MANHATTAN (CN) - Three Nigerian widows say Shell Petroleum and its African subsidiaries conspired with each other and with Nigeria's military government "to violate basic human rights ... so as to ensure their continued enjoyment of disproportionately huge profit from very cheap oil they obtained from the Ogoniland," a 400-square-mile section of the Niger Delta.
The widows say their husbands, members of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), were part of "the Ogoni 9, who were falsely accused of murdering tribal elders.
"Although none of the Ogoni 9 was near the town where the murder of the four tribal elders took place, they were convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that was widely condemned locally and internationally and resulted in the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations. The Ogoni 9 were denied appeal process and were hurriedly executed by hanging eight days after the decision in spite of national and international pleas," the complaint states.
"The lawyers for the plaintiffs and the other Ogoni 9 were harassed, threatened and denied access to their clients and as a result most of them withdrew their representation in protest and their clients had to face the rigged tribunal themselves."
That Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC) "had a firm hold and control of the Nigerian government is undisputable as defendant Royal Dutch/Shell with and through defendant SPDC produces about half the oil and gas that constitute about 80 percent of Nigerian government's annual revenue," the complaint states.
"It is equally clear that defendants recklessly and heartlessly exploited this relationship with the Nigerian government to amass enormous annual profits at the expense of the Nigerians and the Ogoni people in particular."
Shell began drilling in the Niger Delta in 1958, and since then "it had acquired land for oil drilling unfairly, dubiously and fraudulently from indigenes and built pipelines across the farmland and through the yards and in front of the homes of indigenes thereby ... exposing the indigenes to heightened daily danger," according to the complaint.
"Hydrocarbon pollution found in water in Ogoniland is reported to be more than sixty times of that allowed in the U.S. and a[t] 360 times the limit in the European community."
The complaint adds: "The conspiracy that exist[s] among defendants and between defendants and the Nigerian government make it possible for defendant SPDC to hijack for the exploration and extraction of oil and gas, very scarce land from the indigenes of Ogoni communities and pay the indigenes sums that are far below value of the land.
"The defendants in step with the Nigerian government orchestrates a repressive and hopeless atmosphere in the Ogoniland and makes the prospect of meaningful living and subsistence in the Ogoniland impossible and as a result undermined the value of all that is of the Ogonis and their otherwise scarce and very valuable real estate."
Since MOSOP was organized in the early 1990's, Shell has used the mobile police, "the paramilitary branch of the Nigerian police ... commonly referred to as 'kill and go' for their reputation of killing innocent people and walking away" to quell protests, the widows say.
The Ogoni people suffered repeated attacks in 1993, including one "against Ogoni villages near the Andoni border by armed troops who usually operated in boats belonging to Shell and Chevron ... [in which] over one thousand (1,000) villagers were killed and twenty thousand (25,000) [sic] rendered homeless," according to the complaint.
It adds: "As SPDC intensified its attacks with the help of Nigerian Security Forces against Ogoni communities, SPDC coordinated [a] media campaign by Royal Dutch/Shell that denigrates and attempts to discredit MOSOP leaders by blaming MOSOP and its leaders for the heinous crimes committed in Ogoniland."
The vilification of the plaintiffs included pinning the killing of four Ogoni tribal elders on them in May 1994, leading to their arrest, torture and "obtaining false testimonies by bribing at least two witnesses to implicate MOSOP leadership ... and having the Nigerian Military Government falsely charging the MOSOP leaders for murder," the complaint states.
After their husbands were executed, the widows say, "two or more of the witnesses that testified at the trial against the MOSOP leaders later admitted in the presence of Shell's attorney that Shell and the Nigerian Military junta bribed them to give false testimonies with promises of money and jobs at Shell."
The widows say the attack on the elders was actually carried out by Lt. Col. Paul Okutimo, who was seen days before the murder "receiving seven large bags of money ... that ... were so heavy that one of them fell, broke open and [spilled] bundles of money ... all over the ground."
The plaintiffs, suing as individuals and as administrators of their husbands' estates, seek compensatory and punitive damages for RICO violations, human rights violations, emotional distress, conspiracy, assault, torture and wrongful death.
The widows - Victoria Bera, Blessing Nkem Nordu Eawo and Vureka Charity Paul Levula - are represented by Francis Kadiri and Alaba Rufai.
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