I know many of you will be wondering what happened in the Wiwa vs. Shell case I wrote about recently, as they were scheduled for a June 3 pre-trial conference, and that date has now long passed.
Well, Shell kept delaying and there were no reasons given. Now, however, we see what was going on behind the scenes – Shell was deliberating over an out of court settlement of 15.5 million dollars, which the plaintiffs ultimately accepted.
I’m torn over the outcome – jubilant in one respect, and feeling wholly dissatisfied in another. The good news is that Shell is being taken to task over its activities in the Niger Delta, and is having to cough up some cash to compensate. And, it’s great to see the power of democracy through the internet, as months ago Shell dismissed the plaintiffs as if they didn’t expect the case to go to trial or to gather any steam. With many bloggers picking up the scent, and bringing this issue to the greater public, pressure grew and grew until they realised this situation was not going to be easily swept under the mat. It’s great to see a revolution of typing bringing succour to the underdog.
But, although Shell is making this settlement, it is doing so as a ‘humanitarian gesture’ (it took 14 years for their compassion to rise to the surface…), and they are still not officially accepting any responsibility for a very checkered history (that includes loss of life, livelihoods, and massive environment destruction). What’s more – the settlement has no impact on their ongoing gas flaring and oil leaks, etc. (Their gas flaring alone makes them one of the largest CO2 emitters on the planet, and as a whole the company is the most carbon intensive of any other.) Additionally, US$15.5 million dollars is nothing in comparison to the US$26.27 billion profit Royal Dutch Shell made in 2008 alone.
Although I understand some of the reasoning of the plaintiffs behind accepting the offer (for example, if they rejected it and went to trial and won, they still faced years of appeals from Shell) I can’t help but wish that Shell was truly made accountable by having this case dragged through the courts in full public view. It would have set a much-needed precedent – that corporations cannot just trample over indigenous people with impunity, and that no matter where they may operate, justice could ultimately be served on them.
I dearly hope the plaintiffs use a decent chunk of the money in an ethical fashion – to benefit the larger Ogoni community – rather than letting it corrupt them as the oil in Nigeria has obviously done to Shell and so many others. If merely used as compensation for the loss of loved ones, it essentially becomes the ‘value’ of the Ogoni nine that were executed that dark day.
As it happens, in case you’re thinking Shell are innocent of the accusations and are merely being bullied into paying by the persistent and aided efforts of money-hungry scallywags, after the settlement the UK’s Channel 4 delved into the issue by looking over previously unpublished documents – those the plaintiffs would have used in court – that clearly show Shell was more than complicit in its relations with the Nigerian military, even to the point of giving them financial support and supplying transport assistance. Watch to learn more: