When called to account for its lack of direct involvement and intervention in Nigeria, especially in the wake of the politically and financially motivated killing of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, Shell ran full page ads in major publications such as the New York Times to defend its non-action. The reason was a seemingly altruistic and simple one, that it is not befitting for a commercial company to interfere in the politics and the rightful jurisdiction of governments (p.
66). The company further postulated that “the world where companies use their economic influence to prop up or bring down governments would be a frightening and bleak one indeed” (p. 66). Shell was masterfully employing its spin-doctor expertise to protect its own less-than-noble motives in this ravaged nation, with Nigeria as the ironic victim of an internecine conspiracy perpetuated by her own greedy warlords. Both the political and social situation in Nigeria is dire.
The commonfolk are oppressed and live in squalor, again painfully ironic considering just how rich and blessed the land was in her earlier years in this century. The extensive oil exploration and eventual access to the source of oil not only caused a physical blemish on the face of the earth, it stained everything that came into contact with it. The air was bad, the land dotted with pipes, significant spillage abounded, and everything looked bleak.
However, the real damage was in the conscience and consciousness of the people, from the tyranny of the perpetrators of power and the murderers of those who went against them, to the greed and heavy regard for material wealth by the ruling elite and their goons, and also to the Shell executives who can disregard their involvement in hastening the demise of a people and exploitation at once both moral and monetary in nature. There is simply no justification or rationalization that will reduce the severity of the intransigence on the part of Shell in the intricacies of its dealings with Nigeria and her people.
Is there reason for Shell not to be involved? On the surface, it would appear that Shell has a valid excuse; that government and corporations should never mix, and that to be involved that way would be a serious compromise and blur the lines between autonomy and decency, both political and corporate. However, this is no longer a position from which Shell can hide behind. For years, she had been oiling the pockets and hands of the political and military elite who, once their desires and lusts are well-lubricated, allowed Shell to be the instrument of choice in the exploitation and cherry picking of their land and people.
Shell gladly positioned herself to play the role with aplomb, and was almost certainly, if not outright, furthering her advances and deepening her profits, while rewarding Nigeria’s ruling class with luxuries at the open expense of the latter’s people. Shell has lost her moral license, and therefore cannot use this excuse to defend her studied indifference to the chaos and calamity that befell Nigeria surrounding the arrest and execution of cause-celebre Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Shell was hard-pressed to do something, anything, to boost her image and public relations. She therefore employed defensive tactics that at once denounced the charges against her, shed a few tears on the public stage to proclaim her innocence and inability to interfere, and used some money to pay off the likelihood of further protests. That speaks volumes about her intent to hide the reality of the situation, and it appears that in a fuel-obsessed world, she may have the upper hand yet.