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Subject: Nigeria: Excerpts from Saro-Wiwa on Shell in Ogoni (1)

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Excerpts from Saro-Wiwa on Shell in Ogoni (1992)

By Ken Saro-Wiwa. 30 November, 1995

Seeing as how current interest in the Ogoni situation is really focused on Shell's role--the topic that really is at the center of Ken's book--I thought that in transcribing parts of it, I should (finally) move directly to that.

This is the first part of Ken's chapter on Shell. The chapter comprises nearly half of the book, so there will be more coming later. I have omitted nothing in this transcription. So . . . without further ado:

Ken Saro-Wiwa, *Genocide in Nigeria: The Ogoni Tragedy* (Port Harcourt: Saros, 1992; 103 pp.)

Excerpts from Chapter 5 ("The Shell-B.P. Role")

[Chap. 4 was about the Ogonis' experience of the civil war (1967-1970), which was dreadful, to say the least]

Even before the defeat of biafra on the battlefield, the Shell-B.P. Company had recommenced is mining operations in Ogoni. The Federal Government needed the proceeds from oil to prosecute the war in its incompetent, wasteful, devious manner. Consequent- ly, every encouragement was given to Shell-B.P. to continue its genocidal plans against the Ogoni people.

It has to be said that at that time, the Nigerian government knew pretty little of the oil industry. There were not enough trained men in the relevant supervising Ministries of the Govern- ment to draft the laws and regulations which would bind Shell- B.P. to minimum standards of civilized behavior.

Shell-BP consequently seized upon this fact and displayed the ugliest possible face of international capitalism. Operating among a peasant population which, as this study has shown, knew little of the ways of the modern world, Shell-BP has behaved cruelly, stupidly and in a racist manner.

Over the years, right from 1958, the Ogoni people have been engaged in a no-win war with Shell-BP. Matters came to a head in April 1970 when Ogoni leaders, unable to bear the chicanery and heartlessness of the Company, were forced to petition the Mili- tary Governor of Rivers State in a carefully considered memoran- dum. At that time, I was a Commissioner (Minister) with responsi- bility for education in the State and was sent a copy of the petition for my information. The petition, reproduced hereunder, speaks for itself as does the reaction of Shell-BP to it.

Ogoni Divisional Committee
c/o Chief T.N. Adda-Kobani
12 Victoria Street
Port Harcourt
25th April, 1970

His Excellency the Military Governor,
Rivers State of Nigeria
Port Harcourt

Your Excellency,


May it please Your Excellency to give your fatherly attention and sympathetic consideration to the complaints of your people of Ogoni Division who have suffered in silence as a direct result of the discovery and exploitation of mineral oil and gas in this Division over the past decades.

2. While it is a fact of history that the petroleum oil industry has given the national economy of Nigeria a great leap forward, it is equally and sadly true that neither the nation nor the Shell-BP Company has ever given serious and deserved consider- ation to the effects which this industry has had, and will continue to have, on the economy and life of the people of this Division, which has become the main home of the oil industry in Nigeria.

3. In addition to the Refinery which is located at Alesa, the Bomu, Bodo-West, Korokoro and Ebubu oil fields which are among the nation's most extensive and most productive oil-fields are also sited in Ogoni Division. Besides these production wells, several other wells will soon go into production in all other parts of the Division.

4. Land is a very rare commodity in the Rivers State, and even more so in Ogoni Division. Ogoni Division contains one of the highest population concentrations in Nigeria, rising from a density of over 500 per square mile in Eleme to 1,200 per square mile in the Gokana area, the home of the vast Bomu oil-fields. It is in view of this that we are alerting the State Government to the fact that the Shell-BP operations in this Division are seriously threatening the well-being, and even the very lives of the people of Ogoni Division.

