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On January 4, 1999, Opia and Ikenyan, two small Ijaw communities of around 500 people each in Delta State, Warri North local government area, were attacked by about one hundred armed soldiers using boats and a helicopter contracted to Chevron Nigeria Limited. While the context is different, the incident has some similarities to an incident at Chevron's offshore Parabe Platform in May 1998, in which two youths were killed by navy and mobile police brought to the platform by Chevron.46 The two communities are situated close to each other in the riverine area of Delta State, about two hours by speed boat from Warri, and five or ten minutes by speed boat from each other. Eachcommunity is built on low-lying land edging a creek and surrounded by mangrove forest, with "economic trees," such as mango and coconut palm, interplanted among the houses. Like most houses in the delta, the homes in the villages prior to the attack were built of wood and other local products; there were no brick structures.

Community members described to Human Rights Watch how a helicopter of the kind they are used to seeing flying on Chevron's operations first flew low over Opia: they thought nothing of it, since there are two Chevron wells within one hundred meters of Opia village and a pipeline that runs nearby; but as the helicopter approached the village it started firing down at them. Everyone ran into the bush. After staying about half an hour at Opia, the helicopter flew to nearby Ikenyan and did the same thing. Again, everyone ran into the bush.47

After the helicopter left, people came back to the villages, but a short while later soldiers came first to Opia and then Ikenyan in four boats. Three of these boats were "sea trucks" from a contractor used by Chevron, the fourth was a military boat with a machine gun mounted on it. At each village in turn, as the boats came towards the community the soldiers started firing indiscriminately, killing and wounding possibly dozens of people, including the traditional leader of Ikenyan, Bright Pablogba, who had been approaching the waterside to try to negotiate. Each village was torched by the soldiers before they left, destroying virtually all the houses; canoes were sunk and other property destroyed.

When Human Rights Watch visited both communities, in February 1999, the death toll was still uncertain. Only four bodies had been found, but a woman and her five children fishing from a canoe by Ikenyan village were also presumed dead, since the boat was sunk and they had not returned. Fifteen people from Opia and forty-seven from Ikenyan were still missing: those who still remained in the villages believed that they were dead, and that their bodies had been thrown in the river or taken away—given the isolated position of the two communities it is unlikely that they could have simply fled without anyone knowing. In Opia, which previously had a total of perhaps fifty or sixty houses, we counted forty-six completely destroyed by fire, and others were damaged. In Ikenyan, about fifty homes were destroyed, and only four left standing at one end of the village. Teargas canisters and cartridge cases were still scattered on the ground.

A youth from Opia described what happened:

On January 4 we were here in the village. At about 2-3 p.m. we saw a Chevron helicopter flying by on the other side of the river, and then flying along the route of the pipeline. We thought it was on a Chevron operation because they normally fly that way. By the time it got to us it was flying very low, and then it started firing at us. We were surprised, we didn't know what to do, and we ran into the bush. After thirty minutes or so the helicopter was gone. Then some of the community members came back and were calling to the others to come back from the bush. We were gathered here on the river side and discussing what had happened when we saw Chevron boats coming towards us carrying soldiers. Three were Chevron sea trucks (two numbers were 221 and 242), the ones they normally use, and the other one was a military boat with a machine gun mounted on it. They were full of soldiers, maybe more than one hundred in all. We ran into the bush again but as we were running they started firing, it was so intense I can't describe it, dugu-dugu-dugu-dugu-dugu. As I was running a bullet wounded me on my leg. When we went into the bush we saw fire everywhere in the community, everything burning.

Then we heard the boats leaving, so we came back carefully, crawling to see if it was safe and watching who was around. No one was there, so we called to the others in the bush to come back. We saw two people lying dead on the ground, Kekedu Lawuru, and Timi Okuru, a woman. We started crying, and called to the others to come. But some did not come back: fifteen are missing till today. Maybe the bodies are in the river. About twenty were injured, of which ten or so were from bullet wounds, the rest from branches andstones as they ran into the bush. Almost all the houses were destroyed, burnt to the ground. All our property was destroyed. We had a boat that could carry forty or fifty persons which was sunk in the river. All our canoes were destroyed. We have nothing now, no means of livelihood.

