Federal Courthouse, San Francisco. Ambient temperature: 60 F.
Witness: Harrison Ulori
Today’s session began with the conclusion of Harrison Ulori’s testimony. Mr. Ulori was an Itsekiri worker aboard the Parabe platform barge at the time of the Ilaje occupation. He also participated–along with Boyo Johnson–in the Itsekiri’s March 1998 occupation of Parabe.
Under cross examination by Mr. Klein–attorney for Chevron–Mr. Ulori corroborated previous accounts of the military operation on Parabe. Mr. Ulori stated that from May 25th to 27th he observed no altercations and no violence between the Ilaje protesters and the Naval and Mobile Police aboard the platform and barge. Mr. Klein inquired if he had witnessed a mobile soldier brandishing his belt as a whip and he said he had not. This is the first time we have heard of this incident, and I wonder if Mr. Klein has a card up his sleeve here.
Mr. Ulori also testified that he heard several gunshots after the soldiers leapt from the first helicopter to land on the morning of May 28th. While this slightly contradicts other testimony that the soldiers opened fire while the helicopter was still hovering in the air, the discrepancy in sequence doesn’t strike me as being particularly consequential.
Witness: Methuselah Aiyenumelo
Next, we heard testimony from another of the Ilaje protesters. Questioned by Dan Stormer, counsel for the plaintiffs, Methuselah (as he is commonly called) described the meeting held by Ilaje elders at Ikorigho at which they generated a list of demands from Chevron and decided on a course of action for the protest.
The list was entered into evidence and contained inter alia the following items:
- employment opportunities from Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
- employment opportunities with the permanent contractors working with CNL
- opportunities for indigenous contractors
- provision of potable water
- town halls/meeting center
- electricity/electric lights
- post office
- school assistance
Redress for Ecological Problems
- embankment [protection from erosion]
- sand filling [repairing erosion]
- resettlement [for zones beyond rehabilitation]
Methuselah then described the events that occurred at the tugboat on May 28th. Arriving in the first Ilaje speedboat, Methuselah corroborated Mr. Bowoto’s previous testimony that the protesters arrived bearing placards with slogans like: “We want to speak to Kirkland [George Kirkland, Managing Director of Chevron]”
Aboard the vessel, the Ilaje refrained from entering the crew’s quarters or the galley below deck. According to Methuselah, another Ilaje protester named Judah came to the tugboat on the evening of May 27th (the night before the attack) to inform him that Chevron’s negotiator and the Ilaje elders had agreed to meet on May 29th in Ikorigho and that the elders would send boats to evacuate the protesters the following morning. Thus far, all of the protesters’ testimony that the they were preparing to leave on the 28th have been consistent.
That night Methuselah slept aboard the barge with Judah. The following morning he awoke to the sound of gunfire. He witnessed soldiers leaping out from a helicopter and opening fire. When a youth ran past him screaming that the soldiers were killing the Ilaje, Methuselah dove into the sea and swam for the tugboat. Once aboard the tugboat, Methuselah helped pull other protesters from the water. He testified that a helicopter hovered over the tugboat and fired tear gas onto its deck.
At that point, he asked Captain Schoolsl to pilot the boat to shore. The captain refused and Methuselah pleaded that it was a matter of life and death. According to his testimony, the captain didn’t give his consent, but he did show Methuselah how to operate the levers that steered the boat.
Methuselah described hearing over the radio that two Ilaje protesters had been shot dead and that 10 others had been locked inside a cargo container on the barge. Then, the youths decided to hold the captain and crew of the tugboat in order to eventually secure the release of the detainees and to reclaim the bodies of the dead. Once at shore, they transferred the crew to a speedboat, brought them upriver and held them in town for three days before the Ilaje king–the Olubo–brokered their release. In the end, Chevron and the Nigerian military did not free the detainees for a month afterwards.
It is perhaps important to note that Methuselah’s account of the holding of the tugboat captain and crew occurred after the raid at Parabe. While the situation aboard the tugboat was by all accounts a hostage-taking, it should not be conflated (as the defense suggests) with the protest aboard the platform. The Ilaje seized the tugboat under duress and fearing for their lives after the armed military intervention: this should count as a somewhat mitigating factor. Whether the jury will see it this way of course remains to be seen.
Methuselah held up better under cross-examination than many of the other Ilaje witnesses, thanks to his better command of English. Sensitive to the defense attorneys’ interrogatory strategy, Methuselah’s responses seemed carefully chosen to avoid repeating potentially prejudicial terms. He expressed his disapproval of commandeering the tugboat and her crew, but stated that it was a desperate act. “We learned that two peaceful protesters were shot dead, and others were incarcerated, plus others were scattered in the waters–I knew that lives were at stake, so we took the tugboat ashore.”
Mr. Mittelstaedt only scored a few points with his line of questioning on the oil blocs. He got Methuselah to admit that there was an established legal mechanism for disputing the community representatives chosen to negotiate with Chevron–one which presumable was not used.
Finally, Mr. Mittelstaedt questioned Methuselah’s version of the Parabe attack. Aside from insinuating that Methuselah stayed in the tugboat’s radio room in order to keep the captain from piloting away from the barge–a seemingly unfounded allegation–Mr. Mittelstaedt was unable to tease out any serious contradictions in his testimony.
Witness: Bassey Jeje
The plaintiffs then presented a videotaped deposition of Bassey Jeje–one of the Ilaje protesters aboard Parabe. Mr. Jeje’s interview was recorded with Bob Mittelstaedt and Bert Voorhees in Lagos, Nigeria in January, 2005.
Mr. Jeje described the attack on Parabe in great detail. By his account, the soldiers fired automatic rifles and shot numerous rounds at the protesters. This somewhat contradicts previous testimony that only a few rounds were initially fired. However, Mr. Jeje–who was shot in the hand and suffered from an injury to his ribs. He was directly in the line of fire and witnessed the shooting of Larry Bowoto and the corpse of Arolika–it’s not surprising that his description of bullets whizzing past his ears might be somewhat exaggerated.
At one point in the deposition, Mr. Mittelstaedt asked Jeje a rather strange question: “Did you think that if they hit you, the bullets would bounce off your body?”
What was this magical thinking all about? Was Mittelstaedt resorting to the ‘Heart of Darkness’ argument I described a few posts back? Was he subtly depicting the Ilaje plaintiffs as superstitious savages? To me it seems unthinkable that Mr. Mittelstaedt would have asked the same question of any of the white witnesses in this trial.
After a pregnant silence–where Mr. Jeje seemed to puzzle over the odd question–he answered matter-of-factly, “If a bullet hits a body, it will penetrate–it will not bounce.”
With that, the videotape ended.
In the final minutes, the plaintiffs called one last witness, but I will treat his testimony in its entirety tomorrow.
* Plaintiffs’ counsel announced tomorrow’s witnesses: Louis Wells and Majemu Osupayojo (by video)