5. About two decades ago, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy of Ogoni Division. But to-day, the entire economy of our people has been completely disrupted through the connivance of a nation which seems to have allowed the Shell-BP, a purely commer- cial organization, to enter upon and seize the people's land at will. So long as the nation gets her royalties, nobody bothers what happens to the poor rural farmer whose land has been expro- priated. Here our delta-type alluvial soil possesses a high degree of fertility, and each acre yields an average of 1,000 (one thousand pounds) to 2,000 (two thousand pounds) per farming season to its cultivator. But without negotiation, the nation allows a land-grabbing commercial company to seize large stretch- es of rich agricultural lands, paying a scandalously meagre once- and-for-all 1.10/per acre. Deprived thus of his only source of income, the dispossessed farmer is ruined, and his children can no longer obtain an education nor his family a decent life.

6. In the same way, the Shell-BP destroys cash crops and economic trees without giving adequate compensation to their owners. A few weeks ago, caterpillars of the Shell-BP entered into culti- vated farms in the Bomu area and mercilessly ploughed down across and acres of cultivated crops: yams, maize, pepper, melons, fluted pumpkins, cassava, okro, garden eggs, and other valuable crops in flagrant violation of Section 17, Sub-sections (b)v and (c)ii of the Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations, 1969. Your Excellency, the attached photographs of this atrocity speak for themselves. Because the Shell-BP knows too well that none of the poor villagers being dispossessed has ever had the benefit of reading these Petroleum Regulations, or of even knowing of their existence, the company does not bother to consult them. What Your Excellency sees in these photographs is a picture of what is happening to our people everywhere in our Division where-ever the Shell-BP operates: Korokoro, Ebubu, Kpean, etc. It is all the more distressing to note that the victims of these caterpillar raids are poor returnees (from the war) whom we have encouraged to till the soil in order to raise a paltry subsistence. Your Excellency will agree that for such poor people, the war will never end since the hard realities of the war are still with them today.

7. When Your Excellency recently honoured this Division with an extensive tour, you were shown large acres of mangrove swamps that have been destroyed by the periodic out-flow of crude oil into our rivers and streams, which have killed off not only mangrove trees, but fishes and crabs, mudskippers, oysters, shell-fishes, etc. on which the livelihood of the poorer people depends. In this way, our rights under Section 23 of the Petro- leum (Drilling and Production) Regulations, 1969, have been violated with impunity by the Shell-BP.

8. A few years ago, our streams were blessed with pure and sparkling water. But in the Gokana area of the Division, most inland waters, rivers and water courses have today been polluted by crude oil, mud, and other fluids which have contaminated our water supply in contravention of Section 25 of the Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations, 1969. And yet, all en- treaties made to the Shell-BP to provide the people with alterna- tive water-supply have been rebuffed. Our people have been compelled to sacrifice all life-supporting necessities so that the nation may enjoy economic boom from the oil industry.

9. Before the Shell-BP began to prospect for oil in Ogoni Divi- sion our untarred roads were in very motorable condition, thanks to our firm and well-drained soil. But twenty years of hard use by the company's heavy vehicles, some of them ranging between twenty to thirty-two tons in weight, has broken the resistance of these roads, thereby making them unmotorable for most of the rainy season. When our people have requested for a few coats of tar on these roads, the Shell-BP have often told us that road maintenance and repairs are the responsibility of the State Government.

10. Your Excellency, neither from the Shell-BP nor from the successive Governments have we received the slightest consider- ation in the widespread destitution that has been our sad lot as a direct result of the oil industry in Ogoni Division. The uprooted and displaced farmers are left without alternative means of subsistence. No special consideration was ever given to the employment of our people in the services of the company. There is only one single son of Ogoni Division on the Senior Staff of the Shell-BP and there are less than a dozen in the junior staff segment.Today there is similarly only one Ogoni son in the Administrative Class of the State Government Service. In the award of Government and Shell-BP Scholarships, no special notice has been taken of the fact that the education of our youth has suffered tremendous disabilities from the reduction in the earning capacity of our people.

11. The current Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations of 1969 still suffers from the immoral political thinking of the First Republic. It is a sad irony of our history that none of the areas providing this greatest source of our national wealth has ever had the privilege of having a strong voice in the processes of law-making in this country. The result has always been that no attention has ever been paid to the fate of the poor people who bear the full weight of the national economic burden on their backs.

