Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental martyr killed 20 years ago. The Niger Delta is still hell on Earth

Ken Saro-Wiwa, militante ecologista, si batté contro la multinazionale petrolifera Shell. La storia gli ha dato ragione: la sua terra, oggi, è devastata.

On 10 November 1995, the Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed, after a trial considered to be a farce by the international community and human rights organisations. Saro-Wiwa, writer and poet, denounced the significant environmental effects caused by oil exploitation carried out in the Niger Delta.


20 years after, the saddest thing is that the risks he once denounced have now turned into reality: local communities are always more affected by health problems and live in poverty, surrounded by oil pipelines and oil platforms. According to France’s Multinationals Observatory, despite the promises of reclaiming land contaminated due to extraction activities, Shell continues to gain profits, whilst social and environmental prices are paid by the population. “We live in poverty. This is hell on Earh. Plants and animals growth is halted, and fish is dead,” told one in 30 million inhabitants of the region in April 2008 to Amnesty International.

An on-site scientific study carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011 drew a dramatic overview: the environmental restoration of the damages caused by oil may take 30 years. Moreover, life expectancy in the area does not exceed 40 years, and 75% of the population has no access to clear water. According to the Observatory, Shell has registered revenues of 13 billion euros in 2014 alone. In Nigeria, it manages 50 oil fields and a 50-kilometre-long network of oil pipelines, which is in many cases in an old state of repair. There have been 1,500 oil spills registered since 2007, according to Shell itself, whilst Amnesty believes they have been many more.


Shell Oil To Be Sued Over Nigerian Murder Case
Solidarity to the Ogoni people ©Chris Hondros/Getty Images


Saro-Wiwa knew that the future of Nigerian people was doomed. He was brave enough to denounce the situation, on behalf of the Ogoni people, indigenous minority particularly affected by extraction activities. He organised protests and asked the government for compensations. He founded a movement, the MOSOP, and managed to organise massive popular demonstrations. He was arrested for the first time in 1993 and then released also thanks to international pressures. However, one year later, he was arrested again, charged with inciting murder: he was sentenced to death, and hanged in the prison he was detained in.


Shell Nigeria
Oil field owned by Shell in the Niger Delta. The picture dates back to 2001 ©Chris Hondros/Getty Images


Accused of having collaborated in the execution of Saro-Wiwa (and 8 other activists), Shell agreed to pay 15.5 million dollars in a settlement of the trial held in a federal court in New York. Earlier in 2015, in another trial in the UK, the company agreed to pay 84 million dollars to refund fishermen of the Bodo region, repeatedly affected by oil spills in 2008 and 2009. However, no amount of money could ever repair the social and ecological catastrophe.


Cover photo: ©Greenpeace/Afp


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