March 25, 2008
To download the profile for the Ogoni, click on the image above
Status: The Ogoni are a distinct ethnic nationality within the Federal Republic of Nigeria who have lived in the Niger Delta for more than 500 years.
Area: approx. 1,000 km²
Capital City: Bori
Language: : Ogoni languages - Khana, Gokana, Tae and Eleme as a distinct group within the Beneu-Congo branch of African languages
Religion: Christianity, traditional beliefs
In 1957, Shell Oil Company struck oil in Ogoniland, which set in motion a process that dramatically affected not only Ogoni society, but Nigeria as a whole. What looked set to be an economic opportunity for the country turned out to be more of a bane than a boon. The Niger Delta, the region inhabited primarily by the Ogoni, is the source of over 90 percent of Nigeria’s oil, a product that accounts for more than 90% of all the country’s export (Crude Petroleum: 77%, $36.9B; Petroleum Gas, 15%, 7.39B; Refined Petroleum, 1.3%, 603M). Hence, it does not come at a surprise that for the Ogoni the environmental and social costs of oil exploitation are particularly high. This process, going unnoticed for several decades, drew particular media attention only from the time when famous Nigerian author and playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni leaders were arrested and then executed by the infamous regime of Sani Abacha, after having publicly named and shamed big businesses and the Nigerian government for the exploitation of natural resources in Ogoniland.
UNPO MEMBER PERSPECTIVE
The Ogoni are represented at the UNPO by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). They were admitted as a member on 19 January 1993. MOSOP’s sees its mandate in the protection and promotion of the environmental, socio-economic, developmental, cultural and political rights of the Ogoni people (and other Niger Delta peoples) by non-violent means. MOSOP pioneered the campaign for environmental justice, corporate social responsibility and indigenous rights in Nigeria.
UNPO condemns any source of exploitation of natural resources that threatens the environment and has a negative impact on the culture and livelihood of local populations. UNPO has been campaigning against the destruction caused by Shell in the area, including the development of canals, roads and pipelines which have infiltrated the streams and creeks of the Niger Delta, and the government’s ignoring of the Ogonis’ hardships. The exploitation of the region’s hydrocarbon took place with little to no consultation of the Ogoni community. UNPO supports ILO Convention 169, which aims to give indigenous communities land rights and prevent political decision-making without the consent of those living in these lands. Therefore, UNPO has worked with MOSOP to bring awareness to the need for land rights for the Ogoni and other indigenous communities.
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was founded in 1990, as a mass-based democratic social movement to represent the Ogoni community with the launching of the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR). Same year, the Ogoni Bill of Rights was presented to the people and Government of Nigeria. It outlines the demands of the Ogoni people for environmental, social and economic justice. It lists their concerns: oil-related suffering of their people, governmental neglect, lack of social services, and political marginalization.
The OBR opposes the revenue allocation formula under which the federal, state and local governments have almost complete power over the distribution of oil revenues. The Ogoni people feel they were not adequately compensated for the take-over of their land by the oil companies and the environmental damages they suffered.
Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest the Ogoni have inhabited the Niger Delta for more than 500 years. They established an organized social system under which men and women of courage and ability enjoyed special status.
Although Ogoniland lay on the slave route from the hinterland to the coastal slave market, there is little evidence of Ogoni people being taken as a slave.
When other forms of trade were introduced into the region in the second half of the 19th century, weapons were purchased and wars became the order of the day. After the Berlin Treaty of 1885, Nigeria came under British colonial rule, but it was not until 1901 that British forces arrived in Ogoniland. The Ogoni people known for their fierce independence launched a strong resistance against this intrusion into their territory by the British forces, which lasted for more than a decade before they were finally subjugated in 1914 by the British forces. The British saw Nigeria in terms of three major ethnic groups: the Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba and the Igbo, thereby ignoring more then 250 smaller peoples, including the Ogoni. The Ogoni were regarded with contempt by all other groups in the Delta region and were often positioned at the bottom of the social ladder.
HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT
Shell Oil company, began oil exploitation in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1956 and there is a long history of their collaboration with the Nigerian government to quell popular opposition to its presence in the region. It became evident that for the Ogoni, who live in this region the environmental and social costs of oil exploitation would be painfully high.
