By Hamilton Nwosa with Agency reports
Twenty-four years after the execution of eminent writer, environmentalist and president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa, by the military regime of late General Sani Abacha, a document just released by the United Kingdom(UK) government reveal that both the United States and the UK had considered a navy-backed oil embargo against Nigeria.
Recall that the world-acclaimed activist, Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight other campaigners from the Ogoni nation in the Niger Delta region were hanged on 10 November 1995 by the dictatorial regime of late General Abacha, a move which sparked global condemnation culminating in Nigeria’s isolation by the international community.
Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight others had been tried by a secret military tribunal for alleged murder of four Ogoni chiefs by a mob in Ogoni land. Though, Saro-Wiwa, the iconic writer and the eight others denied the charge, they were nonetheless sentenced by the secret military tribunal. Saro-Wiwa who was an inspiring leader in the struggle for the rights of the Niger Delta people especially the Ogoni people had led mass protests against oil pollution in Ogoniland. The protests were, however perceived as threat to Nigeria’s military Head of State at the time, Gen Abacha, and oil giant Shell.
The global community reacted very swiftly to the execution of Saro-wiwa. Nigeria was consequently suspended from the Commonwealth. The UK’s Prime Minister at that time, John Major, described the trial of Saro-Wiwa as a “fraudulent trial” and described the executions as “judicial murder”. BBC reports monitored this morning by The New Diplomat which show“ notes of a meeting between Mr Major and US President Bill Clinton, nearly three weeks after the executions, show the steps the leaders contemplated to isolate Nigeria. The two men met while Mr Clinton was on a visit to the UK.”
According to the BBC report “ the UK believed that an oil embargo would “only be effective” if done through the UN Security Council and “could only be made to work by a naval blockade”. Such steps would result in “wrecking Nigeria’s economy” as the country was and is still heavily reliant on oil exports as major source of her foreign exchange earnings. In fact, Oil revenue accounts for about 98% of our external earning. We present these revelations contained in notes of the meeting between then US president Bill Clinton and then UK PM, Mr John Major below as captured by the BBC:
‘Sycophants surround Abacha’
“Mr Clinton agreed, but said the US would only implement an embargo if “all other parties” were willing to do so, pointing out that sanctions would be vetoed by China if brought before the UN Security Council. There had been pleas from across the world for Nigeria’s military leader at the time, Sani Abacha, to exercise clemency, but Western governments had struggled to reach the leader.
Mr Clinton’s special envoy to Nigeria, Donald T McHenry, had been unable to see Abacha and concluded that he was “almost wholly insulated from the outside world” and “information was filtered by sycophants: they had no idea of genuine opinion within Nigeria or internationally”.
Media caption PM John Major: The executions were judicial murder The hanging of the Ogoni campaigners took place just as Commonwealth heads of state were meeting in New Zealand for their biennial gathering.
The UK issued a statement condemning the executions, but it was South African President Nelson Mandela who led the international criticism. He called for Nigeria to be suspended from the Commonwealth “at once” and that the suspension should not be lifted until the country had shown “much quicker” progress in returning from military to civilian rule. All political prisoners should be released, he argued. In this, Mandela was backed by his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, but the suggestion was criticised by a number of other African leaders, including Ghana’s President Jerry Rawlings.
The Commonwealth went ahead with the suspension, but Mandela was determined that the measures should not end there. He continued his international engagement, making phone calls to Mr Clinton and keeping in touch with Mr Major by phone after the Commonwealth summit ended.
In demanding strong action Mandela appeared to have been isolated from the rest of his government. Newspaper reports at the time indicate that then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and the Deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad, had been reluctant to pursue sanctions against Nigeria.
The UK, together with the European Union (EU), took a number of steps. Ambassadors to Nigeria were recalled, military training and aid were suspended and an EU-wide arms embargo was instituted. While Mr Major was willing to consider wider economic sanctions, he was unwilling to do so alone. The UK accounted for just 1% of Nigeria’s oil exports, while the US took 40%. As a result, Mr Major told Mr Clinton, “we were not well placed to press for [sanctions]”. The UK also had a good deal to lose if Nigeria retaliated.
Pressure from Shell
There was a considerable British expatriate community in Nigeria and UK investments in the country totalled between $3.9bn and $6.5bn (£3bn and £5bn). This included Shell, which extracted half of the country’s oil and was contemplating building a major natural gas project.
The Shell chairman at the time, Cornelius Herkströter, wrote to Mr Major at the height of the controversy, pointing out just how important these investments were. He argued that the gas liquefaction plant would “make a major contribution to environmental improvement in the region” since it would reduce the need for the flaring of gas. In the end, the problem of getting UN Security Council approval for an oil embargo appeared to have blocked progress on wider sanctions. Nigeria was only re-admitted to the Commonwealth in May 1999, on the day on which the country’s new civilian government assumed power – ending three-and-a-half years of isolation.”