The Shell oil corporation has blood on its hands, and a worldwide
boycott of Shell products is under way. Two recent reports[1,2] on the
Shell subsidiary in Nigeria, Africa, have documented massive
environmental destruction in the Niger River delta region, where Shell
has spilled some 56 million gallons of oil onto farmlands and into
community water supplies.[1,pg.45] The destroyed land and water
formerly provided sustenance for an indigenous people, the Ogoni. A
recent video confirms these reports of Shell's environmental abuse and
mismanagement in Ogoniland.
But Shell's crimes are deeper still. When Ogoni activists organized to
demand that Shell clean up spilled oil, and share oil profits more
equitably with the Ogoni people, the Nigerian military dictatorship --
with financial assistance, logistical support, and guns provided by
Shell[1,pgs.23,43,91-92] --conducted a campaign of terror in which at
least 1800 Ogoni people were murdered, some of them tortured to death.
The Ogoni peoples' struggle against Shell burst into headlines November
10, 1995, when the Nigerian dictatorship executed 9 Ogoni environmental
activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa had received the Goldman
Environmental Prize for Africa April 17, 1995 in recognition of his
environmental work on behalf of the Ogoni people. Saro-Wiwa had also
received the Right Livelihood Award December 9, 1994.[1,pg.95] Both
awards are said to carry prestige equivalent to the Nobel peace prize.
In addition to being an environmentalist and community leader, Saro-
Wiwa was well-known in his homeland, and internationally, as a poet and
essayist. His last words, just as he was executed by hanging, were,
"Lord, take my soul but the struggle continues!"
Within weeks of the executions, Shell contracted with the Nigerian
dictatorship to build a large liquefied natural gas plant, thus sending
a signal that it was business as usual for Shell and that Shell was
continuing to support the military dictatorship.[2,pg.10]
According to the World Council of Churches, key witnesses for the
prosecution at Ken Saro-Wiwa's trial have signed sworn affidavits
saying they were bribed by Shell to testify against Saro-Wiwa.[1,pg.43]
Since late 1995, the dictatorship has been holding 19 more Ogoni
environmental activists, charged with the same crime for which the
Ogoni 9 were executed. The World Council of Churches reported in late
1996 that, "...as a result of the inhuman treatment, torture, denial of
medical care, starvation and poor sanitary conditions, most of the
detainees are in very poor health."[1,pg.75]
The Ogoni people --500,000 of them[1,pg.8] --inhabit a 404-square-mile-
area called the Rivers State in Nigeria in west Africa. They represent
0.05% of the Nigerian population, so they are a tiny minority. Ken
Saro-Wiwa compared the Ogoni to other indigenous people around the
world: the Aborigines of Australia, the Maori of New Zealand, and the
native people of North and South America. "Their common history is of
the usurpation of their land and resources, the destruction of their
culture, and the eventual decimation of the people," he wrote.[1,pg.19]
Since 1958, $30 billion worth of oil has been taken from beneath the
land of the Ogoni, yet essentially zero benefits have accrued to the
Ogoni themselves. When the World Council of Churches sent observers to
Ogoniland in 1995, they found no piped water supplies, no good roads,
no electricity, no telephones, and no proper health care facilities.
[1,pg.24] Further, they reported that, in oil-rich Ogoniland, gasoline
is hand-pumped from a cement holding tank into large plastic
containers, then poured into a smaller can with a long neck, from which
the gasoline is finally poured into a vehicle's gas tank. Such is the
state of modernization made possible by Shell's post-modern colonial
Shell, a Dutch company, is the 10th largest corporation in the world,
and No. 1 in profitability.[2,pg.4] Shell has 96 oil production wells
in Ogoniland, 5 flow stations (large pumping stations), and numerous
gas flares which have operated continuously for 35 years.[1,pg.31] In
addition, Shell maintains many high-pressure oil pipelines criss-
crossing Ogoniland, carrying oil from other parts of Nigeria to the
shipping terminal at Bonny.[1,pg.32] In response to growing pressure
for reform in Ogoniland in 1993, Shell ceased oil production there, but
retained its network of pipelines carrying oil produced elsewhere in
Nigeria. (The World Council of Churches finds evidence that Shell has
not in fact ceased oil production in Ogoniland,[1,pgs.31-33] but Shell
insists its production wells are idle.)