Beginning December 1992, the people of Ogoni issued a thirty-day demand notice to Shell which raised the alarm bell of an ensuing struggle between the company and the Ogoni people. This demand notice was followed almost immediately by series of non-violent activities including the Ogoni protest of January 4th 1993 in what was regarded as the Ogoni Day in commemoration of the declaration of 1993 as the International Year of the world’s Indigenous People.
This singular non-violent mammoth protest in which an estimated three hundred thousand Ogoni people participated was indeed a novel event with striking impacts. It indeed showed that the Ogoni people have come of age and imbued the struggle with a greater level of seriousness and intensity on both sides. This event and other subsequent non-violent passive resistance activities such as the holding of successful vigil nights across Ogoni nation and the launch of a survival fund sent panic signals to the Nigerian authorities and the oil company, Shell.
In the light of the forgoing developments, by the first quarter of 1993, Shell withdrew from Ogoniland, citing the hostile attitude of the Ogoni community to the company’s activities. Around April of the same year, Shell through its contractor went back under the protection of the Nigerian military to construct an oil pipeline. This was met with peaceful protests by Ogoni women whose farmlands were to be traversed by the pipelines leading to the destruction of their crops without any compensation. Rather than deal with the issues that had been raised by the women, the military that was hired by Shell opened gunfire on the protesting women.
Protests marches were organized all over Ogoniland in repudiation of the above incident and the military responded with highhandedness. This was to become the standard response of the government in the ensuing months. Several conflicts reportedly sponsored by the government occurred between July 1993 and April 1994 between Ogoni people and her neighbors all in the attempt to wear the Ogoni people down and box them into submission. Available evidence, including the sophisticated weaponry that was used by the adversaries of the Ogoni, indicate that governmental authorities were probably behind these supposedly "ethnic conflicts".
Following the third of such conflict, in April 1994, a huge military operation was launched by the government, supposedly to restore order, but which in fact was aimed at destroying Ogoni lives and properties in the Afam area of Ogoni.
On May 21, 1994, four Ogoni leaders were murdered in Gokana Kingdom, reportedly by angry youths. Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and a number of other MOSOP leaders were arrested and accused of involvement in the murders. The day after the murders, the Internal Security Task Force, a military unit set up especially to "restore order" in Ogoniland, under command of Lt. Col Okuntimo, stormed into Ogoniland raiding, burning and looting villages. While thousands of Ogoni villagers took refuge in the bush, hundreds were detained and tortured. Many Ogoni died in the weeks that followed. It is an enduring record of the non violent nature of the Ogoni struggle that in all these attacks and in spite thereof, there is no single incident of any reprisal attack on any of the repressing troops.
In February 1995, after eight months of being detained without official charges, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni leaders were brought before a special tribunal, established by the military government. While in detention, the accused were often denied access to lawyers, medical care and family members. Independent international observers expressed their deep doubts about the fairness of the trial in protest of the Tribunal’s failure to meet even Nigeria’s own standards of fairness. On October 31, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni were sentenced to death by the Special Tribunal. In blatant defiance of numerous appeals by the international community, the well-known Nigerian writer and poet, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni colleagues were executed on Friday, November 10, 1995.
In March 1996, non-partisan elections were held in Nigeria to fill all local government seats with elected civilian Chairs and Councilors. It was widely reported that all persons associated with MOSOP were prevented from participation, and those who presented themselves were either beaten or detained and later disqualified.
By June, 1998, the maximum dictator, General Sani Abacha under whose watch thousands of Ogoni people perished eventually died in mysterious circumstances. This ushered in a new attempt at democratic engagement and electoral processes. The electoral process ushered in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former prisoner on death row under the late maximum dictator as the new head of state. The Ogoni people had hoped that with his election, a new era marked by respect for human rights and commitment to the ideals of democracy and good governance would be entrenched in the polity. This was not to be as the earlier signs of a democratic posturing by the administration soon evaporated giving way to a civilian dictatorship which in its twilight was already planning to tamper with the constitution to elongate his tenure in office.
