Published in Brighton by Justice? - Brighton's Direct Action collective
Published in Brighton by Justice? - Brighton's Direct Action collective
ISSUE 282, FRIDAY 10th November, 2000
" I repeat that we all stand before history. My colleagues and I are not the only ones on trial. Shell's day will surely come for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question and the crimes of that war be duly punished." Ken Saro-Wiwa at his trial.
Five years ago this week, environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine others took a fatal lesson in the costs of fuel when they were hanged for their campaigning for clean air, land and water for the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta. Holding Shell Oil to be the main corporate culprit for ecological damage and human rights abuses, protesters had forced it to close the majority of its oil producing operations in Ogoniland in 1993. Now Saro-Wiwa's family have initiated a law suit against the company in New York. Shell, meanwhile, has announced that it plans to return to Ogoniland.
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK TO THE DELTA.
It took five bungled attempts to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa. His final words, "What country is this? What are you doing to me?" still echo tragically in a land that remains one of the most polluted places on the planet, thanks to oil giants like Shell, Chevron and Mobil. Fountains of oil pouring into villagers' fields, contaminated water, leaking pipelines, pools of sulphur and drainage problems have been the legacy of Shell's history of collusion with the brutal former Nigerian regime.
In October 1990, a planned protest by the Etche community of Umuechem, prompted Shell to enlist the help of the notorious Mobile Police Force. Eighty people were killed in the massacre which followed. Then in 1993, an Ogoni grassroots rebellion, led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, was put down at the cost of 2,000 lives. An estimated 80,000 were subsequently made homeless.
Despite consistently denying any links with the Nigerian military, Shell has since admitted to bankrolling them and providing support, including helicopters and boats. They even subsidised the military's brutal commander in Ogoniland, Major Okuntimo, who personally tortured Saro-Wiwa as well as shooting and raping protestors. A May 1994 memo written by Okuntimo in the days before Saro-Wiwa's arrest was flatly honest; "Shell operations [are] still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence".
By December '98, three years after the killing of Saro-Wiwa and his fellow activists, the neighbouring Ijaw people declared themselves "tired of gas flaring, oil spillages, blowouts and being labelled terrorists." Deaths of "possibly over 200 people" promptly followed, as well as "torture and inhuman treatments", as recorded by Human Rights Watch. Girls as young as 12 were raped or tortured.
Then in November last year, the Nigerian military destroyed Odi, a town of 15,000, killing hundreds of civilians. "When I went back everything was burnt down. There was still the smell of rotting flesh", says Ike Okonta from Nigerian campaign group Environmental Rights Action.
Shell has, to be fair, long made clear their high degree of concern over these issues of community relations. Back in November 1995, during the Saro-Wiwa trial the minutes of a meeting of the Nigerian High Commissioner and executives at Shell revealed their exclusive topic of discussion - how to deal with the damaging publicity.
Their response has since become known to us in the West. "None of our business? Or the Heart of our business: Human Rights", reads one piece of their PR greenwash campaign. "It's not the usual business priority. At Shell, we are committed to support fundamental human rights. We invest in the communities around us to create new opportunities and growth."
Growth in the Gokana hospital in Ogoniland, mainly takes the form of green mould on the walls. Yet Shell trumpets the hospital as a symbol of its commitment to the well-being of local communities. It lacks running and hot water, electricity and mattresses, its kitchen is a single hob with a blackened pot, and they have fewer drugs there than many folks over here would consume on an average Saturday night. 25 miles away, by contrast, is the Shell workers hospital, a picture of air-conditioned efficiency. Its 1999 drugs budget was $500,000. The Gokana hospital is clearly just a token PR move.
While the Saro-Wiwa family's law suit goes forward in the US, the Nigerian Government still refuse to release Ken's body, despite permission from the president. An observer from the UK Bar Human Rights Counsel tell us that the two chief prosecution witnesses at Saro-Wiwa's trial signed affidavits, saying that they had been bribed by Shell to testify against him. To hand over the body could be interpreted as official acknowledgement of Saro-Wiwa's innocence. A symbolic burial, according to Ogoni tradition, was held in April instead, attended by 10,000 mourners.
The government has instead given the Ogoni a different body, this time called the Niger Delta Development Commission, appointed to oversee the Ogoni situation. Says Okonta, "The people of the Niger Delta had very high hopes for an independent agency that would deal with the problems of environmental devastation and lack of facilities such as roads and electricity."
What they didn't expect, however, was for ex-Managing Director of Shell in Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Omene, to be at the helm. If, as looks likely, Omene's appointment is approved, it will be a slick two fingers to the communities who had thought some independent scrutiny might assist their plight. Instead, Okonta continues grimly, they are getting "the same man who raped them for so long. The Government and Shell are not serious about bringing the Delta back to environmental health".
For more information about greenwashing see Andy Rowell's book Green Backlash (Routledge).
How Do They Manage?
New Labour have done their bit too.our oil companies pay £2 billion per year less in tax than under the Tories.
Don't Fuel Climate Change
Radio 4A...Brighton's premier pirate radio station, returns to the airwaves this weekend. Tune into 106.6FM on Saturday 4PM-1AM for music of allsorts then a techno party all night long. Sunday 12-7PM topical chat followed by local/experimental music 7-12PM.
