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More than a decade after the death of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa Niger Delta’s ethnic groups continue to pay the high cost of oil extraction

10 November 2006

As a memorial is unveiled in London to executed Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the living conditions of the people whose cause he championed have worsened, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says.

In November 1995, news that Saro-Wiwa and 8 other activists had been executed by Nigeria’s then military junta, drew international attention to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta, a region of 20 million people which takes its name from the Niger River basin in the south of the country.

Despite the immense oil wealth in the region, the Ogoni and some 40 other ethnic groups live in extreme poverty, amid environmental pollution caused by oil extraction.

Lazarus Tamana of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) says “A real memorial would have been a drastic change in the lives of the Ogoni people, but things are only getting worse for them”. Finding themselves under considerable international pressure following the executions the Nigerian government and Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, which operates in the Niger Delta, agreed to make payments to local communities via traditional leadership positions.

The seeds of conflict were sown as contenders to these highly sought-after traditional titles recruited local youths to wage violent battles. A thriving black market trade in stolen crude oil has fuelled the violence even further – violence made even more deadly due to the high proliferation of small arms.

“Young boys are given weapons and they go around terrorizing communities. The people are terrified” Tamana says.

Shell has recently set up a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to channel funding into community development projects in the Niger Delta. However, MRG believes the project has had only limited value – despite UNDP’s own positive assessment. Oil spills and leaking pipelines continue to pollute rivers and streams and children play in the shadow of huge gas flares that contaminate the air with lethal benzenes and contribute to greenhouse gases.

Samia Khan, Head of Programmes at MRG says, “It is shocking that despite the billions of dollars of oil wealth, families live in such squalor. If Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni activists are not to have died in vain, the Nigerian government and Shell must be held accountable to the people of the Niger Delta. They should be the real beneficiaries of this immense natural resource”.

Notes to editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa was a senior official in the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People at the time of his execution.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].