In the first months of 2001, MOSOP participated at the Oputa Human Rights Investigation Panel hearings in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. MOSOP called on the Nigerian military to accept responsibility for grave human rights violations by its officer corps against the Ogoni, committed between 1994 and 1998. Senior officers appearing for the Oputa Panel played down and even denied any involvement in the arbitrary shootings, rapes, assaults and detentions. These testimonies, thus, seem to be nothing less than a disgrace to the whole purpose of the Panel; to bring justice to the victims of these human rights violations.
1. Saro-Wiwa versus Shell Oil Company Court Case
Prosecutors claimed that Nigerian soldiers used deadly force at the request of Shell, and with Shell’s assistance and finance to undertake brutal raids against the Ogoni people throughout the early 1990s to repress a growing movement against the oil company. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Earth-Rights International (ERI) and other human rights attorneys first sued Shell for human rights violations against the Ogoni in 1996. Since then, Shell has made many attempts to have these cases thrown out of court, which the plaintiffs have defeated. However, the cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place. On June 8 2009, the Wiwa plaintiffs and Shell made an out of court settlement. The settlement and other payments together total $15.5 million, part of which will provide funding for the trust and a compassionate payment to the plaintiffs and the estates they represent in recognition of the tragic turn of events in Ogoniland.
2. Lack of government investment and Corporate responsibility
Corruption in Nigeria has been described as the worst in Africa. According to Nigeria’s anti corruption agency, in 2003, an estimated 70% of oil revenues (more or less 14 billion dollars) were wasted or stolen.
Poverty has worsened in the Ogoni region during recent years. Besides the oil installations and refineries, there are no manufacturing industries in Ogoni to reduce unemployment. This situation increasingly results in psycho-social degradation.
There is no concrete development plan by the government to address the huge infrastructural development gap in Ogoniland. Health facilities are not functioning optimally and school buildings are collapsing. Classrooms and laboratories remain poorly equipped. Attracting foreign aid to Ogoniland has been difficult and a couple of community self-help initiatives by the people were branded ‘MOSOP-inspired’ and stopped.
Under the context of corporate social responsibility, the companies have not established a comprehensive and fair compensation system. Shell is also alleged to fan embers of conflicts in the communities through employing divide-and-rule strategy. Shell makes monetary inducements to some chiefs against community members and also pay some violent youths in the name of surveillance contractors ostensibly to protect their facilities in the area .These are ways of conscripting these groups to serve their interests.
With a new green façade for oil companies in the West, Shell plays the other side of the coin in Ogoniland. In 2000, Shell embarked on an assessment of its community development projects.However, out of the 480 assessed projects, only 23% were deemed successful. It was reported that the contracts were awarded to people who have close links to the company but has no reach within the community in need and most of the projects were not priorities of the communities.
3. Environmental Issues
The environmental costs of the oil exploration in Ogoni have been and are still very high. The agricultural and fishing communities experienced huge oil spills and pollution of drinking water, fishing grounds and farmlands. As there was no environmental impact study policy established before 1988 with the creation of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), the oil companies continued production without environmental liability.
In October 2006, the UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme, announced that in response to Ogoni demands, the Nigeria government has invited them to undertake a comprehensive environmental assessment of oil-impacted sites in the Ogoni region of Nigeria's Niger Delta. They will be assessing 300 sites to identify the impacts of oil on environmental systems such as land, water, agriculture, fisheries and air, as well as looking over the direct and indirect effect on human health. However, owing to the fact that the process of the UNEP intervention has been lacking in community consultation, the assessment process has not been embarked upon.
1. Do the Ogoni seek autonomy and control of the resources of their region?
The Bill of Rights presented to the Government and people of Nigeria called for political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people. It states that the Ogoni people seek, “political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the Republic as a distinct and separate unit (by whatever name called), provided that this autonomy guarantees political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people”. The bill calls for the right to control and use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development; and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation.
2. Why were the “Wiwa Plaintiffs” able to prosecute Shell in the United States?
The United States established a legal framework in which to protect itself and its citizens abroad. As part of the First Judiciary Act of 1789, the architects of the U.S.legal system provided that aliens would be protected under international and common U.S. law under the Alien Tort Statute. This case in particular—Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum—is one of these few which has passed hearing after hearing from 2001 on to reach a U.S. Supreme Court appellate panel on 26 May 2009. With America obtaining nearly 10 percent per annum of its crude oil from Nigeria, bringing an ATS claim against the Nigeria operation of this multinational corporation is no small matter.