12. Your Excellency, we are crying to you for sympathy because we have these recent years been victims of a callous neglect by successive Governments whose only interests are the royalties which accrue to them every year from the oil companies. The people of Ogoni Division are informing all men or reason who have a conscience that the millions of pounds which the Shell-BP con- stantly pays to our Government is blood-money, extracted from the very veins of our dying people. We are respectfully requesting Your Excellency and the Government which so honourably head to disburden your conscience of this conspiracy against our people.

13. In view of the foregoing, the people of Ogoni Division are seeking the fraternal assistance of Your Excellency's Government in alleviating the suffering of your people of this Division. We lent our support and energy to the struggle for the creation of the Rivers State in a united Nigeria because we have always believed that we can obtain justice only at the hands of our own brothers who were our companions in suffering in the First Republic.

14. We are respectfully requesting the Rivers State Government to help in the revision of the Petroleum laws in a way that will give some consideration to the fact that the nation has been collecting her fabulous oil royalties on the ruin and destitution of a section of her population.

15. We request that in any event, negotiation for the acquisition of land not owned by Government should be a bilateral transaction between the landowner and the prospecting company, with the State Government sitting in as arbitrator. This happens in other oil- producing countries and can happen here.

16. We request that no less than 1,000 (one thousand pounds) be paid to landowners as rents per acre per annum for land acquired for oil exploitation and production.

17. We submit that where a people's water supply has been pollut- ed and contaminated, or any of their life-supporting necessities destroyed as a direct result of oil exploration or production, it should be recognized that the company has an obligation to make alternative arrangements to supply these needs.

18. We are calling on the conscience of our dear countrymen to recognize that a people who have lost their sources of livelihood in the process of enriching the nation, deserve greater consider- ation by the country and the commercial company which is tapping this wealth, in the award of scholarships, in greater employment opportunities and in the award of contracts.

19. We refer again to paragraph 6 and to the photographs of wilful destruction attached hereto, and request that a special and immediate rehabilitation programme be arranged to resettle these poor returnee farmers who were recently deprived of their farms, their crops, their labour and virtually their lives, by the Shell-BP. Substantial sums of money should be laid out to enable them to establish meaningful business. Having now been uprooted from their only sources of obtaining a decent living, alternative opportunities should be created for them in the award of Government and Shell-BP contracts, in Government and Company employment, and in the award of special scholarships to their children in school, in college and University.

20. The people of Ogoni Division confidently believe that their State Government exists to protect their lives, property and material well-being against political or economic oppression and exploitation.

21. We shall feel highly honoured if Your Excellency can grant a delegation of the people of Ogoni Division the favour of an interview at your earliest convenience.

We humbly remain,
Your Excellency's most loyal people.

Signed: 1. Chief W.Z.P. Nzidee; 2. F.O.L. Yowika; 3. N.A. Ndegwe; 4. E.N. Kobani; 5. O.B. Nalelo; 6. Chief A.O. Ngei; 7. Obo Ngofa ON BEHALF OF OURSELVES AND THE ENTIRE PEOPLE OF OGONI DIVISION IN THE RIVERS STATE OF NIGERIA.

The Federal Commissioner for Mines and Power,
Federal Ministry of Mines and Power, Lagos

The Chief Petroleum Engineer, Federal Ministry of Mines and Power, Lagos

The Managing Director, Shell-BP Petroleum Development Co., Ltd., Lagos

The Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Natural Resources, Rivers State of Nigeria, Port Harcourt

Mr. K. B. Tsaro-Wiwa, Commissioner for Education, Rivers State, Port Harcourt [--yes, this is Ken Saro-Wiwa; the "T" was dropped in the mid-70s, I believe]

Mr. O. O. Ngei, Commissioner for Works, Land and Transport, Rivers State, Port Harcourt

The Head of Operation, Shell-BP, Port Harcourt.


