Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to settle with the family of executed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa reminded us of this disturbringly prescient piece from a decade ago. It’s an account of all the dirty dealings that surround Nigeria’s oil wealth, and how oil companies and Big Men manage to keep enriching themselves despite frequent grassroots protests (or petty extortion). The thread running through the story is the tale of Leonard Hutto, a Chevron employee whose job was essentially to grease palms in the Niger Delta—and to secure the release of kidnapped workers. A typical negotiation for a colleague’s release seemed to go as so:
In the shade of a huge tree, [Hutto] sat on a folding chair through the afternoon, listening to the community’s grievances and demands: more scholarships for its youngsters and more regular meetings with Chevron, which the locals would get, and other demands, which they would not, including 25 jobs on the spot, about $27,000 in cash and an unspecified amount for the wages they had lost while busy invading the oil station. Hutto instead slipped $50 to the town chiefs for drinks, $20 to the youths and another $20 to a group of young men who had let the air out of the tires of the Toyota — to reinflate them.
His assistant was released, the valves were opened at the oil wells and crude began coursing through the pipelines to the flow station. A few thousand barrels had been lost.
”Not a big deal,” Hutto says.