Between 1976 and 1980, Shell operations caused 784 separate oil spills
in Nigeria.[1,pg.45]. From 1982 to 1992, 27 additional spills were
recorded. Since Shell "ceased oil production" in Ogoniland in 1993,
Shell admits another 24 oil spills have occurred there.[1,pg.33]
Shell operates in 100 countries, but 40% of all its oil spills have
occurred in Nigeria.[1,pg.28] Shell says the spills result from
"sabotage" but the World Council of Churches reports "there has not
been one single piece of evidence produced by Shell to back up its
claims that oil spills in Ogoniland were caused by sabotage."[1,pg.39]
Shell controls at least 60% of all the oil reserves in Nigeria and oil
accounts for 80% of Nigeria's total revenues and 90% of its foreign
exchange earnings.[1,pg.44] As a result, Shell is an extremely powerful
political force in Nigeria. The World Council of Churches has described
a revolving door --Shell executives becoming Nigerian political
officials, and Nigerian political officials becoming Shell employees.
[1,pg.44] However, Shell maintains that it has no political influence
and cannot affect the fate of political prisoners in Nigeria.
Shell admits to 3000 polluted sites affected by oil operations on Ogoni
soil. According to the World Council of Churches, Shell also admits to
flaring 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day for 35 years,
causing acid rain in the Niger delta during about 10% of the days each
year.[1,pg.41] Furthermore, the flares produce a rain of fine
particles, a cancer-causing soot that permeates everything --land
water, homes, lungs.
Shell's environmental abuses in Ogoniland came as a shock to observers
sent by the World Council of Churches. They wrote, "Having followed all
the events in Ogoniland, reading all the reports and seeing the videos
such as DRILLING FIELDS and DELTA FORCE3, did not prepare us for the
devastation we saw at the numerous spill sites we visited," they wrote.
Observers from the World Council of Churches describe a site where
Shell had spilled oil in 1969: "Even though this spill occurred 26
years ago, its devastating impact is still very apparent," they wrote.
[1,pg.34] "The soil and oil are caked together into a thick black crust
which covers the area. Liquid crude oil is still present in deep
crevices (2 to 3 feet deep), formed in spots where trees once stood....
The air remains polluted by the vapour from the spilled crude oil; this
becomes particularly noticeable when the south-west wind blows. The oil
spill seems to have polluted the creek nearby. The oil flowed into the
body of water and we were told that it can still be seen floating on
the surface of the creek water that people still drink. We were unable
to move near the creek as the earth was dangerously soggy with a
combination of soil, oil, and water.... It is amazing that so much
devastation exists after 26 years."[1,pg.34]
Since the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, his brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa, has been
touring the world describing the Ogoni peoples' struggle against the
combined forces of Shell and the military dictators of Nigeria. Dr.
Wiwa, an articulate, soft-spoken physician, was himself held prisoner
(without charges) by Nigerian authorities on more than one occasion.
[1,pg.93] He is now a political exile living in Toronto, Canada, though
most of his time is spent on the road, urging people to boycott Shell
In late March of this year, U.S. environmental justice activists met in
Atlanta, Georgia to discuss environmental justice struggles across the
U.S. and abroad. Dr. Wiwa gave the keynote address. "Our people are
dying at the hands of our government and Shell Oil," Dr. Wiwa told the
assembled activists in Atlanta. Dr. Robert D. Bullard, a well-known
environmental justice leader and author of CONFRONTING ENVIRONMENTAL
RACISM: VOICES FROM THE GRASSROOTS, told the Atlanta meeting, "the
quest for healthy and sustainable communities and environmental justice
does not stop at U.S. borders... we have a moral and ethical obligation
to direct our collective action and purchasing power to respond to Dr.
