environmental lawyer and founder of Environmental Rights Action.
director, Project Underground, a human rights organization specializing in supporting communities threatened by mining and oil operations.
Throughout the year, the Niger Delta has been the scene of conflict between local people and the oil multinationals. Big oil companies are responsible for widespread environmental destruction in the Delta region. Residents in the Delta who have been outspoken against the oil companies have been the victims of extreme repression at the hands of the Nigerian government. Project Underground is organizing demonstrations this week outside of Chevron’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco. On Monday, high school students demonstrated; tomorrow, a broad coalition will hold a demonstration in protest of Chevron’s activities in the Niger Delta. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Danny Kennedy, who is the—one of the organizers at Project Underground, which is a group in Berkeley, California, that particularly focuses on oil corporations and is having a series of protests this week in front of Chevron’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco—on Monday, high school students demonstrating; today, a broad coalition holding a demonstration in protest of Chevron’s activities in the Niger Delta.
Throughout the year, the Niger Delta has been the scene of conflict between local people and the oil multinationals. Big oil companies are responsible for widespread environmental destruction in the Delta region. Residents in the Delta who have been outspoken against the oil companies have been the victims of extreme repression at the hands of the Nigerian government. Project Underground is organizing demonstrations this week outside of Chevron’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco. On Monday, high school students demonstrated. Tomorrow, Thursday, at noon, in San Francisco, on Montgomery Street Station, there’s going to be a protest, as well.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rob Weissman—welcome to Democracy Now!, Danny Kennedy.
DANNY KENNEDY: Thank you, Amy. And glad to hear that Chevron has made the notorious top 10 of Rob Weissman and co.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us why you’re choosing to protest this week.
DANNY KENNEDY: Well, because of Chevron’s insistence on persisting with business in Nigeria. As you’ve reported on Democracy Now!, Chevron is standing directly behind the barrel of a gun, which at this time is being pointed at the heads of young Ijaw men and women who are nonviolently protesting the impact of oil in their territory, which is a large part of the Niger Delta. And we are demanding, and have been demanding, along with people all around the world, that Chevron and the other companies there suspend their operations in the Niger Delta, step away from behind the barrel of the gun, and start a meaningful dialogue with the communities in the Niger Delta, particularly the Ijaw, who are demanding it at this time, and that they should cease operations until a real resolution has been made with these people.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Kennedy, I want to find out from you what exactly you’re doing at the protest—again, Chevron headquarters at 575 Market Street and 2nd in San Francisco—where you’re going to be protesting tomorrow. But I wanted to go back to the tape of the conversation I had last night with Oronto Douglas in the Niger Delta, in Port Harcourt, to find out just what Chevron has done now, this happening just a few weeks ago. I ask Oronto Douglas, who is an environmental attorney, head of Chicoco, the pan-Delta resistance movement, and founder of Environmental Rights Action, to explain what he understood happened.
ORONTO DOUGLAS: Yes, on the 4th of January, 1999, Chevron hired two helicopters, together with some boats, and they invaded two communities—Opia and Ikenyan—and the town was razed. So, several key persons were killed. On the last count, we have a list of 10 persons that have been killed and a lot of refugees who have fled their homes into the forest and the bushes. And the situation is such that people live in fear that the—the fact that [inaudible] that were taken away are being tortured. Chevron has confirmed, of course, that they order the helicopters. And I spoke to some persons in the diplomatic community, the U.S. embassy, and they said it was a mistake on the part of Chevron to have been involved in such a situation.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that Chevron was involved, that they were Chevron helicopters or Chevron leased helicopters?
ORONTO DOUGLAS: Very clear. They leased the helicopters. They have confirmed they leased the helicopters. They have not denied it on the pages of newspapers, as has been published. And the mere fact that they cannot—they didn’t deny and the fact that we have incontrovertible evidence from both the diplomatic community and also from sources within Chevron, it is all clear that this oil company is out to support violence and brutalization rather than dialogue and discussion.
AMY GOODMAN: Oronto Douglas, we know that Chevron has done this in the past. In May, when villagers were protesting, and they had gone onto a barge that was at an offshore drilling site of Chevron, Chevron flew in the Nigerian navy and the mobile police. We documented this. Chevron was forced to admit it. And the military opened fire, killing two of the protesters and critically wounding a third. But why was it in their interest this time, in January, to do this?
ORONTO DOUGLAS: It is in their strategic interest to assure that they are constantly on the ground. The whole agenda here is profit. It is in their interest to create disunity and discord, so that they can continue to put out oil. I don’t really—I cannot appreciate why a company should be out for violence. The other time, they were in a larger area, and they shot down two—they shot two youths, defenseless youths, out on their Parabe facility. Before the Parabe incident, of course, Chevron was involved in killing Gidikumo Sule in the Warri area, where they also paid the burial expenses to bury Gidikumo Sule. And this return of violence, this return of collaborating with the military dictatorship is to show that they are in charge and they believe—and I am convinced that they have convinced themselves—that violence is the option through which they can continue to pump oil, rather than discussing with local people and having to look at other means of peaceful coexistence with everybody.
AMY GOODMAN: Oronto, this time, just a few weeks ago, can you explain what the Nigerian military did that was flown in by Chevron’s helicopters into the Niger Delta?
