'Shell Paid Soldiers to Suppress and Kill Nigerian Protesters in Ogoniland'

Documents that have emerged from court cases against oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria reveal that in the 1990s it routinely worked with Nigeria’s military to suppress resistance to its activities, often from activists in Ogoniland, in the delta region, some of them ending in deaths.

Confidential memos, faxes, witness statements and other documents, first released in 2009, show the company regularly paid the military to stop the peaceful movement against pollution, even helping to plan raids on villages suspected of opposing the company. Several thousand people were killed in the 1990s and many more fled.

The revelations come as an investigation by the oil industry watchdog, Platform, and a coalition of non-government organisations ((NGO) accuses Shell of fuelling more recent armed conflicts in Nigeria by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups.

Shell had been accused in a New York federal court of collaborating with the state in the execution in 1995 of writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other leaders of the Ogoni tribe, popularly called ‘the Ogoni 9’.

Instead, Shell paid $15.5 million to the eight families in settlement, and key documents never saw light during the trial. Among them is a 1994 letter from Shell agreeing to pay a unit of the Nigerian Army to retrieve a truck, an action that left one Ogoni man dead and two wounded. Shell said it was making the payment “as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition in future assignments.”

The director of Shell Nigeria during those years, Brian Anderson, said in 2009 after the New York settlement that the company “played no part in any military operations against the Ogoni people, or any other communities in the Niger Delta, and we have never been approached for financial or logistical support for any action.” But he conceded that Shell had paid the military on two occasions.

Platform’s investigation alleges that government forces hired by Shell perpetrated atrocities against local civilians. Shell disputes the report, but has pledged to study the recommendations.

In Counting the Cost: Corporations and Human Rights in the Niger Delta, Platform says it has seen testimony and contracts that implicate Shell in the regular awarding of lucrative contracts to militants. Last year, Shell is said to have transferred more than $159,000 to a group linked to militia violence.

One gang member, Chukwu Azikwe, told Platform: “We were given money and that is the money we were using to buy ammunition, to buy this bullet, and every other thing to eat and to sustain the war.” He said his gang and its leader, S. K. Agala, had vandalised Shell pipelines. “They will pay ransom. Some of them in the management will bring out money, dole out money into this place, in cash.”

The gang fought a rival group over access to oil money. “They (rival gang) will come and fight, some will die, just to enable them to also get (a) share … Who takes over the community has the attention of the company.”

Platform alleges that in Rumuekpe, “the main artery of Shell’s eastern operations in Rivers State”, Shell distributed “community development” funds and contracts via Friday Edu, a youth leader and Shell community liaison officer.

By 2005, Mr Edu’s monopoly over the resources of the Shell had sparked a leadership tussle with Agala’s group.

The latter was reportedly forced out of the community and a number of people were killed. Dozens reportedly died in counter raids. The violence killed an estimated 60 people from 2005-08. Thousands more were displaced.