Oil giant, Shell, stands accused of complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of nine men who were hanged by the military regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha in the 1995, according to the Amnesty International, citing the launch of an explosive new case against the company in the Netherlands over four of the executions.
The nine victims of what the then British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major had described as "judicial murder" include author and playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nordu Eawo, Saturday Dobee, Felix Nuate, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, John Kpuine, Baribor Bera and Barinem Kiobel.
According to a statement issued by Amnesty International wednesday, the civil case was brought by Esther Kiobel, the widow of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, and three other women.
Esther Kiobel was said to have pursued Shell for 20 years over the death of her husband, who was hanged in 1995 along with eight others, collectively known as the Ogoni Nine.
The executions had sparked a global outcry and international condemnation that led to the treatment of Nigeria as a pariah state until Abacha died in 1998.
Esther Kiobel accused Shell of complicity in the unlawful arrest and detention of her husband; the violation of his personal integrity; the violation of his right to a fair trial and his right to life; and her own right to a family life.
Amnesty International said it supported Esther's legal team to bring the case to the Netherlands and has released a new briefing, 'In The Dock', detailing the role played by Shell in the executions.
"The executions of the Ogoni Nine shocked the world. Shell has been dodging accountability for its complicity in these deaths for more than twenty years but now, thanks to Esther Kiobel's determination and bravery in taking on this corporate Goliath, the past is finally catching up with it," Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International, Audrey Gaughran, said.
"Today is a watershed moment in Esther Kiobel's uphill battle for justice. Shell has to answer for the bloody footprints it left all over Ogoniland," Gaughran added.
The executions were the culmination of a brutal campaign by Nigeria's military to silence the protests of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by Ken Saro-Wiwa.
In January 1993, MOSOP declared that Shell was no longer welcome to operate in Ogoniland.
The military authorities responded to the MOSOP protests with force, committing numerous serious human rights violations including killings, torture and rape.
"Shell encouraged the government to stop Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP, knowing this was highly likely to result in human rights violations being committed against them. Shell had plenty of evidence that the Nigerian military was responding to the Ogoniland protests with abuse," Gaughran said.
Amnesty also alleged that just weeks before the men were arrested the Chairperson of Shell Nigeria had met with then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, and raised "the problem of the Ogonis and Ken Saro-Wiwa".
According to the human rights watchdog, this was not the first time Shell had engaged with military and security forces to frame the Ogoni protests as a "problem".
Shell was also said to have repeatedly reminded the authorities of the economic impact of the MOSOP protests.
"Shell was reckless in raising Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP as a problem, significantly exacerbating the risk to Saro-Wiwa and those linked to MOSOP. Shell knew full well that the government regularly violated the rights of those linked to MOSOP and that it had targeted Saro-Wiwa," Gaughran added.
Esther Kiobel brought a civil case along with Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, whose husbands were executed along with Barinem Kiobel.
The claimants are demanding damages for harm caused by Shell's unlawful actions, and a public apology for the role that Shell played in the events leading to the deaths of their husbands.
But in a swift response to Amnesty's claims, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) denied the alleged complicity in the executions of the Ogoni nine, adding that it had appealed to the then military regime to grant amnesty to the convicts.
A spokesman for the company, Bamidele Odugbesan said yesterday that the company was shocked that its appeal and the appeals made by many others within and outside Nigeria, were rejected by the military government.
"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 that were carried out by the military government in power at the time," he said.
"We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news of the executions. SPDC appealed to the Nigerian government to grant clemency. To our deep regret, that appeal, and the appeals made by many others within and outside Nigeria, went unheard," he added.
Shell said that support for human rights, in line with the legitimate role of business, is fundamental to its core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people, stressing that the evidence will show clearly that it was not responsible for these tragic events.
"SPDC has not had an opportunity to review the full report produced by Amnesty International but based on a summary of its findings made available to us, the Amnesty allegations against Royal Dutch Shell and SPDC are false and without merit.
"SPDC did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria. In fact, the company believes that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes," the Shell spokesman added.