The Bowoto v. Chevron case arises from simple facts: On May 28,1999, Chevron, through its wholly-owned Nigerian subsidiary, participated in the murder, shooting and subsequent torture of Nigerian villagers engaging in environmental protest against the oil giant. Chevron paid the Nigerian police and soldiers who conducted the attacks, ferried them to the attack zone and closely supervised them during the attack. The case seeks justice for the villagers injured and killed.
The villagers had been protesting Chevron's destruction of their environment and traditional fishing and farming due to its oil activities and they sought compensation such as environmental reparations, jobs, medical assistance and scholarships. This was the subject of three days of negotiation between their elders and Chevron Nigeria. The protest occurred at Chevron's offshore Parabe Platform facility. Chevron Nigeria officials reported to the U.S. Embassy that "the villagers were unarmed and the situation has remained calm since their arrival."
After two days of negotiations, on May 27, 1998, the protesters agreed to leave the platform the following morning. Early on the morning of the 28th, however, before the demonstrators had a chance to leave, Chevron helicopters, with Chevron security officials on board closely supervising, flew Nigerian military and police to the platform where they opened fire. Two villagers were killed, others were shot and seriously wounded including lead plaintiff, Larry Bowoto, who was shot multiple times. Many other villagers were detained by Nigerian authorities, including plaintiff Bola Oyinbo who was tortured for his refusal to sign a false confession of piracy.
The Ilaje are a small tribe of Nigerians most of whom live in relatively remote swamplands and river areas in the southwest delta region of Nigeria in a state known as Ondo State. Most of these communities can only be accessed from the air or by water as there are no roads in the area which are suitable for travel by car. Ilajeland, as it is called, has been severely disrupted by the presence of Chevron Nigeria, Chevron's subsidiary, in the region. Chevron's activities have depleted traditional food supplies, destroyed the water supply, and caused the spread of illness in the communities where the Ilaje live. The destruction of the natural environment has meant great hardship and unemployment for many Ilaje people, as well as the loss of traditional food supplies.
In 1998, after receiving no response from Chevron to its letters detailing the problems facing the Ilaje communities, which included environmental and economic degradation, an Ilaje community organization decided to conduct a peaceful protest at Chevron's Parabe oil platform.
On May 25, 1998, over 100 unarmed and peaceful Ilaje protestors went to the platform. Nigerian Navy and Mobile Police stationed at the platform, who were armed, allowed the protestors aboard. Armed Nigerian Forces remained on the barge and in control at all times. Workers and protestors played games, shared meals, watched videos, fished, chatted together, and established friendships during the three-day peaceful protest. On May 27, the protestors informed Chevron they would leave the following day. The protesters began making preparations to leave.
Very early on the morning of May 28, 1998, when the protestors were just waking up, Chevron used its contracted helicopters to fly Nigerian security forces to Parabe. On board the helicopters were Nigerian military personnel, mobile police known as the "kill and go," and Chevron's top security officer in Nigeria. The Nigerian troops opened fire on the unarmed civilians even before the helicopters landed. After they landed, Chevron's security officer directed the soldiers activities using a bullhorn. The Nigerian forces shot and killed two people, and shot and injured at least two more, including Mr. Bowoto. One of the protesters who was killed was shot in the back. The individuals who were shot and killed posed no threat.
Many of the remaining protesters were subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and beaten by Nigerian security forces. One of the protesters, Bola Oyinbo, was hung from a ceiling fan and repeatedly beaten to the point where he could not stand and blood was coming from his mouth. Another described how, immediately after the shootings, the Nigerian troops beat him with a gun and a horse whip, until he fell down and bled through his nose. This protester and others were then locked in a small container on the Chevron platform and held without food or water while Chevron officials looked on. The protestors were then imprisoned, some for weeks or months, and kept in inhumane conditions. During their imprisonment, the beatings and torture continued. After the events concluded, Chevron paid the Nigerian police and soldiers for the services they had rendered.
Chevron's Ugly History of Violence Against Nigerian Villagers
Long after this incident, Chevron has continued to use the Nigerian soldiers and police to provide security and repress opposition. A United Nations Special Rapporteur and Amnesty International reported that in 2005 Chevron security forces attacked civilians protesting Chevron's activities. One person w as shot and killed and at least 30 others were seriously injured.
In an interview, Mr. Oyinbo, one of the villagers beaten and tortured at Parabe, asked that people "go to Awoye community and see what they have done. Everything there is dead: mangroves, tropical forests, fish, the freshwater, wildlife, etc. All killed by Chevron....At Abiteye, Chevron discharges hot effluent into the creeks. Our people complain of dead creeks." For their protests about the destruction of their traditional village economies and the natural environment, Mr. Oyinbo, Mr. Bowoto, and other Ilaje villagers were murdered, tortured, shot, and beaten by Chevron.