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It is time to move on
This op-ed was published 11 June 2009 in The Guardian.
It is time to move on
This week’s settlement is not so much about an ending. I hope rather it is the start of something new for the Ogoni people as well as for Shell in Nigeria. Settling out of court was not a comfortable or soft option. We wanted an opportunity to prove our innocence and we were ready to go to court.
We knew the charges against us were not true. And we were confident that the evidence would have shown this - that Shell was not responsible for the tragic events of 10 November 1995. The execution of nine leaders of the Ogoni tribe shocked us all. And we wanted others to see and understand that too.
I am aware that settlement may - to some - suggest Shell is guilty and trying to escape justice. Some newspapers have leapt to that conclusion. But we felt we had to move on. A court hearing would have dragged us backward, dug up old feuds and painful memories, not only for the plaintiffs but for many others who has been caught up in the violence. In a way this 13-year-old lawsuit has always been a bitter legacy, potentially undermining any reconciliation initiative, even among the Ogoni people themselves. When the judge, through the court mediation process, asked us to consider making a humanitarian gesture to settle the case, we saw an opportunity to help banish this legacy and advance the process of reconciliation and support a better future for Ogonis - in a way that winning in court may not have done. As Shell’s country chairman in Nigeria, Basil Omiyi, said to me, this was a way of drawing a line under the past. Not forgetting it, but placing it in context and helping us all get on with our lives.
He’s right. There is a generation of Ogoni people who have grown up in the shadow of the violent events of the 1990s. Most are looking for peace. Shell is looking for peace. Not because we want to go back to produce oil and gas in Ogoni land. But because we live and work in the Niger Delta too where 25,000 Nigerian families depend on our operations for their livelihoods – and where we want good relations with all our neighbours.
What does a humanitarian settlement look like? My concern was the thousands who suffered during the violence and turmoil in the 1990s, not just the 10 plaintiffs. This made a trust fund a good option to benefit all Ogoni people. And there was no single view in Ogoni land about this court case, about Shell or Ken Saro Wiwa. There are many factions who disagree. We had to seek an approach to help everyone move forward together.
The trust fund will hopefully contribute to development in Ogoni land. It will support local initiatives in education and agriculture, small businesses and literacy. It is independent of Shell and the plaintiffs. The trustees will be responsible for ensuring funds reach the greatest places
of need. I hope it can make a difference where it matters.
We have continued community investment in Ogoni land, despite the fact we have not produced any oil there for 16 years. Shell-run companies in Nigeria contributed $240m in 2008 in Niger Delta community projects. And of course our major contribution remains to run a decent business there from which 95% of revenues pass to the Nigerian government in one way or another.
So this was not about lawyers winning or losing. Or Shell winning or losing. Our decision was aimed at helping different factions to talk more effectively to each other and to Shell - and to help move along the vital reconciliation process. We are supporting a UN-led survey of Ogoni land to meet environmental concerns. We have promised to clear up any damage from oil spills - whatever their cause.
Ultimately I hope to see oil being produced in Ogoni land again one day. This time bringing economic opportunity and better livelihoods, not bloodshed.
Malcolm Brinded is executive director for exploration and production at Royal Dutch Shell