Lawsuits Target Energy Giants: Nigeria II — Bowoto v. Chevron

By Jennifer Huang | World Power I: Business & Law

Page 10 of 11

Conflict in Nigeria spawned another lawsuit, Bowoto v. Chevron, filed in San Francisco in July 2000 by a group of 25 Nigerians.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs claim to be victims of machine gun attacks by the military against protesters on the Parabe oil platform in the Niger Delta, and later against the villages of Opia and Ikenyan from May 1998 to January 1999.

The suit maintains that Chevron "did willfully, maliciously and systematically violate Plaintiff's human rights, including summary execution, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," by ordering the attacks, transporting the soldiers in company-owned helicopters and boats, and providing them with salaries, ammunition and other tools.

One of the named plaintiffs, Larry Bowoto, ran a small fishing and boating supply shop in Ogoniland, and joined in the protests on the Parabe oil platform in May 1998.

Soldiers in three helicopters fired upon him and about 200 other demonstrators. Two protestors were killed; Bowoto was shot, bayoneted and permanently disabled, according to lawyer Cindy Cohn.

Chevron says the protesters were armed with "machetes, knives and clubs" and took the employees on the platform hostage, demanding ransom.

The demonstrators maintain that they were unarmed. The Recorder reported in April 2000 that several observers said the protestors were wielding "long bolts," "large metal spoons," "small knives," "bottles" and similar objects.

"We negotiated for days," said Fred Gorell, spokesman for ChevronTexaco. "When we ran out of negotiation options, we notified the authorities."

He maintains the shooting started only after protestors started grabbing at the soldiers' weapons.

In 1998, Chevron spokesman Sola Omole admitted to reporters from Pacifica radio that Chevron management authorized its helicopters to fly the mobile police and soldiers from the Nigerian navy to the platform; that Chevron pilots flew the aircraft; and that he personally accompanied the military and observed the operations.

"We took them there," he said. "Chevron did."

ChevronTexaco now says it had no involvement with the activities of the military. On its website, the corporation says the helicopters and boats used by the military are leased by its joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. The government, with 60 percent interest in the venture, has the right to use the equipment freely.

The company also denies any involvement in the attacks on Opia and Ikenyan, where plaintiffs say soldiers in boats and helicopters opened fire on peaceful civilians in the villages, then burned most of their homes and buildings.

The complaint names seven people who were killed -- including women, children and the elderly -- and alleges one of the helicopters came from a military base inside oil company facilities.

In response to ChevronTexaco's position that it is a neutral party caught in unfortunate circumstances, Cohn asserted that the company would be liable if a similar situation arose in the U.S.

"Are we going to hold Chevron to a lower standard for murders in Nigeria than in America? I think the answer is no," she said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs currently await a ruling on their motion to extend the discovery period, which was set to end in late February.

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