3. What impact does the trial and the rulings have on human rights law in the U.S. and abroad?
This case against Shell is a push towards the end of human rights abuses by corporate actors in the past decade or so. Such cases are putting serious corporate responsibility debates on the table through rulings that grant aiding and abetting violations significant weight. This is important in analyzing how corporations can be held accountable in actions committed as institutions regulated under state inducted standards, as well as being indirect participants in violation of international norms. Cases against multinational corporations will continue to have a broad affect on the way these companies do business in other countries. Organizations the world over are being brought to terms with their lax attention to human rights abuses in the areas they operate.
4. Did Shell release a statement after the settlement?
Shell released a statement on June 8th, 2009 stating that there was a settlement of $15.5 million for the family of the activists executed by the Nigerian government, “making a humanitarian gesture to set up a trust fund for benefit of the Ogoni people.”
Furthermore, the statement denies any Shell involvement in the executions. It states that,” Shell has always maintained the allegations were false. While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people, which is important for peace and stability in the region.” However, this case brought negative publicity to the company and peace of mind to the relatives of the victims.
CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
Despite the introduction of Christianity, many aspects of the indigenous Ogoni culture and religion are still evident. The land on which they live and the rivers that surround them are traditionally very important to the Ogoni people. They not only provide enough food, they are also believed to be a god and are worshiped as such. This explains why the Ogoni people have so many difficulties with the degradation of the environment as a result of oil pollution.
Tradition’ in Ogoni means in the local tongue (‘doonu kuneke’), the honoring of the land The fruit of the land, especially yams, are honored in festivals. The annual festival of the Ogoni people is held during the period of the yam harvest. The planting season is not just a period of agricultural activity, but it is a spiritual, religious and social occasion. One of their cultural/spiritual “holidays” is held during the planting season as it is an occasion for them to honour the land, a sacred source of life for them. Another religious element of this link between the Ogoni people and nature is the belief that the soul of every human being has the ability to leave its human form and enter that of an animal, taking on the shape of that animal. These characteristics show that nature is very important for the Ogoni people.
Ogoniland consists of six kingdoms: Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Ken-Khana, Nyo-Khana, and Tai. Within Ogoniland four main languages are spoken, which, although related, are mutually unintelligible. Linguistic experts classify the Ogoni languages of Khana, Tai, Gokana, and Eleme as a distinct group within the Benue-Congo branch of African languages or, more particularly, as a branch in the New Benue-Congo family.
In Ogoni land, large areas of fresh and salt water resources as fishing grounds have been rendered useless by oil spills. Food is becoming increasingly expensive and potential farmers are too poor to pay for seeds and labour. According to the National Geographic, in 1960 agricultural products such as palm oil constituted the majority of Nigeria’s export goods. Now, Nigeria imports more than it produces in agricultural products.
Before the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta Region and in Ogoniland in particular in 1957, the main source of subsistence was agriculture and fishing. Despite their low market prices, the marketing of Yam and cassava was a significant resource for the Ogoni. However, the importance of agricultural input in the economy has been severely reduced since oil was discovered in the region. In effect, the discovery of black gold, creating a source of potential consequent economic benefit for the country, led to loss of farmlands due to the land appropriation by oil companies. With the biggest share of the economy in oil investments, agriculture lost its prominence in the economic sector. Furthermore, the oil spills due to the intense oil production created soil fertility problem, further leading to a loss of lands.
In 1957, Shell Oil Company struck oil in Ogoniland, which set in motion a process that dramatically affected not only Ogoni society, but Nigeria as a whole. What looked set to be an economic opportunity for the country turned out to be more of a bane than a boon. The Niger Delta, the region inhabited primarily by the Ogoni, is the source of over 90 percent of Nigeria’s oil. Hence, it does not come at a surprise that for the Ogoni the environmental and social costs of oil exploitation are particularly high. This process going unnoticed for several decades drew particular media attention only from the time when famous Nigerian author and playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were arrested and then executed by the infamous regime of Sani Abacha after having publicly named and shamed big business and the Nigerian government for the exploitation of natural resources in Ogoniland.