ESTHER Kiobel, one of the widows of the nine environmental activists that were hanged by the Nigerian Military government in 1995, has given testimony in the court case she filed against Shell, an international oil company, over the killing of her husband.
Kiobel and three other widows whose husbands were also among those executed accuse Shell of complicity in the execution of their husbands, and they want the Netherlands-based oil giant to pay them compensation.
Following her husband’s execution, Kiobel said she had to flee to the United States under a refugee programme later became a citizen. The three other women joining her in the suit were not granted visas to travel to attend the court proceedings.
“Shell came into my life to take the best crown I ever wore off my head. Shell came into my life to make me a poverty-stricken widow with all my businesses shut down. Shell came into my life to make me a refugee living in harsh conditions before I came to the United States through a refugee programme and now I am a citizen,” the BBC quoted Kiobel as telling the court on Tuesday.
“The abuses my family and l went through are such an awful experience that has left us traumatised to date without help.
“We all have lived with so much pain and agony, but rather than giving up, the thought of how ruthlessly my husband was killed… has spurred me to remain resilient in my fight for justice.
“Nigeria and Shell killed my late husband, Dr Barinem Kiobel and his compatriots: Kenule Tua Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Paul Levula, Nordu Eawo and the rest of the innocent souls.
“The memory of the physical torture my family and l went through has remained fresh in my mind, and whenever l look at the scar of the injury l sustained during the incident, my heart races for justice all the more.”
However, Shell, in a statement filed in its defence, denied that it colluded with the then military regime in Nigeria in the execution of the Ogoni nine. The company claimed it appealed to the government for clemency but that the appeals were waved aside.
“We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made in this tragic case. SPDC [the Shell Petroleum Development Company] did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest, it in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria, and it had no role in the arrest, trial, and execution of these men,” the statement read.
“We believe that the evidence clearly shows that Shell was not responsible for these distressing events.”
In 1990, author Ken Saro-Wiwa led the formation of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to raise awareness to the environmental degradation in Ogoni land as a result of oil exploration activities, demanding compensation from the federal government.
He and eight other activists were arrested and accused of murdering four Ogoni traditional rulers. They were tried secretly, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging. The trial was described as a sham by members of the international community.
But despite the local and international outcry, the activists were publicly executed in November 1995.
Kiobel first filed the lawsuit against Shell at a federal court in New York, USA, in 2002, but the case was later dismissed by the US Supreme Court in 2013 for jurisdictional reasons.
In 2017, she filed another civil action in the Netherlands—home of Royal Dutch Shell—based on the same claims.
She also claimed that she was whipped, sexually assaulted, and detained without food, water, or other basic necessities for weeks when she tried to bring food to her husband at a detention camp.