Since then Chevron have not visited or come to their wells which are behind the village. Major Joseph Osadolo from Koko [where soldiers have been posted since the "Warri Crisis" of 1997] came and sympathized with us on January 6—he told us the soldiers who attacked came from the Madagho military base by Chevron's operation at Escravos—and he promised the Military Administrator would come to see what had happened. We were told he would come on January 16, and we all gathered here from the communities where we are refugees, but he only went to the local government headquarters at Koko and did not come here. Up to now nobody has come.48

Right behind Opia community are two Chevron wellheads and a manifold, though they are not yet producing oil. They stand in an inlet from the creek which was created by excavating land, some of which previously supported "economic trees" such as palms, mangos, coconuts, and breadfruit, rather than the surrounding mangrove. In addition, the route for a new pipeline has been cleared, a strip of land about three meters wide, which terminates right before the village. If it were to be continued along its present direction, the pipeline route would have to go through the village: some of the villagers have concluded that the January 4 attack was aimed to clear away the village and allow the pipeline to continue along the most convenient line for Chevron, though Chevron denied this to Human Rights Watch. Others believe that the army might have been acting on behalf of local Itsekiris, a neighboring ethnic group between whom and the Ijaws there has been serious conflict over the last two years, or that the attack was simply revenge from the military for the Kaiama Declaration.

Following the attack, the remaining population of Opia and Ikenyan largely dispersed to other communities, and established a committee to take up their case with the military authorities and with Chevron. They corresponded with Chevron, who replied to them as follows:

Following the ultimatum given on December 11, 1998 to companies operating in the Delta area by the Ijaw youths who gathered at Kaiama in Bayelsa State, Chevron made necessary efforts to evacuate most of its staff working in its swamp locations, including those in and around our Dibi field. These are the closest locations to the two settlements of Ikenyan and Opia. The Searex 4 Rig and other facilities in the area were, however, secured by a contingent of Nigerian government armed forces. These had been posted around the Niger Delta by Government following the general insecurity in the area, a situation which was further heightened by the December 11 publication of the ultimatum by the Kaiama group.

On January 3, 1999, a group of youths from Opia and Ikenyan came to the rig location to demand for money from Chevron, failing which they threatened to forcibly empty the rig. We did not oblige but rather reported the matter to the Military Security detachment. The Security detail promptly told the Ijaw youths that Chevron owed them nothing and they should immediately desist from attempts to extort money from Chevron. They were also told in very strong terms that the security situation in the area made it imperative for them to steer clear of the facility in which the Federal Government has significant interest. These people, we understand, grudgingly left the location only to return the next day in increased numbers and this time fully armed. The report indicates that they engaged the armed forces in a shootout.

From information available to us, it was based on this initial attack that the contingent of security forces requested for reinforcement and made a counterattack on the two camps of Opia and Ikenyan. We do not know of any casualties resulting from these incidents as none of our own security was involved.

It has always been and continues to be our company's policy to have enduring and mutually beneficial relations with communities hosting our operations. Ikenyan and Opia, even though smaller settlements, have not been an exception to this rule. ... 49

Chevron expressed no regret for what had happened, nor any explanation for the use of its equipment, and by mid-February no company representatives had visited the communities since the events of January 4. Members of the community stated to Human Rights Watch that they knew of no altercation at the drilling rig, which was several kilometers away; though they agreed it was possible that youths from other communities might have been involved in such an incident.