ORONTO DOUGLAS: What we gathered—because I have not visited the villages myself, my colleagues have done so—was that they—when the helicopters came, they had to land in neighboring communities and discharge its soldiers, who then went in speedboat into those communities and began the attack on them. And when they finished, the boats now took them to where the helicopters were, and then they flew away. This is very sad, because in a very volatile region of the Niger Delta, where the oil companies and the military dictatorship want the region to be volatile, I think that it is very unjust, in view of the revelation that they are—they will continue to do what they are doing, that they should be perpetrating the same kind of injustice that people have condemned them on. It’s like a situation where, "Look, I don’t care; I will go on this murderous mission. I don’t care; I will take oil out, as long as I can do so, and I don’t mind whatever the international community or the American people say." That is their attitude now, and this is very sad.
AMY GOODMAN: And that is Oronto Douglas, human rights lawyer, environmental activist, speaking to us from Port Harcourt in Nigeria, in the Niger Delta. On the phone with us from Berkeley, California, is Danny Kennedy, who is with Project Underground.
I do want to say, I invited Chevron on today to join us, to find out why, once again, Chevron has flown in the Nigerian military. They would not come on the program. And, by the way, they also will no longer respond to Human Rights Watch. They sent them a letter saying they would not talk to them or respond to their questions about human rights in Nigeria anymore. But they did send us a letter, this from Fred Gorell. And it says, "We share the students’ concerns about recent events in Nigeria. We are saddened by the unrest that has at times included violence. We are hopeful a peaceful solution will be reached. We are encouraged by reports the new government appreciates the needs of Niger Delta communities." Chevron went on to write, "Chevron is a 40 percent partner with the National Petroleum Company, which owns a majority interest in our joint exploration and production partnership. The majority partner can and has used assets such as helicopters and boats for local law enforcement and other uses not directly associated with oil exploration and production. As such, it is not accurate to refer to Chevron helicopters or Chevron boats when referring to those assets when used beyond the bounds of Chevron’s authority or control."
I just want to say that having come from Nigeria a few months ago and speaking with the spokesperson for Chevron in Lagos in an extended, two-and-a-half-hour interview, Sola Omole, the spokesperson, did tell us in May Chevron did fly in the Nigerian navy and the feared mobile police to their oil-drilling platform, where the navy and police killed two protesters and wounded a third. They flew them in in Chevron-leased helicopters. Danny Kennedy, what’s your response to this excerpt of the letter from Chevron?
DANNY KENNEDY: I think it’s a crazy case of splitting hairs. Cheveron is clearly acknowledging that what is being reported from Nigeria—the allegations of their involvement with boats and helicopters, providing military assistance in the recent melee and bloodbath, and then the report that you carried back from Nigeria from May last year that Chevron had done it before—shows that Chevron is heavily involved in supporting the armed forces. And for them to say that it’s simply their Nigerian subsidiary in partnership with the Nigerian national company is not to distance themselves from it at all. In fact, it’s just a clever legalistic-sounding ruse to try and separate themselves from some liability. But the fact of the matter is, as we increase public awareness of their direct involvement in these killings, people will turn away from Chevron in droves.
And what we’re saying to the friend who wrote the letter and to Mr. Kenneth Derr, the chief executive officer of Chevron, tomorrow at our protest at their headquarters is we won’t tolerate this anymore, that American corporations have to do better than simply trying to distance themselves by such a sleight of hand as to say that they’re simply the minor joint venture partner in such a bloodbath. You know, really, we believe that the workers of Chevron, the employees here in San Francisco who do the kind of executive functions of the massive corporation that is Chevron, are probably disgusted with the fact that they have blood on their hands, proverbially, through their direct involvement in these killings in Nigeria. And we’re trying to support them in seeking the decision to make change in Nigeria by the upper echelons of the company. We believe that Kenneth Derr himself, the chief executive officer, can make one phone call to Chevron Nigeria to say, "Pull out until such time that there is peace in the Delta, that the government is no longer killing nonviolent protesters, and that there is a meaningful discourse about the future of oil production and the Niger Delta itself." And that is the only decent thing for an American corporation to do that claims to respect human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you gotten a chance to meet with Ken Derr, the CEO of Chevron, the largest corporation headquartered in California?
DANNY KENNEDY: No. Like you, like Human Rights Watch, as you mentioned, Ken Derr and the friends at Chevron are stonewalling us and everyone that is raising these issues. Chevron very successfully avoided the sort of scrutiny which Royal Dutch Shell received over its involvement in Nigeria, particularly around the organizing of the Ogoni in '94, ’95. But now, as we see an almost identical rerun played out on a larger stage in the Ijaw territory, as Oronto Douglas described, Chevron is the villain in the piece, no doubt. They have clearly been supporting these military wasting operations in the last few weeks. And we've been calling on them to talk to us, to talk to the community, to talk to anyone. Instead, we get this wall of silence. But as they say in legal terms, also silence is consent. And right now, you know, the good news is that we’ve been haranguing them here on the streets of San Francisco. Clearly, the people of the Niger Delta, and particularly the Ijaw, are organizing to press their demands over and over and over.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Kennedy, we do have to go, but I wanted to give you a chance to give out the phone number of Project Underground, if people want to get more information.
DANNY KENNEDY: It’s in the 510 area code: (510) 705-8981. Or they can check our website, www.moles.org, M-O-L-E-S.org.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you very much, Danny Kennedy, speaking to us from Project Underground. That does it for today’s program. Tomorrow, a protest in front of Chevron headquarters in San Francisco.