Shell, BC and Ken Saro-Wiwa

Events that occured a decade ago in a land half a world away have relevance here in BC today.

In the 10 years since the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa inNigeria,  Shell has made every effort to distance themselves fromtheir support of a brutal military regime in Nigeria’s Ogoniland(including supplying guns), and the environmental devastation it leftthere.

But their green-washing is just that.  Their continuing actions in Nigeria do not live up to their own standards as a new report by Amnesty International shows.

Shellfaces problems with indigenous people here in British Columbia. ShellCanada has begun exploring for coalbed methane in the Sacred Headwaterswithout consulting with a representative authority amongst the TahltanFirst Nation.  The recent Haida ruling by the Supreme Court ofCanada held that First Nations have to be involved in “strategicdecisions” such as licensing.  But the Tahltan Elders have tofight to protect a territory which has special cultural and spiritualsignificance to them.  Coalbed methane development isenvironmentally destructive and has not been shown to coexist anywherewith a healthy salmon population.

Ogoni leader and writer KenSaro-Wiwa was executed in 1995 (along with 8 others) by the Nigeriangovernment for campaigning against the devastation caused in hishomeland by oil corporations, particularly Shell.

To honour hisheroism commemorative events are taking place across the globe,including  PEN Canada’s tribute tonight in Toronto with writerRohinton Mistry, journalist and author Linda McQuaig, dub poet andactress d’bi.young and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s brother, Dr Owens Wiwa. Theevening will include the performance of a play written by Ken Saro-Wiwaduring his imprisonment prior to his execution.

“The notionthat the oil-bearing areas provide the revenue of the country, and yetbe denied a proper share of that revenue…is unjust, immoral, unnaturaland ungodly. Why should the people on oil-bearing land be tortured?”
– Ken Saro-Wiwa (From Amnesty International’s report on Shell and Chevron in the Niger Delta.)

Asa youth I learned firsthand about issues with oil. Growing up in Lagos,Nigeria in the 1980s I was well aware of the hostility felt towards theoil corporations that were literally draining the wealth out ofNigeria. My father worked for Exxon-Mobil.  We lived inside awalled compound, with an armed guard on the gate.  Our home hadbars on the windows and a metal door behind which we barricadedourselves each night to sleep.  Driving to and from the airport wewere accompanied by a police escort.  We spent most of our timeinside the compound or within the limits of the “safe” exclusiveresidential area in which we lived.

As a young teen I had noawareness of the source of the hostility towards oilcorporations.  I am now painfully conscious of the fact that theirexploitation of Nigeria’s oil resources, with no regard for the peoplewhose lives were most affected and in the most terrible ways, paid formy privileged lifestyle and education.  That fact fuels mydetermination to create change in the world.  I am fortunate towork with Dogwood Initiative-an organization that is doing just that.

WhenDogwood Initiative learned of the threats to the Sacred HHeadwatersthis summerearly this year, we jumped in immediately. We helped theTahltan Elders and families put Shell “on notice” that their proposedcoalbed methane development would infringe Aboriginal title and rights,we investigated Shell Canada’s financiers and through our website andnewspaper articles[AS1]  we helped  to help the TahltanElders and broughtbrings the threats to  it to the attention ofthousands.

 And the struggle against Shell plans in BC arejust beginning. Shell Canada has not disclosed to their investors,creditors or other financial backers the risk that their tenure (forwhich they paid $8.5 million) may be invalid.  But deceit and liescome easily to them.

Shockingly, The British FinancialServices Authority announced yesterday that they will not be takinglegal action against former Shell exploration and production chiefWalter van de Vijver after investigating Shell’s overstatement of oilreserves. Shell stunned investors in 2004 by admitting it hadoverstated its reserves by around a third, but apparently that’s okay.After all, they’ve just announced their best quarterly resultsever-just remember those profits are paid for in blood and tears.

“Ataround 10am the soldiers arrived in 15 gunboats. There were about 100of them. They started pouring petrol on houses. I could not count thenumber of firebombs used; there were too many. They fired with bigguns, but no teargas was used. Two- to three-year-olds and the old onesstayed in their houses, and 12-year-old Lucky was shot dead.”
-L.D.I. Orumiegha-Bari, Chairman of the Council of Chiefs, following anarmed forces raid on the town of Odioma, 19 February 2005, in which atleast 17 people died. (From Amnesty International’s report on Shell and Chevron in the Niger Delta.)

Shellin unlikely to rely on guns and military power in BC, but they arelikely to try an assortment of other tricks to divide and conquer localpeople concerned about their plans.  We’ll keep you informed asevents develop.

Please consider making a donation to help the Tahltan Elders and families fight Shell and other developers.

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