On February 17, 1999, community members attended a meeting at the David Ejoor barracks in Warri with both military and Chevron representatives, and there have been several other meetings since then. Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a letter dated March 19 from Chevron Nigeria Ltd to the committee representing the communities, indicating that Chevron had made an offer of compensation to the committee at a meeting on March 5, totaling _500,000 (U.S.$5,500) to each of the communities, plus relief materials. The committee had, according to the letter, turned this offer down and presented documents calling for compensation totaling _120 million ($1.3 million). Chevron stated that the company "completely absolves itself from any responsibility regarding the incident as it was a matter between Federal Government Armed Forces and community militants," but that "despite Chevron's lack of involvement and in line with Chevron's tradition of Care for host communities, we have offered to donate relief materials and some cash as humanitarian assistance and a goodwill gesture."50 Chevron stated that, following the intercession of some prominent chiefs, it had decided to raise the amount of its proposed donation to _750,000 ($8,300) to each community. It is Human Rights Watch's understanding that this offer has also not been accepted.

In a meeting with Human Rights Watch on February 24, 1999, George Kirkland, the managing director of Chevron Nigeria Ltd, and other representatives stated that Chevron had evacuated all its facilities in swamp locations from December 29, 1998. Despite these precautions, seventeen of its staff had been taken hostage in the creeks in Delta State on December 30 (in an incident unrelated to the razing of Opia and Ikenyan); eleven of these were later released; six, all Itsekiris, are presumed dead. Following the evacuation of staff, eight soldiers were left at the Searex drilling rig which was working near Dibi oil field, the closest field to Opia and Ikenyan; according to Chevron, this was a government decision to protect facilities abandoned by oil operators. In addition to the account given in the letter to the community representatives, Chevron stated that the soldiers at the rig had radioed to the Madagho military base for assistance, and that the soldiers at the base had in turn come to Chevron's nearby Escravos facility and demanded use of the helicopters and boats on contract to Chevron. Chevron states that company staff at their facility did not allow the soldiers to take the helicopter and boats for one hour, until the sound of gunfire over the radio had ceased. Kirkland did not believe that Chevron had any right to refuse the soldiers permission to take the equipment; nor any choice, since they would have taken it anyway. Chevron categorically denied that the route for a pipeline would go through the community.

Chevron director Kirkland told Human Rights Watch that the company had expressed its concern about this incident to General Karmasche, the head of the military task force deployed in Delta State since the 1997 Warri crisis, but did not offer copies of any written expression of such concern. He said Chevron had been told that the attack on the communities was a military action, and that if there were any similar confrontation between youths and soldiers the military reaction would be the same. However, Chevron was informed that the officer in charge of the attack on Opia and Ikenyan was facing a court martial.51 Local human rights activists have not been able to verify for Human Rights Watch whether he has in fact faced any disciplinary action. Chevron has not made any public statementscritical of the military's use of its equipment to destroy the two communities, nor has it responded to Human Rights Watch's written enquiries as to how the company intends to avoid similar incidents in future. The company said that it did not have internal written guidelines relating to security at its facilities and the response of company staff or contractors to security incidents, and that there is no written agreement with the Nigerian government relating to the provision of government security at its facilities.

In connection with media enquiries relating to these events, Mike Libby, speaking for Chevron's U.S. headquarters, read out a prepared statement on the program Democracy Now, broadcast from New York City on Pacifica Radio, February 24, 1999, asserting that:

Chevron has no involvement in or connection to any internal police activities in Nigeria, and any suggestion to the contrary is based on misinformation.52

He refused to answer further questions posed by Amy Goodman, presenter of Democracy Now, and asserted that previous statements had been twisted by the program. Similarly distancing Chevron from any responsibility for what happened, Chevron maintains in a statement posted on its website that:

It has been inaccurately reported that Chevron helicopters were used during alleged incidents involving the communities of Opia and Ikenyan. Chevron does not own helicopters or boats. The company operates a joint venture partnership with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, a wholly owned Nigerian Government company, which has a 60-percent majority interest in the Joint Venture. The Joint Venture leases helicopters and boats for exploration and production operations. As the majority partner, the government has the right to and does on occasion make use of the joint venture's leased equipment for purposes they deem necessary. Chevron has no involvement whatsoever in this activity.

