I just had lunch with my friends—most of whom have been my friends for at least 15 years, and who became my friends because of our common work for human rights and environmental justice. We came together today to remember Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9, who were hanged 15 years ago today in Nigeria for their nonviolent protest against Shell’s destruction of their homeland.
This was a different kind of lunch meeting than we’re accustomed to in DC, home of the quintessential power lunch. Honestly, how often do seasoned activists and NGO leaders from EarthRights International, Oil Change International, Amnesty International, Sierra Club and so many other groups sit around the same table specifically to NOT network, strategize and plan? Of course, a little of that snuck in… But mostly we spent our time sharing memories of how these unbelievable executions changed us. It was a rare time to reflect, remember, mourn, and yes, celebrate, the work that we do and remember the life and legacy of a person whose work is still so important and relevant in today’s world.
Like us, communities, the media, organizations, and friends around the world gathered to remember the executions in different ways. Not all of these events were as cost-free as ours. Ogoni in Port Harcourt held a candlelight vigil as they do every year on this day. The Nigerian mobile police reportedly opened fire on this peaceful assembly.
The Guardian UK published newly disclosed documents from ERI’s lawsuit Wiwa v. Shell, exposing Shell’s post-execution PR strategy to rebrand its image in the face of international outrage, and threats of boycotts and legal action.
EarthRights is proud to have represented the Wiwa family and others in the lawsuit against Shell that ended with a settlement last year. But the struggle for the Ogoni and in the Niger Delta continues. Shell and its multinational friends, including Chevron, continue to flare gas on a daily basis despite laws banning the practice and which is the subject of a pollution case against Shell in the Netherlands. This practice is ongoing and devastating to locally impacted communities in Nigeria, and a major contributor to climate change.
Fifteen years ago today, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni 9 colleagues were hanged – a seminal moment in the history of corporate accountability and human and environmental rights. His famous last words are still more relevant than ever: “Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues”. But the struggle only continues if we continue it. It’s easy in politically and economically discouraging times like these to become cynical, despondent, and realistic. But today we remember that Ken and the Ogoni 9 gave their lives for demanding basic human rights and environmental justice. We all have to continue to do our part to make sure that corporations know, loud and clear, that these kinds of abuses will not be tolerated by the courts, the public, the media, their shareholders—nobody. Then, we won’t have to continue the struggle, because it will have been won.