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Activists trying to prove oil giant Royal Dutch Shell was complicit in the 1995 executions of nine anti-oil campaigners, including Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, have brought their case to the US.

Over the last 12 years, the family of the Ogoni poet and playwright has pursued the company through the courts with the support of American environmental and human rights campaigners.

Shell deny accusations they had anything to do with the executions of Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight others by the government of military ruler Sani Abacha.

The civil lawsuit, which was due to start on Wednesday 27 May in New York, has been postponed until next week.

The case is being closely watched in Nigeria, where a younger generation of oil militants has caused chaos in the oil industry, blowing up installations and kidnapping staff.

“They weren’t the hangman,” Ken Wiwa, the activist’s son, says about Shell.

“But their fingerprints are all over it.”


In 1993, Ogoni activists stood up to the international oil company, forcing them to pull out of the region in Rivers State.

The protests were led by Mr Saro-Wiwa, famed for writing a popular TV soap.

He founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop) which used largely non-violent means to bring the world’s attention to the environmental damage being done by oil production in the Niger Delta.

But the leadership of Mosop was accused of ordering the murder of four local traditional leaders, and arrested.

In 1995 the government of Sani Abacha shocked the world by carrying out the executions of the Ogoni Nine, as they became known.

The plaintiffs are trying to prove that Shell, in Mr Wiwa’s words, “goaded” the government into the executions.

Mr Wiwa, now an aide to the current President Umaru Yar’Adua, says he is not interested in “retributive justice”, but is trying to find a solution to the problems that still plague the region.

Like his father, he wants oil firms to realise that it is only by working with and engaging local communities that there can be longer-term profitability for all.

For the past 14 years, no oil has been pumped from Ogoniland ground.

“My father always said that one day Shell would realise he was their greatest friend,” Mr Wiwa told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

The court action is being brought by Mr Wiwa and the families of seven of the nine men executed, as well as a number of other Ogonis injured or killed by the military during the 1990s.

They are being assisted by the Centre for Constitutional Rights and Earth Rights International.

The case can be heard in New York because American law allows foreign nationals to sue companies registered in the US.

Their lawyers will try to prove that the company had a close relationship with the Nigerian government, ordering military raids and attacks on villages in the name of “security”.

They say Shell executives told the government they had to “deal” with the Ogonis and Mosop.

They also claim Shell knew in advance that Mr Wiwa and the rest of the Ogoni Nine would be found guilty, and, perhaps most damningly, they say they can prove the director of Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary met with Mr Saro-Wiwa’s brother and offered his freedom in return for an end to Mosop’s campaign.


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