Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shell and the Ogoni Settlement

The decision by Shell Petroleum Development Company and the families of the Ogoni 9 for an out-of-court settlement, fifteen years after the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen is on its own commendable.
The murder of the Ogoni 9, no doubt, attracted much global condemnation of the Nigerian government and in a way, rightly or wrongly, Shell. The offer to pay the sum of $15.5 million to the families of the murdered Ogoni 9 by Shell must have been made in the pursuit of peace, although it came so many years after the case was instituted.
Convinced that Shell had connived with the Federal military government to hang the Ogoni 9, after a controversial judicial trial, the families of the hanged men had instituted a case in far away New York, United States of America. The case had dragged on for years, till the recently found rapprochement between both parties.
The compensation paid by Shell may deaden the pain of the anguish suffered by the families of the murdered men but it cannot wipe away the scar of the injury.
True, we know that no amount of money paid is worth the lives of the slain Ogoni activists, yet since the plaintiff have accepted it, we expect that the settlement should promote peaceful co-existence between both parties on the one hand and between Shell and the larger Ogoni clan in Rivers State, on the other hand.
Shell was forced out of Ogoniland by the people during the heat of the crisis. Although it calls the payment compensation, not many Nigerians see it in that light primarily because it initiated the out-of-court settlement. That perception therefore puts pressure on Shell in its relationship with communities where they operate. It may now begin to think of other communities which may want to take the company along the same road to American courts.
In the same way, we expect that other multinational corporations operating in various parts of the country must begin to show greater caution and amity in how they deal with their host communities. Host communities must be accorded their basic rights and treated fairly. If that was taken for granted in the past, this case becomes a permanent reminder that there is an international arbiter from whom infractions can be redressed.
While commending the American judicial system that allows even foreign nationals to seek redress for crimes committed outside America, we note the fact that the plaintiffs had to go to America in search of justice for their families. That off-shore search for justice says a lot about the confidence level Nigerians have of the nation’s judicial process. It is probable that if that case had been instituted in Nigeria, with all the malaise about “corporate connections” and influence, it might have been bungled or mismanaged.
The Nigerian judicial system must therefore be seen to be bold and capable of administering justice without fear or favour.
It is against this backdrop that we call on the Ogonis to sheathe their swords, if for nothing else, to ensure that the ensuing peace can bring development activities to the area. After all, it was for the development of the community that the late Ken Saro-Wiwa challenged the system. They should also handle the issue of compensation for the Ogoni 4 with care, so as not to fracture the Ogoni land again.
We believe none of the parties in the dispute must claim to be on higher moral ground, since the out-of-court settlement was mutually agreed. And no party did the other a greater favour.