The widows of four Nigerian activists are entering their 22nd year of a long struggle for justice, and to hear them tell it, they’re in no way feeling tired.
The women, represented by the Dutch Human Rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira, filed a writ this week against the multinational Anglo-Dutch Shell, seeking damages and a public apology for what they state was the company’s complicity in the unlawful state executions of their husbands.
Leading the four is Esther Kiobel, whose husband was among nine men, known as the Ogoni Nine, who were tried in secret by a military court and sentenced to die by hanging because they protested the massive environmental damage to the Niger Delta region caused by oil extraction. The best known of the group was the renowned writer and community leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa.
The trial, which was widely discredited, sparked international outrage and led to Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth.
Barinem Kiobel, Esther Kiobel’s husband, had been a senior lecturer at the University of Science and Technology in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Shortly before his arrest, he was named Commissioner of the Ministry of Trade, the position from which he expressed criticism of the regime’s actions in Ogoniland.
Amnesty International, which did extensive research on the case, said they found troubling signs of a relationship between the company and the Nigerian government. A video of their findings, “Taking on a Giant—Shell in Ogoniland,” can be found on their website.
“I still feel the pain in my heart that my husband was killed,” said Kiobel in the video. “I need justice for him and for my people.”
In the case just filed, Kiobel accuses Shell of complicity in the unlawful arrest and detention of her husband, the violation of his personal integrity and the violation of his right to a fair trial and his right to life. Her case will also accuse Shell of the violation of her own right to a family life.
Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited responded with a statement: “We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this tragic case. The executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogonis in 1995 were tragic events carried out by the military government in power at the time. We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news of the executions.”
After decades of oil spills in the Ogoni region, toxic damage is so severe that the U.N. estimated it would take 30 years to clean up the area. Sources say very little cleanup has been done in the region despite recommendations to begin doing so.
Also named in the writ are Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, whose husbands were also executed.