** The second national march in London, for the recognition of British Sign Language as an official language attracted more than 9,000 protesters. For more info contact Federation of Deaf People, FDP, PO Box 11, Darwen, Lancs BB3 3GH www.fdp.org.uk
** National day of action to scrap the voucher scheme, Saturday 11th November, to find out what you can do contact National Coalition of Deportation Campaigns 0121 554 6947 www.ncadc.org.uk
** Young Free and Cuban? A series of talks with a young woman from Havana kicks off in Bristol on Sunday 12th November, 3pm, Art Room, 6th Floor, Students Union, Queens Road, Clifton.info: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then London on Saturday 18th November, 6pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square WC1 Holborn tube. Info: 020 7837 1688. And finally, Brighton on Sunday 19th November, 7.30pm, The Branch Tavern, London Road. 01273 685913
** In protest at the formation of the Worlds largest Agrochemical company, through the merger of Novartis and AstraZeneca, the People's Caravan will be touring India, Bangladesh and S.E Asia from 13-30 November. Follow their progress at www.poptel.org.uk/panap/caravan.htm
** Meanwhile in Brighton this Monday there's a Pro-GM Crop Conference at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton. All yer favourites are there such as Novartis, Monsanto, Huntingdon Life Sciences... you get the picture. Demo outside 12.30pm
** Satpal Ram Campaign National Picket, 16th November, 12-4pm, Downing Street, London. Followed by a benefit gig on Saturday 18th at the Scala Club (near King;s Cross Tube), 9pm- 5am.Contact the Campaign on 07947 595367
** Two Brazilian Indians are visiting London this month to help launch a new report of Brazil's tribal people. There will be a public meeting, 7pm on 21st November, Abbey Community Centre, 34 Great Smith Street, London SW1P. For tickets call 020 7733 7900 free but book early
** Tripods, Trees and Trident a weekend of actions, parties and fun at Kinning Park Complex, Glasgow 11-13 November, for details contact Faslane Peace Camp, 01436 820901
** Global Problems, Green Solutions a conference organised by Leicester Radical Alliance, on 18-19th Nov, £20 for the weekend, tickets from 07718 629651
** Cities for a Small Country lecture, 'Sustainable solutions for the urban environment: are they possible?', 22nd Nov, 6pm. Free. Old Theatre, Old Building, London School of Economics 0207 955 7417.
Cheques payable to Terre de Semences, Ripple Farm, Crundale, Canterbury, Kent, CT4 7EB 01227 731815 www.terredesemences.com
Hacked Off In Hackney
Angry workers and residents of the London Borough of Hackney took to the streets on Monday, to disrupt a council meeting where massive 'book-balancing' cutbacks were being plotted (See SchNews 281). In the morning 40 council trucks and vans blockaded the road, causing massive disruption. At lunchtime workers walked out to join a 700-strong protest outside the Town Hall. Councillors, however, were protected by 300 riot cops and so still managed to make moves towards axing 500 jobs and privatising loads of services, aimed at saving £18 million. One small victory on the day was the re-opening of two nurseries that have been occupied by parents and toddlers for over two weeks. Later in the day about 1000 people attended an evening rally. More demonstrations are planned and council workers will soon be voting on strike action.
To keep up-to-date contact: 07979 823597.
Buy Nothing Day
As the annual Buy Nothing Day looms once again this November 25, we at SchNEWS are planning to launch our own brand new, rival anti-shopping event, called Try Not to Purchase Anything Day, in the interests of consumer choice. At the centre of the campaign is the long-awaited launch promise of their Credibility Card - useless in-store, it's said to up one's street cred exponentially. Buy Nothing Day has adopted the slogan 'Participate by not participating'. Just trying to move in on the clever paradox market, we say. Contact Enough! 0161 226 6668 www.buynothingday.co.uk
Students! What would you like to do after you leave university? Leafing through job adverts for banks and multi-nationals in the Oxford and Cambridge Careers Handbook, we found some alternative (un)employment advice; "Involvement in the radical ecological movement is a truly refreshing alternative to other 'careers'''. Sure, this guide has been produced by students themselves, so it adopts a more enlightened perspective than those of the official careers services of either institution. Regarding salary, the book admits there is "none, but..." it counsels, "most people, once out of the rat-race of endless consumption, find they can live okay on bits and pieces of work/dole/busking/donations." SchNEWS scribes can but concur that the financial rewards are meagre - but that every globally warmed cloud has a silver lining!
UN election observers to be flown into Florida to monitor voting to make sure 'democracy' is maintained in these 'developing' countries.
Cor-blimley-theyre-practically-giving-them-away book offer SchNEWS Round issues 51 - 100 £5 inc SchNEWS Annual issues 101 - 150 £5 inc. SchNEWS Survival Guide issues 151 - 200 and a whole lot more £6 + £1.20 postage (US Postage £4.00 for individual books, £13 for all four). In the UK you can get the fist three for £15 inc. postage. And finally.... The Schquall book at only £8.00 inc postage. In addition to 50 issues of SchNEWS, each book contains articles, photos, cartoons, a yellow pages list of contacts, comedy etc. All the above books are available from the Brighton Peace Centre, saving postage yer tight gits.
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Last updated 10th November 2000