A little over two months later, Shell-BP replied as follows:


H.E. The Military Governor Rivers State PORT HARCOURT

Your Excellency,


We refer to the "HUMBLE PETITION OF COMPLAINT ON SHELL-BP OPERATIONS IN OGONI DIVISION," dated 25th April, 1970, addressed to Your Excellency by the "Ogoni Divisional Commission" and copied the Federal Commissioner for Mines and Power, and the Rivers State Civil Commissioners. This petition is one of a series which have originated in Ogoni Division over the past few years attempting to place development and other responsibilities on this company which can only properly be undertaken by Govern- ment or by a Government agency. In support of such contentions, statements are usually made which, on examination, bear little relation to what is actually taking place. Regrettably, this petition is no exception to the rule and we deal with the various matters raised in it in detail in the appendix to this letter.

As you know, the main aim and purpose of an oil Company must be to find and produce hydrocarbons as efficiently as possible. This is the area in which it makes a very significant contribu- tion to the overall economic development of any country in which it operates. As is the case with the other oil Companies oper- ating in Nigeria our obligations and responsibilities are clearly delineated in the agreements made with the Federal Government and by the Laws and Regulations relating to the oil industry in Nigeria. These have always been meticulously observed by this Company. We have, however been extremely careful to ensure that our operations cause minimal disturbance to the people in the areas in which we operate and we think that this clearly emerges from the content of the attached appendix.

As with any special pleading, the petition exaggerates or misrepresents in one direction (e.g. the amount of land occupied for oil operations in Ogoni Division) and minimizes in the other (e.g. the amount of compensation paid by Shell-BP in Ogoni Division over the past years). There can be no doubt, however, that the incidental benefits accruing to Ogoni Division from Shell-BP's presence there greatly outweighs any disadvantages.

We have given very careful consideration to the advisability of writing to you on this matter and have finally concluded that the inaccuracies in the petition should not remain unanswered. We are sending copies of the letter to the Governor and Commission- ers of the Rivers State who received copies of the petition.

Your faithfully,

Signed: J. SPINKS


The drilling location to which the petition refers, although difficult to identify from the photograph accompanying the petition which could relate to clearing for any construction project in Rivers State, is probably BOMU VNOM 1.

The total amount of land occupied for this location and access road was just over 7 acres (7.372).

The total amount of compensation paid in respect of surface rights (i.e. economic crops & trees) was 1,266.8.7d.

In addition an annual rental at the rate of 4 per acre per annum was paid and will be paid in future years.

Compensation was paid to land and crop owners on 29th Jan. 1970.

The signatories for the land numbered 9 and 181 persons received compensation in respect of surface rights.

There have been no complaints to us from the actual landown- ers or crop owners from the time negotiations commenced until the present time.

Comments directly related to specific inaccuracies in the Petition are given below. The paragraph numbering of the Petition is used:

Paragraph 2

It is a continuing misconception held in Ogoni Division that the "main home of the oil industry" in Nigeria is Ogoni Division.

This is not the case. About 15% of the crude oil produced by Shell-BP in Nigeria originates from Ogoni Division and Ogoni produced crude forms a smaller proportion of total Nigeria crude oil production. Shell-BP has, however, always been aware that certain special problems, quite unrelated to oil operations, do exist in Ogoni Division and as is witnessed by its inauguration and financing in 1966 of the Ogoni Rural Community Project has attempted to make a significant contribution towards resolving them.

Paragraph 4

The 1963 census showed the population in Ogoni Division to average out at about 564 persons per square mile. This gives a population density of less than one person per acre.

Paragraph 5

The approximate total area of land comprised in Ogoni Division is 264,320 acres. Shell-BP occupies less than 1,000 acres of land for all its oil operations in Ogoni. This is just over a third of one percent of the total land area (.378%). This illustrates that the statement "the entire economy of our people has been completely disrupted etc.", is untenable.

