A Dutch Court Has Acquitted Shell in the Ogoni Nine Trial

The Ogoni Nine were a group of nine activists from Ogoniland who were executed by late Nigerian military leader, Sani Abacha, in 1995 after protests against Shell’s exploitation of the oil-rich Niger Delta.

Yesterday, four widows of the late Ogoni Nine activists lost their case after suing the oil company, Shell, over the deaths of their husbands in 1995. Shell was accused in 2002 by the widows of paying some witnesses for rehearsed false testimony in the trial that led to the men’s execution.

The Ogoni Nine—Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine—were a group of nine activists from Ogoniland who were executed by late Nigerian military leader, Sani Abacha, in 1995 after protests against Shell’s exploitation of the oil-rich Niger Delta. The imposition of the death penalty turned international opinion against Nigeria’s military rulers at the time. Their wives had accused Shell of being complicit in their husband’s deaths, which the company has always denied.

The District Court of the Hague in the Netherlands issued its ruling after hearing witness testimony that it claimed was not substantial or verifiable enough to demonstrate Shell’s or its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC’s responsibility or complicity in the death of the Ogoni Nine. According to Judge Larissa Alwin, one of the judges at the Hague District Court, ‘The witnesses’ testimony relies for a large part on assumptions and interpretations and cannot be enough to conclude that the money that they received at the time actually was from SPDC, and that actual employees of SPDC were present.’

Esther Kiobel, whose husband Barinem Kiobel was among those executed, said she would file an appeal at The Hague. ‘We can’t do it in Nigeria because they [the government] are the collaborators… I want their [activists] names exonerated. That’s what I want and that’s what I’m fighting for,’ Kiobel said.

In a 2017 report by Amnesty International, Shell reportedly provided the military with material support and encouraged the Nigerian military to deal with protests, even when it knew this would lead to atrocities including killings, rape, torture, and the burning of villages. In a 2009 settlement in the United States, Shell paid $15.5 million to one group of activists’ families, including the Saro-Wiwa estate, but the oil corporation also denied any responsibility or wrongdoing.

Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights, Mark Dummett said: ‘This is a disappointing outcome, but these extraordinarily brave women are not giving up. Their voices have been heard. They should be commended for their resilience and unbreaking commitment to exposing the truth, and for the invaluable work they have done to highlight the global culture of impunity for multinationals accused of human rights abuses.’

In October 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari considered a state pardon for members of the Ogoni Nine, but the Ogoni Youth Foundation and the Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation (KSWF) rejected the proposal, asking instead for full exoneration of the activists and a declaration of November 10–the day the Ogoni Nine were executed in 1995—as a public holiday.

Recommended Reading

Here are some Republic articles and interviews to read for context on the Ogoni Nine and the Niger Delta:

READ
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s ‘Sozaboy’
READ
‘Good Writers Are Good Readers’
READ
Black Soot in Rivers State: ‘Government Have Failed to Protect Citizens’

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