Fourteen years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow Nigerian activists were put to death by the Nigerian state, with the collusion of Shell Oil. The 'Ogoni nine', as the executed activists are now known, were campaigners against the state-sanctioned exploitation of Nigeria's Ogoni people by Shell. The oil company's long-standing drilling operations on the Ogonis' land had degraded the environment until it had become unlivable; and their objections had been brutally quelled by the Nigerian military. Following a sham trial, and in the face of international outcry and disgust, Nigeria silenced Saro-Wiwa and the other activists by hanging them in 1995.
Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, wrote of his father:
Ken Saro-Wiwa's real "crime" was his audacity to sensitise local and global public opinion to the ecological and human rights abuses perpetrated by Shell and a ruthless military dictatorship against the Ogoni people.... In response to his campaign, Shell armed, financed and otherwise colluded with the Nigerian military regime to repress the non-violent movement, leading to the torture and shootings of Ogoni people as well as massive raids and the destruction of Ogoni villages.
This month, on the eve of what would have been an historic human rights trial, Shell settled with the Ogoni people, paying $15.5 million in recognition that it had conspired with the Nigerian state to bring about the deaths of the Ogoni nine. Fifteen million will do little to restore the degradation of Ogoni land, or heal the scars of the people. It certainly won't wash the blood from Shell's hands. But it is an acknowledgment, or the beginning of one: and it has been a long time coming.
In the face of this, there is something extraordinarily moving about the graciousness shown by Saro-Wiwa's son:
The day after my father was hanged, I was asked my opinion of Shell and I didn't hesitate to answer that Shell was part of the problem and must be part of the solution. I haven't changed my opinion. I am not interested in retributive justice but a justice that is creative, a justice that enables all stakeholders in this affair to account for and learn lessons from the past so that we can all move forward within a constructive and sustainable framework. We have to remain committed to building the kind of world that ensures that people who live on natural resource-bearing areas are not treated as collateral damage in a senseless race for profit.