The contention that "each acre yields an average of 1,000- 2,000 (one thousand to two thousand pounds) per farming season" is a remarkable exaggeration which bears no relationship to the value of agricultural yields in Ogoni as any Government Agricul- tural Officer would confirm. It is also in direct contradiction with the statement in paragraph 6 that only "a paltry subsis- tence" can be raised from the soil. It is of interest in this connection that the well-known champion of Ogoni rights, Mr. K.B. Tsaro-Wiwa, in his recent pamphlet "The Ogoni Nationality Today and Tomorrow" state that the cash income in Ogoni has been estimated at 30 to 40 (thirty to forty pounds) per year per family.

The allegation that landowners are paid "a scandalously meagre once-and-for-all 1.10 (one pound, ten shilling) per acre" has no foundation in fact. In addition to surface rights compen- sation (see above, 1,266.8.7 in the case of local Bomu VNOM) an annual rental is paid. The rates of these annual rentals are approved by Government and have over the years been raised by the Company on its own initiative. For example,t he rental for dry farm land has been increased by 166% during the past six years. Current rentals are as follows:

(a) Dry Farm Land per acre 80/-
(b) Seasonal Swamp " " 40/-
(c) Swamp " " 20/-.

Paragraph 6

The quite foundationless statement that Shell-BP destroys valuable cash crops and economic trees without giving adequate compensation to their owners has been answered above.

Entry to work in the location area was approved by the Government representative after due consultation and after the above mentioned compensation has been paid and was not in contra- vention of any of the provisions of Section 17 of the Petroleum (Production and Drilling) Regulations, 1969, including sub- sections (b)v and (c)ii. It is worth noting here that whenever possible in addition to receiving compensation at full rates, landowners are permitted to harvest mature crops.

Paragraph 7

As a result of military operations during the recent war certain oil installations were damaged and escapes of crude oil occurred. This can in no way be attributed to the acts of this Company which ceased operations in the former Eastern Region in August 1967 and did not re-enter Ogoni until late 1968 when its first acts were to prevent further spillages and to minimize the effects of those which had already taken place. The statement that the rights of the people "have been violated with impunity by the Shell-BP" again has no foundation in fact and the whole of paragraph attempts to make the Company responsible for the effects of the war.

Paragraph 8

The comments given above regarding pollution apply equally to any streams and rivers affected by escapes of crude. This does not affect a wide area, however, and is a temporary, not perma- nent, condition. Again an exaggerated argument is being used in an attempt to influence the Company to undertake activities (i.e. the provision of an alternative water supply, presumably by drilling water wells) which do not lie within its province or responsibilities.

Paragraph 9

No non-Government organization can accept responsibility for general road development but where it can be clearly shown that the deterioration in any road is due exclusively to used by Company traffic, the Company will take corrective measures and this has happened on many occasions in the years we have been operating in Ogoni Division. It has also, on occasion, voluntari- ly improved the road system to the benefit of the whole communi- ty. As examples os such work done in the past we quote the following:

(a) Egberu-Kpopis Road (approx. 7 miles) - General widening, draining and tarring of about half a mile of the distance. One permanent bridge constructed.
(b) Kpopi-Bodo Road (approx. 5 miles) - General widening, drain- ing and reinforcing with laterite. Three permanent culverts built.
(c) Dere-Chara Road (approx. 5 miles) - General widening and draining work. Two permanent bridges constructed.
(d) Bori-Kono Road - There were four Company Bailey bridges on the road prior to the construction of permanent Government bridges.
(e) New roads - Shell-BP have built more than 20 miles of new roads connecting the drilling locations in the Division.

Paragraph 10

It is extremely improbable that there has been widespread destitution in Ogoni Division as a direct result of the oil industry in view of the proportionately very small area of land occupied by the oil industry and if farmers have indeed been uprooted, displaced and left without alternative means of subsis- tence it is indeed strange that there have been no such authenti- cated cases in the years in which we have been operating in Ogoni Division and that those alleged to have been treated in this way have complained neither to the appropriate Government representa- tives not to this Company.

The inhabitants of Ogoni Division have been expected to qualify for employment and scholarships on the same basis as other Nigerian nationals. 39 persons from Ogoni are employed by this Company at the present time in various categories and capacities.