We remain committed to and proud of Chevron's partnership with the Nigerian people.53

The fact that Chevron has a joint venture with the Nigerian government does not remove its responsibility—as the operating company in effective control of all day to day decisions—to take all possible steps to ensure that its equipment, or that of its contractors, is not used to commit human rights violations against those who live near its operations.

At the April 29, 1999, Chevron shareholders' meeting held in San Ramon, California, Ken Derr, Chairman and CEO of Chevron, seemed to confirm the impression that Chevron has not accepted that it has responsibilities in the area of human rights—an impression given by previous statements, and by the company's failure to respond to Human Rights Watch's own written inquiries regarding the steps taken to avoid security incidents involving Chevron facilities. Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio questioned Ken Derr about Chevron's activities in Nigeria, asking if Chevron would officially demand that the Nigerian military not shoot protesters at Chevron sites. Derr's response was "No."54

Chevron's position is that the company is operating in a region facing ongoing ethnic conflict, which requires a military presence. There is serious violence in the delta, especially in Delta State, which has been centered in recent years especially on conflict between the Ijaw and Itsekiri communities over the siting of a local governmentheadquarters near Warri.55 There is also violence between the Ijaws and the Ilajes of Ondo State. Based on this situation, Chevron stated in correspondence with Human Rights Watch:

Ethnic rivalry and disputes over landownership and the potential compensation derived therefrom are ... at the heart of the violent inter-ethnic clashes reported over the past several months in areas of the Niger Delta where we operate. These incidents of ethnic unrest have led to significant loss of lives and property, with complete villages wiped out by rival ethnic groups. This area of the Niger Delta has witnessed an enormous increase in the acquisition of firearms and ammunition by unemployed and largely disenfranchised community members. This has in turn resulted in a breakdown of law and order, while acts of arson, kidnapping and hostage-taking for ransom have become apparent. The Government's delay in responding to and addressing this situation in the Niger Delta has resulted in many deaths that otherwise could have been avoided.56

In this context, Chevron asserted to Human Rights Watch that the presence of soldiers in the delta has in fact reduced casualties from ethnic conflict. In particular, according to Chevron, the military presence at the Madagho base—which the army originally wanted to site inside Chevron's Escravos facility—has ensured relative stability around their site.57 In the meeting with Human Rights Watch, Chevron stated that Opia and Ikenyan were Ijaw communities in what would otherwise be Itsekiri territory, and that they had been only recently settled by Ijaws.58 They stated that Chevron had bought the land where the villages are sited from Itsekiris, and suggested that the Ijaw communities had moved there in order to obtain the benefits of being located close to Chevron facilities. Chevron emphasized that they had in general no trouble with communities where they had regular contact, but that outsiders came in and caused problems. They therefore also accepted that the incident at the drilling rig which led to the attack on Opia and Ikenyan could have involved youths from other communities. However,

It would, in our opinion, be counter-productive for us to single out incidents committed by one group against another rather than condemning the entire situation of deprivation and lawlessness that has resulted in excesses by different parties, and caused so much loss of lives and valuable property.59

While Human Rights Watch joins Chevron in condemning all attacks on civilians, we cannot agree with the implication that the Nigerian security forces are just another party to the ongoing conflict in the Niger Delta, in which violations by the military and police are on a level with ethnic violence, kidnappings and other criminal acts carried out by groups of young men, some of whom claim to be acting on behalf of the peoples of the delta. The Nigerian government has a responsibility to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law in the Niger Delta as in other parts of Nigeria. It will not achieve that respect by itself using indiscriminate and disproportionate force against unarmed civilians who have themselves committed no criminal acts but chance, perhaps, to be of the same ethnic group as those who have, or to have exercised their right to peacefully express their views about the need for a new dispensation for the oil producing communities.

