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Saro-Wiwa's son: Justice is always hard won

  • Story Highlights
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa's son says Shell payout will let families move on with lives
  • Executed environmental activist's family sued oil company
  • About half of settlement will go to help people of Ogoni region
  • Residents have long complained that Shell was polluting land
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(CNN) -- Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., the son of executed Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, spoke exclusively to CNN's Becky Anderson about Shell's $15.5 million payout to settle a lawsuit accusing the oil giant of complicity in the deaths of Saro-Wiwa and other activists. Following is a transcript of the interview.

Saro-Wiwa said the settlement would allow the families of the victims to draw a line under the past.

Saro-Wiwa said the settlement would allow the families of the victims to draw a line under the past.

Q: What does this settlement mean to you and the other plaintiffs?

A: Well, I think in the end it enables us to draw a line under the past and actually face the future with something tangible, some hope that this is the beginning of a better engagement between all the stakeholders in this issue.

Q: Would your father have been pleased do you think?

A: Yes, I think he was always a pragmatic kind of guy, someone who was always insistent that individuals should serve the collective at every point, and I think this is something that speaks to that.

Q: Why did you settle?

A: Because it offered the opportunity, as I said, to draw a line under the past so that we can move on with our lives and you have to remember there are 10 people involved in this plaintiff, all with varying experiences and aspirations.

So we had to collectively agree what we wanted and engage with the terms and the offer on the table and it was exhaustively debated amongst ourselves, individually and collectively, and with our own attorney, so it was a very, very complicated and convoluted process and it didn't just happen overnight. It's been a long, long time.

Q: According to many experts, environmental abuses continue in Nigeria. Do they?

A: Yes, I think... Look, there's a separate issue; this was a human rights violation case. Already Shell has admitted that there are environmental challenges there and it's committed to doing a study to ascertain what the damages are with a view to remediating the environmental problems there so already that issue has been addressed by a separate forum. But this case was purely about human rights violation.

Q: Is this justice do you think for the Ogoni?

A: Well, for the Ogonis, we were offered this and we felt that this represents some kind of restitution for what we've suffered but more critically I think also it offers a chance for us to face the future and the community to see that. We aren't speaking on behalf of the community, these are just 10 cases.

Q: What does the future hold for the Ogoni people? You say you are not speaking on their behalf but certainly you must have a feeling for them going forward?

A: Yes, I think we're part of that collective... but remember part of the settlement gives the bulk of the settlement to a trust and that trust is going to fund some particular initiatives which are going to be development initiatives decided by Ogoni people themselves. Some of the demands that we wanted in the early 90s in the Ogoni Bill of Rights such as using Ogoni resources for Ogoni development, I think some of the settlement speaks to some of that.

Q: The fund will also, one assumes fund other civil cases?

A: No it won't. It's very specific, the menu of things it can achieve, it seeks to do something very, very specific.

Q: What are the broader implications do you think of this settlement for the oil industry and for multinationals in general, particularly in Nigeria but perhaps we should talk about Africa on a wider scale?

A: It very clearly sets a precedent that corporations have to be very careful when they operate in places like Africa; this sets a precedent that you can be brought to trial in America for violations in Africa... It took 13 years to go through the legal process but clearly before we started this, corporations felt they can almost operate with impunity but now I think the legal landscape has changed.

Q: But it did take nearly 13 years, consequently what sort of precedent does that really set at the end of the days? If people didn't have your effort, as it were to call on?

A: Well, I mean law is always hard won, justice is always hard won. You know unfortunately we were the templates or the precedent if you like and one never knows what impact this will have in the boardroom but certainly the headline issue is that you can't operate with impunity; you can get caught and you will be taken to court and you will have to face a trial.

Q: Why was it filed in New York?

A: Because of the Aliens Tort Claims Act; it's an old piece of legislation which lawyers have been using to bring cases against human rights violations in foreign jurisdictions so there was that opportunity to use that Act because the corporations involved were incorporated in the U.S. and the provisions of ATCA as its called enables aliens to bring American corporations to trial for violations in foreign jurisdictions.

Q: You are currently an advisor to the Nigerian government on international affairs. I'm assuming consequently you know the government and its ministers as well. How will they react to this case?

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A: I think a lot of them privately have been very supportive. They felt that this needs to be done and I think there's also the possibility this sends a message out to the wider Niger Delta that dialogue is important, that it's a way to achieve some of the things that you actually want individually and collectively and I think we need that because of course the messages that we're getting now are very grave messages.

We don't want a situation where violence is rewarded and non-violence is punished. The Ogoni people have always prosecuted their struggle in a non-violent platform and we fervently believe that that's the way to go and the government is committed to dialogue and I think that's where we need to go; all the stakeholders have to come together to find a mutually beneficial arrangement to produce and it just can't be on the terms of the corporations.

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