One man was a renowned author and producer. Another was a university lecturer. One, a truck driver. Another, an engineer. Many were fathers and husbands. All were executed. Their names were Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Doobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbokoo, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuinen, and most were leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People—a nonviolent grassroots group from the Ogoni region of Nigeria that fought for Shell to clean up lands devastated by Shell’s oil operations in the Niger Delta.
They came to be known as the Ogoni Nine, and, to widespread international condemnation, were convicted of speculative charges on October 31, 1995. By November 10, they were dead—executed by the Nigerian military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.
Of course, it shouldn’t really matter what type of men they were, or the level of education they achieved. How many children they had, or what jobs they held. It should matter that they were bold environmentalists, unafraid to call out the oil industry and a corrupt government for “ecological racism.” It should matter that they unjustly died for their cause after being convicted by a military-appointed special tribunal—in part based on the testimony of prosecution witnesses who later recanted and came forward to say that they had been offered bribes of money and jobs at Shell. It should matter that this all occurred during a time when Shell reaped an average of 278,000 barrels of oil a day from Nigeria. And it should matter that their struggle continues.
In a final statement that Ken Saro-Wiwa penned before his death, he wrote that:
“The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come.”
And so today, take a moment to remember the Ogoni Nine, and know that their movement is carried forward by survivors and advocacy groups who work to ensure that the day Ken Saro-Wiwa spoke of surely does come—today, their legacies live on through courts around the world:
- This month, a court of appeals in the UK has agreed to hear an appeal by communities of the Niger Delta regarding extensive oil pollution on their lands.
- In June, four Ogoni Nine widows initiated a suit in the Netherlands against Shell for complicity in the execution of their husbands.
- And just last year, here in the U.S., we filed an action in federal court to gain access to important evidence to assist with the widows’ action in the Netherlands.
Over the past 20 years, ERI has worked with Ogoni communities to demand accountability for Shell’s complicity in human rights abuses. EarthRights continues to stand in solidarity with the movement of the Ogoni Nine, and remembers them today.