Twenty-one years ago today, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were executed by hanging by the military government of Sani Abacha in Nigeria.
They were arrested and held for months without charges, tortured while under detention, and sentenced to death by a “Special Tribunal” convened in violation of international law. They were executed for their peaceful efforts to defend the indigenous Ogoni people of Nigeria from human rights and environmental abuses caused by oil extraction activities of Shell Nigeria. For his relentless commitment, Ken Saro-Wiwa was awarded the 1995 Goldman Environmental Prize.
Shell had a close relationship with the Nigerian military regime during the early 1990s. The oil company requested an increase in security and provided monetary and logistical support to the Nigerian police. Shell frequently called upon the Nigerian police for “security operations” that often amounted to raids and terror campaigns against the Ogoni. In response to growing Ogoni opposition, Shell and the Nigerian government coordinated a public relations campaign to discredit the movement, falsely attributing airplane hijackings, kidnapping and other acts of violence to Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues.
After 13 years fighting to hold Shell accountable, the plaintiffs won the right to a trial against Shell. On June 8, 2009, just before the trial, Shell agreed to the plaintiffs’ demands to settle the case for US $15.5 million.
To this day, despite facts that tie Shell to their murders and to the continuing abuse of the Ogoni people, Shell still denies culpability and continues to drill for oil in Nigeria.