was responding to the Ogoniland protests with abuse,” continues Audrey Gaughran.
Channa Samkalden is Esther Kiobel’s lawyer: “Esther Kiobel has lived in the shadow of this injustice for more than twenty years, but she has refused to let Shell silence her”, she says. “Today her voice rings out on behalf of so many others whose lives have been devastated by the oil industry in Nigeria.”
Samkalden adds: “The stakes in this case could not be higher – it could put an end to decades of impunity for Shell, whose name has become synonymous with the power of big corporations to trample over human rights without fear of retribution.”
Their road to justice has been long. Esther Kiobel first filed a legal case against Shell in New York in 2002, but just over a decade later, in 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled that US did not have jurisdiction.
Before his untimely death last year, Ken Kiwa, the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa once wrote about the long Ogoni struggle against Shell: “one thought still sustains me: it is the old idea that the arc of the moral universe may be long, but it still bends towards justice.”
Finally, justice needs to be served.