By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Spurred by reports of killings and other human rights abuses, a group of House members is asking for a congressional investigation into the operations of Chevron in Nigeria.
In a March 5 letter sent to Benjamin A. Gilman, who chairs the House International Relations Committee, representatives Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Cynthia McKinney, and Donald Payne said, "We now have information that . . . violence against civilians was committed with the knowledge and direct complicity of one of our nation's largest multinational corporations, Chevron. . . ."
According to their letter, Chevron officials conceded in a meeting with Kucinich that the company requested troops on May 28, 1998, after more than 100 demonstrators refused to leave an oil-drilling platform in the Niger delta, located in the resource-rich but desperately poor southern part of the country. Delta residents have been demanding a fair share of the oil wealth, an end to environmental destruction, and control of their homelands.
The demonstrators were unarmed youths and the company allegedly transported Nigerian troops to the platform aboard Chevron choppers, accompanied by Chevron's chief of security. According to the House members' letter, Chevron admitted that two youths were shot and killed, but claimed that their deaths occurred after they tried to disarm the troops. The bodies allegedly were held by the company for a month while it negotiated with the families over compensation. Although Chevron provided burial expenses, it did not admit fault.
In another incident noted in the letter, on January 4 of this year, Chevron confirmed reports that it had provided choppers, boats, and other hardware used by Nigerian security forces to attack the villages of Opia and Ikiyan, where civilians were murdered. An eyewitness account of an attack on January 2, released by Human Rights Watch, described how a soldier "used his knife to cut off the bottom of [the local chief's] ear," adding, "The soldier took it and told him he should eat it."
According to Human Rights Watch, another witness told of seeing a Chevron chopper flying low, opening fire on civilians, followed by the arrival of Chevron boats loaded with soldiers, who raked civilians with machine-gun fire. "In conversation with Congressman Kucinich," the letter states, "Chevron officials claimed this incident took place following a confrontation between armed villagers and security personnel at one of their oil rigs. They also claimed that their helicopters were commandeered by the military."
In its own letter to Gilman, Chevron said its employees had been held hostage by intimidating protesters, and added that the company does not own boats or helicopters in the delta, although its partner, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation a government company makes use of "the Joint Venture's leased equipment for purposes deemed necessary." The company said it deplored violence, feared the kidnapping of its own employees, and was committed to "mutually beneficial relationships with all of the communities in which we have operations."
Gilman told Kucinich and his group that full committee hearings are out of the question, although they were welcome to try to persuade subcommittees to open an inquiry. Undeterred, Kucinich promises that if the House committee refuses to act, he will conduct unofficial hearings to look into possible criminal activities by Chevron.
Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu