Ken Saro-Wiwa 20 years on: Niger Delta still blighted by oil spills

Story highlights

  • Oil pollution remains a huge problem in the Niger Delta
  • Amnesty says oil companies are not restoring land affected by oil spills

Mark Dummett is a Business and Human Rights researcher at Amnesty International. He writes for CNN on the 20-year anniversary of writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa's execution. Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists led the movement against Shell's activities in the Niger Delta and were executed by the military in November 1995. The views presented here are Dummett's own and do not reflect those of CNN.

(CNN)The sad truth is that twenty years after the execution of writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigeria's oil producing region remains a blighted land.

There are hundreds of oil spills in the Niger Delta every year and Shell and the other oil companies operating there are still not doing enough to either prevent spills, or clean them up. The impact on the hundreds of thousands of people unfortunate enough to live next to the oil wells and pipelines where spills occur is catastrophic.
    Shell, the largest operator, likes to blame local communities for the pollution, accusing them of cutting open the pipelines to steal oil. This is indeed a problem, but Shell overstates the issue to deflect criticism of its own failings, such as the poor state of its pipelines, and its terrible record on clean-up.
    Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged by the country's military regime after a grossly unfair and politically motivated trial, wrote that oil pollution had turned the Niger Delta into an "ecological disaster."
    His claim -- described by some at the time as an exaggeration - was vindicated in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme. Its researchers found that the people of Ogoniland, Saro-Wiwa's homeland, had "lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives." This pollution had contaminated the fields where they grew food, the water where they fished and the wells from which they drank.
    Amnesty International campaigns for a proper clean-up of the Niger Delta because of this clear link between the oil pollution and the impact it has on the health and the livelihoods, and therefore the human rights, of the people living there.