The Nigerian witnesses and plaintiffs send you their thanks and regards from the Niger Delta. After nearly three months in the San Francisco Bay Area during the human rights trial against Chevron, all of the Nigerians are safely and happily back at home. Although the U.S. jury did not hold Chevron accountable for its actions, it was never refuted in the Northern California District Court that Chevron paid and transported the Nigerian military to the platform in May 1998 and that two people were killed and several others injured by the military and police. The jurors, who avoided eye contact while their verdict was read, slipped silently out of the courthouse bypassing the media and the attorneys. Though we can’t tell you why the jurors came to the decision they did, we can tell you that for the Nigerians to prevail on any count all 9 jurors had to agree.
The Nigerian Ilaje and Itsekiri who were involved in this court case did not leave California with a sense of defeat; in fact the message that was declared throughout the days after the trial was one of victory to have made it this far and that “the struggle continues.” Immediately after the trial ended, having seen how organizations in the United States work, the Nigerians asked for help in building stronger local organizations in the Niger Delta with the goal of eventually creating a network to work together. JINN was able to arrange for an initial meeting with an organizational development professional to help them brainstorm initial organizational questions in the wake of the verdict. JINN hopes to be able to continue to provide appropriate support as the Nigerians actualize this thinking at home.
The Ilaje and Itsekiri returned home bolstered by meeting many supportive allies across the Bay Area and with the knowledge that they are not alone in this struggle. While they were in the Bay Area they met community members in Richmond, CA who live next to the Chevron refinery and are suffering from asthma and cancer as a result and with activists who have challenged Chevron for its highly polluting tar sands operations in Canada and those supporting the lawsuit against Chevron for the toxic mess in the Ecuadoran Amazon. They left with an understanding of their role in a greater movement that demands oil companies and all extractive industries conduct their business while respecting human rights, enhancing local community livelihoods and protecting the environment where they operate. JINN endeavors to continue to build on our relationships with our Nigerian allies.