Seasons of Settlements

What a week it has been in terms of conciliatory outcomes. First of all, the announcement that the representatives of the unfortunate ‘Ogoni Nine’ – the victims of General Abacha’s extra-judicial gallows – had agreed to a settlement with Shell after 13 arduous years of seeking to square up to them – eyeball to eyeball – in an American law court. A position which Shell resisted with its corporate might for the entire period – until a critical legal breakthrough occurred against it this April. Then horror of horrors, just as the ‘eyeballing’ was about to begin in earnest – the weary representatives ‘blinked’ as Shell proffered a settlement their way. A settlement underpinned by a monetary payment which could best be described as derisory and one notable for its exculpation of Shell from any complicity in the horrible events of 14 years ago.

But that wasn’t to be the only news about conciliatory outcomes. Another bizarre outcome was reported in the press regarding two former antagonists; who for years have been ‘at pistols drawn’ are now locked in warm embrace after a fraternal handshake across the River Niger. Believe it or not General Ibrahim Babangida – the nation’s premier expert in successful coup making – and Major Saliba Mukoro – the nation’s prime exemplar of how not to execute a coup – have kissed and made up over the latter’s bloody attempt to forcibly unseat the former, his former commander–in–chief, from power in 1990. Long live espirit de corps. If reports are to be believed, then all is now forgiven and forgotten between them. And pigs fly!

The architect of this rapprochement, it turns out, is the Governor of Osun State, Prince Oyinlola, who is fast beginning to develop a reputation as a successful roving ‘dispute resolution expert.’ His most recent dispute resolution success had to do with getting General Obasanjo and his erstwhile estranged deputy, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, in the same room without their resorting to exchanges of punches and counterpunches. We are now supposed to believe that all is well between them! And even more pigs fly!

Come to think of it, governing Osun State must be a leisurely pursuit, since its governor appears to have all the time in world to broker conciliatory settlements between sworn enemies, none of whom come from Osun State and none of whom have anything to do with Osun State. Perhaps his efforts have more to do with the state of his political ambitions going forward.

But back to Shell’s so-called ‘humanitarian gesture’. If, as it widely supposed by the indigenous and the religious – the world over, that there is life after death, one wonders what the surviving collective consciousness of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ will make of this settlement. I wonder whether their collective consciousness will be affronted or placated by the settlement and its terms. It is difficult to say. But one’s memories of some of those men and some of their pronouncements during their struggle, is that they were men of principle and not men of compromise.

But no matter what considerations impelled the representatives of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ to settle for a ‘settlement’, rather than seek to strip Shell naked legally before the American courts; one cannot begrudge them their desire for closure in this matter. For them, it has been one long slog of a battle these past 13 years; and perhaps the strains of mental and physical fatigue had begun to set in. One can only imagine the emotional toll on the families concerned. Even if, we the multitude of us – bystanders and sympathisers – to, and of, their plight would have preferred a much different outcome.

There can’t be much doubt about the fact that the real winner in this particular saga is Shell. The Multinational Corporate behemoth and phenomenal profit centre, employer of labour, and destroyer of ancestral lands, waters, and livelihoods; they got off very lightly. Their $15.5m ‘humanitarian gesture’ will hardly have made a dent to their very deep corporate coffers.

In another sense, however, their ‘victory’ in this matter may well turn out to be a pyrrhic one. The hole in the dam from which this trickle of a lawsuit flowed, may yet widen further to facilitate the unrestricted flow of a flood of other lawsuits in their direction. And to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln:

‘You can settle with all of the people some of the time,
You can settle with some of the people all the time,
But you cannot settle with all the people all the time.”

Shell’s best bet now will be to change its ways; not only its words, but also its deeds. They must become responsible corporate citizens respecting the environment in which they operate and the people who occupy those ancestral spaces.

Going by the conciliatory outcomes of this week, perhaps, before the week is out, Governor Oyinlola well set plans afoot to reconcile the Abiolas and the Abachas; the Ooni of Ife and the Alafin of Oyo; PDP and AC; Christians and Moslems; North and South. And perhaps also the mediators of the brokered settlement between Shell and the representatives of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ can lend their expertise to the resolution of others disputes around the globe so that lasting settlements can be achieved.

But more seriously, one hopes that as this matter has now been put to bed, the souls of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ will be able to rest in peace and that their families can now achieve closure. One also hopes that the souls and families of other Ogoni victims will also achieve peace and closure.

As the Ogoni – living and dead – go about achieving repose for their collective souls; the recently ‘reconciled’ Major Saliba Mukoro will do well in securing his. Going forward he will in the words of a Middle-Eastern proverb to ‘secure his camel before praying God’s protection over it’. He will also do well to purchase extra long cutlery as he sups with those with elephantine dispositions and memories!

But alas, it is a season of settlements!

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