By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
In the weeks after Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots were sentenced to death, the international campaign fighting for their lives implored Shell to take a public stand. Shell did nothing, thus signaling the Nigerian dictatorship run by General Sani Abacha that it was safe to proceed.
Right after the execution, Randall Robinson of TransAfrica sent a letter to Bill Clinton calling for fierce U.S. sanctions against Nigeria. The U.S. buys nearly half of Nigeria's oil exports (oil revenues provide 80 percent of the nation's budget) and could thus cripple the regime if it led an oil embargo. But the administration responded with only token sanctions, involving delays in some arms sales and a scolding of the country's diplomats.
Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Representative Donald Payne of New Jersey denounced this as inadequate and introduced a bill in Congress calling for a full embargo. The administration was horrified. "There's plenty of oil [available on world markets]," said one U.S. government official in an off-the-record talk. "But there's only so much Bonney Light." He was referring to Nigeria's coveted sweet crude oil, which is extremely pure and economical to refine.
At this moment, pressure from Jackson would have counted for something. But he remained silent. His fellow Chicagoans, Senator Carole Moseley-Braun and Louis Farrakhan, went off to Nigeria under the supervision of U.S. lobbyists retained by General Abacha for more than $10 million. One of the key firms hired by the Nigerian regime was Symms, Lehn and Associates, headed by former Idaho senator Steve Symms. Another key player was Shell's lobbyist Tommy Hale Boggs, brother of news diva Cokie Roberts and a Clinton golfing pal. Using a PR strategy developed by these firms, Nigeria began a nationwide advertising blitz that included full-page ads in The New York Times implying that Saro-Wiwa was a terrorist and that the environmental problems of oil drilling in Nigeria had been cured.
Meanwhile, Moseley-Braun and Farrakhan returned from their Nigerian "fact-finding" mission saying that an embargo would be premature and counterproductive. Moseley-Braun testified in the Senate against the embargo bill, and told colleagues (falsely, it turns out) that the Congressional Black Caucus was evenly split on the issue. Randall Robinson then revealed that he personally had rejected an attempted bribe of $1 million by Abacha's operatives to change his position. "Oil money makes a huge difference," he said, "because it puts spunk in the spine of your enemy."
An unpublicized part of the anti-embargo campaign was the intense lobbying effort by American oil companies, including Mobil, Amoco, Chevron, and Texaco, which are planning a $4 billion natural gas project in Nigeria. As a result of all these pressures, the Kassebaum/Payne bill never even got out of committee. This came as a disappointment but not a surprise to Ken Saro-Wiwa's brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa, who has recently filed a multi-million dollar suit against Shell, charging it with crimes against the environment and human rights. "The evil alliance between Shell and the military dictatorship could only have been broken by an international embargo," Wiwa said. "Oil is the only thing that keeps the regime in power." Today, 18 other Ogoni activists await execution for their efforts to drive Shell Oil Company from their homeland. The Clinton administration remains silent.