In particular, Human Rights Watch believes that the oil companies operating in Nigeria have a responsibility to monitor and promote respect for human rights, and to take all possible steps to ensure that human rights violations are not committed in connection with their own operations. These steps include:

· making provision in agreements with the Nigerian government for security provided to the oil industry to conform to international standards of human rights;

· making public the provisions of their security agreements with the government and private security organizations;

· screening security staff assigned for their protection to ensure that those implicated in past human rights violations are not engaged;

· investigating and protesting abuses that do occur, and calling on the Nigerian authorities to institute disciplinary or criminal proceedings against those responsible and to compensate the victims; and

· adopting internal guidelines surrounding the provision of security emphasizing the need to respect international standards of human rights.

In cases where the military attempt to commandeer oil company equipment, proper authorization from a senior officer should be demanded, according to prior arrangements between the company and the government which include human rights guarantees in relation to the way the equipment will be used. In the absence of such arrangements, use of company or contractors' equipment should not be authorized and any attempt to commandeer equipment without express authorization should be publicly and privately protested with the appropriate authorities.

During December and January there were other violent confrontations between soldiers and community members in the delta area. In anticipation of the Kaiama Declaration ultimatum, thousands of troops were moved to ports on the Atlantic coast, including Brass, where Agip has a terminal, and to Forcados, where Shell has a major facility. Up to nineteen people were reportedly killed by soldiers based at Shell's Forcados terminal in a confrontation involving nearby communities in early January. There has also been violence involving the neighboring Okpoama and Twon-Brass communities close to Agip's Brass terminal. Leaders of the Okpoama/Ewoama communities have alleged that soldiers attacked their community on January 4, 1999, without provocation, destroying over forty houses. They also alleged that Agip provided vehicles and fuel for the attack.60 Human Rights Watch has not investigated these incidents directly.

46 See Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, pp.148-151.

47 This section is based on Human Rights Watch interviews in Warri, Opia and Ikenyan, February 13 and 14, 1999.

48 Human Rights Watch interview, February 14, 1999, translated from the local dialect of Ijaw.

49 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter (signed O.A. Omole, General Manager Public Affairs) to Opia and Ikenyan communities, dated January 22, 1999.

50 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to "The Chairman, Elevenman Committee, Opia/Ikenyan Communities," March 19, 1999.

51 Human Rights Watch meeting with Chevron Nigeria Ltd, February 24, 1999.

52 Tape of Democracy Now, broadcast on Pacifica Radio, February 24, 1999. Libby was responding also to concern about the May 1998 Parabe Platform incident. See, Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, pp.148-151.

53 "Chevron's Nigeria Commitment," available at <>.

54 Tape of Democracy Now, broadcast on Pacifica Radio, April 30, 1999.

55 See, Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, pp.111-114, for a discussion of the 1997 "Warri Crisis," whose effects are still ongoing.

56 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, March 24, 1999.

57 According to press reports, however, Ijaw youths attacked an Itsekiri community at Madagho on May 6, 1999, killing dozens and driving hundreds of others away from their homes. Francis Onoiribholo, "25 Soldiers Missing in Warri Crisis," Post Express (Lagos), May 9, 1999

58 It was not quite clear whether Chevron were arguing that Opia and Ikenyan had been recently settled on previously uninhabited land, or that they had been taken over from pre-existing Itsekiri communities. Human Rights Watch has written to Chevron to clarify this point, but has received no response. The villages have Ijaw names, and there are mature "economic trees" at their sites.

59 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, March 24, 1999.

60 "An Open Letter to the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, His Excellency General Abdulsalami Abubakar," signed by Chief B.O. Beredugo-Ambule, Chief A.E. Benson-Oweifa, Ben A. Basuo, and I.A. Yousuo. This Day (Lagos), February 23, 1999. In June 1998, Agip's Brass terminal was invaded and looted by youths from Twon-Brass.

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