Wiwa and the Ogoni's struggle in Nigeria, just as we responded to the
oppression of apartheid in South Africa."
Asked recently what Americans could do to help the Ogoni people, Dr.
Wiwa gave four recommendations:
1. Boycott Shell. Do not buy ANY Shell products.
2. Encourage selective purchasing contracts, such as the one now in
force in Oakland, California. Last fall the Oakland City Council passed
a city-wide ordinance prohib-iting the city from doing business with
Nigeria. Dr. Wiwa is urging all city councils to adopt selective
purchasing laws to prevent their city from investing in or trading with
Nigeria OR ANY COMPANIES CARRYING OUT BUSINESS IN NIGERIA.
3. Pressure Congress to impose sanctions against Nigeria, just as the
U.S. has recently done against Burma for human rights abuses.
4. Contact the president of Shell's U.S. subsidiary: Philip J. Carroll,
Shell Oil Company, P.O. Box 2463, Houston, TX 77252; (800) 248-4257;
fax (713) 241-4044.
Mr. Carroll may respond that Shell's U.S. subsidiary has nothing to do
with what's happening in Nigeria. But 10% of Shell's profits come from
its U.S. operations, so the U.S. subsidiary has major clout with its
Dutch parent corporation. Refusal to exercise that clout is a moral
failure. Up to now, Mr. Carroll himself has blood on his hands, in our
Even if Mr. Carroll cannot understand the moral argument, you could
tell him you will be boycotting Shell's products until they clean up
their environmental mess in Nigeria and fully compensate the Ogoni
people for past damages and injustices. Mr. Carroll will certainly
understand the meaning of "boycott."
To get breaking news about the campaign to end Shell's environmental
and human rights abuses in Ogoniland, you could join the internet
discussion group, Shell-Nigeria-action. To subscribe to the list, send
email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the message: subscribe shell-
address your message to: Shell-Nigeria-Action@essential.org.
For further information, contact:
1) Dr. Owens Wiwa: email@example.com
2) Stephen Mills at Sierra Club in Washington, D.C. Telephone (202)
675-6691. Mr. Mills has organized a petition campaign that could use
3) Ann Leonard, Essential Action, P.O. Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036.
Telephone (202) 387-8030. An important source of information.
What is the top priority? BOYCOTT SHELL.
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Deborah Robinson and others, OGONI, THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES (Geneva,
Switzerland: World Council of Churches, December, 1996). Available from
World Council of Churches, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland;
telephone (+41) 22 791-6111; fax: (+41) 22 791-0361.
 PEN Center USA West, FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, SHELL AND
NIGERIA (Los Angeles, California: PEN Center USA West, March, 1997).
Available from: PEN Center USA West, 672 South Lafayette Park Place
#41, Los Angeles, California 90057; telephone (213) 365-8500. PEN is a
worldwide association of professional writers.
 The most recent video, DELTA FORCE, is available for $10 from Ann
Leonard, Essential Action, P.O. Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036.
Telephone (202) 387-8030.
 Ken Saro-Wiwa, A MONTH AND A DAY: A DETENTION DIARY (London:
Penguin Books, 1995). Ken Saro-Wiwa, ON A DARKLING PLAIN (Port
Harcourt, Nigeria: Saros International Publishers, 1989). Ken Saro-
Wiwa, OGONI MOMENT OF TRUTH (Lagos, Nigeria: Saros International
Descriptor terms: shell; petroleum industry; boycotts; nigeria; ken
saro-wiwa; owens wiwa; africa; oil; videos; ogoni people; ogoniland;
indigenous people; world council of churches; netherlands; oil spills;
fine particles; air pollution; robert bullard; oakland, ca; philip
carrol; ann leonard; stephen mills; sierra club;