In what is clearly a landmark settlement, multinational oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, on Tuesday agreed to pay a settlement of $15.5 Million (N3 billion) over the killing of novelist and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni leaders.
Mr. Saro-Wiwa was sentenced to death by hanging by a military tribunal set up by late dictator, Sani Abacha, in 2005.
Shell agreed to the settlement a day before a federal court in New York, United States, was about to rule on a case that Shell collaborated with the Nigerian government in the execution of the Ogoni Nine, as the executed community leaders were referred to in the media.
The payout is one of the largest by a multinational corporation for a human rights related case, the Guardian of London said.
The settlement marks the end of a 14-year struggle to hold Shell accountable for its involvement in the tragic death of the activists.
Human rights experts said the scale of the settlement would have far-reaching effect in making multinational corporations accountable for their social and environmental deeds.
The plaintiffs had accused Shell of working with the Nigerian military in the torture and persecution of Ogoni people.
The company was alleged to have provided the Nigerian army with vehicles, patrol boats and ammunition, and to have assisted in the raids and terror campaigns against villages.
The family of the executed men and representatives of Shell reached the settlement after three weeks of rigorous negotiations.
However, the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, Shell Development Company continues to dismiss all claims of its culpability in the killing of the activists and the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta.
Similarly, the Nigerian government is yet to acknowledge any wrong doing in the killing of the men, 20 years after they were hanged.
In September, the Nigerian customs seized a memorial bus donated to the Ogoni people for having “political value”.
“This was one of the first cases to charge a multinational corporation with human rights violations, and this settlement confirms that multinational corporations can no longer act with the impunity they once enjoyed,” said Jennie Green, a lawyer with the Centre for Constitutional Rights who initiated the lawsuit in 1996.
Shell says it agreed to pay the settlement in recognition of the tragedy caused by its involvement in Ogoniland.
“While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people,” Malcolm Brinded, a Shell director, said.
The plaintiffs agreed to set aside $5 million for the creation of an education trust in the Niger Delta called Kiisi , which means progress in Gokana, the language of the Ogoni people.
Proponent of the action said Shell agreed to pay the settlement because it feared that the evidence that would be presented during trial would be damaging to its business interests.
“[Shell] knew the case was overwhelming against them, so they bought their way out of a trial,” Stephen Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International told the Guardian.