With regard to scholarship awards, the position is as follows:

(a) We operate three types of scholarship schemes: Universi- ty awards, Higher School Certificate, and secondary school awards. The selection of candidates for our University awards, which are mostly for Engineering Courses, must obtain Higher School Certificate passes at Principal level "C" in Physics, Applied Mathematics and Pure Mathematics or in these subjects at the advanced level in the G.C.E.
(b) The Higher School Certificate awards are made on the basis of our school programme. From talks and films given all the secondary schools in the operational areas, candidates are examined on the elementary aspects of the oil industry and the very best are selected for the awards. We have not however restarted this programme in the Eastern States as yet.
(c) The secondary school awards are confined to children from our areas of operation and we have twenty such awards to children from Ogoni Division, and three of these were made in December 1969. It might perhaps be mentioned also in 1969 we made an Overseas University award to a boy from Ogoni even though he had only a West African School Certificate.

Paragraphs 15, 16, 17, and 19

The demands made in these paragraphs are in themselves intrinsically unrealistic and supported moreover by conclusions themselves based upon facts are premises which are patently incorrect. These misconceptions are tenacious and deeply rooted and the Company is willing to participate in any information programme which the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government may wish to mount in Ogoni Division.


I met Mr. Spinks on one or two occasions while he was Manager, Eastern Operations of Shell-BP. He struck me as a genial and accommodating man who was distressed by the terrible and unspeakable degradation of the Ogoni people and who would have loved to do something about it. The letter which he signed and circulated was a load of Shellspeak and I would doubt that he masterminded it. Like many other employees of Shell-BP, he may have been the unwitting victim of a Satanic octopus which demands men's souls in return for cash and security. I would like to know if he lasted long in Shell-BP and what he may have done when he got transferred out of port Harcourt after his letter had been written.

Shell's reply can be easily dismissed. A British Company which, as the letter indicates, does violence to the English language would gladly murder "foreign" peasants without compensa- tion. So blind is the Company, it does not know the difference between a "Commission" and a "Committee." Efficiency in finding and producing hydrocarbons must mean in Shellspeak, the speedy extermination of human beings and their environment, particularly if these happen to be in Africa. Shell expects illiterate peas- ants to be the only ones who should protest against genocide by an organization which has the financial muscle to hire the best legal and other brains and which has wide experience in dealing with governments in various coasts and climes. Shell is not ashamed to mention the pittance it pays for valuable land and its complicity with the ethnic majority in Nigeria who have framed the laws which destroy the powerless minorities. Having polluted streams, Shell cannot see the need for providing alternative sources which are well within its means. For, before oil is ever struck, water is found. So why should the provision of water be such a problem for Shell? The Company must be cruel and sadistic. The number of Ogoni people whom the Company proudly advertises itself to have employed must make anyone but Shell laugh. The world would like to know whatever happened to the Ogoni Rural Community Project. How much did Shell spend on it? How much of the money ended up in the pockets of Shell employees and how much was actually expended on the project? What tax remission did Shell get for embarking on this dubious project? What are the "special problems" of the Ogoni which Shell professes to know? What did it do about them? Did those problems assist Shell to "find and produce hydrocarbons efficiently"? Did Shell therefore promote "special problems" in its own self-interest while pre- tending to be contributing "towards resolving them"? The prodi- gious road-building capabilities of Shell are in full display even today in Ogoni. The Company could not possibly realize that making roads to "connect its drilling locations" is a serious disturbance to its hapless landlords. The peasant farmers are thereby forced to wear shoes which they cannot afford to their farms. This Company's antics make me sick.

A few days after this disgusting letter was received in government circles, the sins of Shell-BP and the deep and mortal wounds the Company has inflicted on the Ogoni people were shown up by its acts of omission. There was a major blow-out at the Bomu oilfield.

Coming at the end of a horrendous civil war which had brutalized the Ogoni people and hastened them on the path of extinction, the oil blow-out, which occurred towards the end of July 1970, showed up the insensitivity of the Company to human suffering and its complicity in the genocide of the Ogoni.