Nigerian Military Opens Fire on Youths After Shell Oil Spill
by Felix Tuodolo

For the people of Freetown (Ekulama 2) of Kula, Nigeria, life may never be the same again. The people depend on the subsistence fishing and farming for a living. The discovery of oil in the land brought changes to their lives, as the activities of the oil companies, Shell and Chevron, greatly reduced the produce from the farms and rivers.

Occasionally, oil spills occur at the wellheads supplying the Ekulama Flow Station. The most notorious of these is Well 32, owned by the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell. The oil companies are not in the habit of accepting responsibility for the spills. They "call them sabotage" says Ms. Jennifer Pere of the Niger Delta Women for Justice (NDWJ), a radical grassroots women's movement, fighting for justice throughout the oil rich Niger Delta.

When the company accepts responsibility, like it did in 1999, they pay peanuts to the people as compensation. For example, in one of the recorded spills of 1999 Shell paid each claimant the sum of five naira (N5.00) or five US cents. The highest amount Shell has paid to date to those who suffer from these spills is N18.00 (or 18 cents).

But the spill that occurred at Well 32 on August 6, brought unfathomable woes to the community. The spilled oil covered the entire river, affecting transportation and destroying aquatic life and mangroves. The river was littered with dead fish.

On the morning of August 7, the people notified Shell of the spill and the destruction to the surrounding ecosystem. Five youths were selected to present the report. The five persons crossed to the Ekulama 2 flow station where a formal complaint was made. The Shell officials present included the community liaison officer—Mr. Alex—and an acting coordinator for the flow station.The officials informed the youths that the spill must have been caused by the contractors working on the site and asked the youths to come back the next day for a formal inspection of the spill. In the flow station was a detachment of heavily armed naval personnel under whose authority and shield Shell operates.

The youths returned to the flow station as requested the next day where they were attended to by the acting coordinator. He asked them to wait while the boat to be used for the inspection was fueled. They were later joined by three other youths, thus raising the number of persons to ten. While they were waiting, the head of the naval personnel, a sub-lieutenant, came and made rude and uncomplimentary remarks about youths not keeping the peace in the Niger Delta and always angling for compensation. He ordered that they should leave immediately.

According to Lokoloko Igbikis, a youth leader who was present, the officer ordered them to "leave the premises of Shell immediately or be ready to be killed."

"We told him that the acting coordinator of the flow station had asked us to wait and that we were supposed to go for an inspection, but the officer would not listen to us. He said that he was in charge, not the Shell official, and that if we did not leave we would all perish."

"He went into the building, came back and threw something in our direction. It exploded. It must have been a grenade. As we ran, we heard the staccato of gunfire and the barked order of 'Shoot them! Shoot them!'" narrated Lokoloko Igbikis, who was seriously injured. Four persons sustained serious bullet wounds and three others received injuries from the surrounding mangrove vegetation as they ran for dear life.

Those who made it to the mangroves were later rescued. But for Solomon Victor, shot and left for dead by the attacking Shell naval personnel, rescue came only when the company began a panicky evacuation of their personnel from the flow station by helicopter to Port Harcourt. As the oil men packed bags preparing to leave the premises, they saw Victor covered in his blood. They took him for dead and airlifted him to Port Harcourt. Shell officials later realized that he was not dead and took pity on him and took him to their clinic where he is now receiving treatment.

A naval personnel said they were "afraid that the community may take reprisal action. We have to inform them that we are fit and ready, so intermittently we had to fire into the air to scare the shit out of them." The shooting continued all day long and well into the night. The shooting had the desired effect of frightening the people of Freetown, who lost their freedom and their community. Several of them ran into the mangrove forest.

According to Mrs. Constance Ekine, president of Kula Central Women, "This is not the first time our people have been shot at by the military. Some time in July this year, the military shot at us when we visited Daewoo premises but no one was injured. This must be stopped now before they kill all of us. This harassment must stop. This is why we are here to protest to the government house, Shell and the naval barracks. We are ready to die. If they like, they should kill all of us."

The women carrying placards first visited the wounded at Metropolitan clinic on August 9, before some of them visited Shell. They were stopped at the gate to Shell's premises, but they forced their way to the clinic where Solomon Victor was hospitalized. An alarm was set off and the women were confronted by the police, who then seized all the placards in a most discourteous manner.

A senior official of Shell who finally [met with] them said that Shell did not order the shooting of the youths but that it was a federal government's directive to the Navy to shoot on sight. The women gathered again on Thursday with new placards and proceeded to the government house to meet with the state governor. At the government house, police prevented the women from entry, saying that there were too many of them. Only three of them were allowed in while the remaining women sat outside at the gate for hours. Having presented their position to the government, they proceeded to visit the media houses.

The woes of the community seem not over yet. Some members of the community have not been seen since the shooting occurred. "The shooting is continuing as if there is a war declared on us. Now that we are here, we don't know what is happening at home. It is possible that the community has been burned down. We need help," Mrs. Ine Kio appealed.

"Shell should leave our land. We are tired of them. One day they will kill everyone," states Mrs. Constance Ekine. Chief K.O. Ikiriko Opusinya, Head of Opusinya group of houses in Kula, agreed without reservation. According to him, "We had no problem in the past with Shell except compensation matters. This action of Shell is very surprising, and that this is happening in a democratic setting. The military were brought in to kill my people. What we want Shell to do is to shut down completely in Kula. The world should come to our assistance."

As Shell uses its advantage of joint venture alliance, to suppress the aspirations of the local people and in particular using the might of the military, the local communities are still living in squalor, unsung and unheard. Two victims of the Ekulama shooting have been refused medical treatment by Shell. Officials of Shell insist that they can only cater to the one victim—Solomon Victor—who was found on its premises and not those that escaped into the forest. Community leaders are currently taking care of the medical bills of the victims.

Please send your emails, faxes and letters of protest to the following people and places demanding that Shell should clean up the oil pollution and stop forthwith the continued destruction of the land and waterways of the Niger Delta. They should also restore the devastated forests, waters and ruined lands of the Delta, meanwhile compensating the affected local communities who have lived too long under the dark shadows of Shell's deadly gas flares.

Protest letters should be sent to Shell Oil Company, Head Office, POB 2643, Houston, Texas 77252-2463; (713) 241-6161; 241-4044 (fax); Shell Petroleum and Development Company Nigeria Ltd., PMB 2418, Lagos, Nigeria; 00234 1 2601600/19; 00234 1 263

© Earth First! Journal, September-October, 2000