U.S. District Court for Northern California, San Francisco
A powerful day for Larry Bowoto and his co-plaintiffs. Witness after witness offered damaging testimony against Chevron Corporation. It was an emotional start to the third week of trial that saw the harrowing description of Bola Oyinbo’s torture at the hands of Nigerian police and the tearful testimony of Arolika Irowarunun and Bola Oyinbo’s bereaved families.
Witness: Adebisi “Popular” Atimise
“They told him to confess.”
The court heard the testimony of Popular Adibise, an Ilaje protester who was aboard the Parabe barge during the naval raid on May 28th, 1998. In vivid detail, Mr. Adibise described finding the bodies of Arolika and Larry Bowoto on the deck of the service barge: “When I got there, I realized the other body was Larry. To keep his body from rolling around, I hugged him and I started crying.” According to his testimony, two nurses arrived and placed an I.V. into Bowoto’s arm, until a soldier with an eye-patch ordered it removed.
Adibise was then locked inside a shipping container on the barge with 11 other protesters, before being transferred by to the Chevron Escravos tank farm and then on to a naval base in Warre. All the while, the detainees were closely guarded by the same General Security Forces (GSF) soldiers who were flown to the barge. According to Adibise, at one point while the detainees were taken outside the brig to eat, he saw two black men wearing Chevron logos arrive in a vehicle. The two men met with the soldiers and distributed envelopes to them. Adibise claimed he saw some of the soldiers tear open the envelopes on the spot and count the money they contained.
The detainees were then transferred to police custody and held in a prison in Akure. There they were held with up to 150 other inmates in a squalid cell with no plumbing. While Mr. Adibisi was not beaten in prison-he was beaten with a rifle butt aboard the platform-he stated that he observed other prisoners being beaten. Bola Oyinbo was apparently singled out for abuse, as Adibise described the guards repeatedly carrying Bola away from the cell: “Coming back he was crying, he face was swollen. They told him to confess that he was a sea pirate.” Adibise described Bola’s condition after one session in gruesome detail:
He was pushed into the cell. There were lashes all over his body, blood too, all over his body. We saw rope marks on his arms. He told us that he was hanged by his hands with rope and ordered to confess that he was a sea pirate. I saw with my own eyes the trace of rope and blood on his hands. He came to us crying. Even the other inmates started crying with us.
In cross-examination, John Cline pressed Adibisi on his account of the Chevron employees paying the soldiers: “You’re telling us they paid the soldiers right there in front of you, rather than inside the building?” Aside from this one point, Cline didn’t want to touch the witness: perhaps his riveting account was too toxic for the defense to dwell on. Cline cut his examination short after 30 or so questions: less than half his usual quantity.
Dan Stormer-who seemed particularly on the ball today-followed-up with just the right questions: Were the soldiers you saw paid the same soldiers that came to the barge? Were these same soldiers guarding you in Warre? Were these soldiers all GSF?
Witness: Damilohun Majemu Osupayojo
“They reached into a plastic bag and gave out envelopes.”
The court was then shown Majemu’s videotaped deposition, recorded in Nigeria in September 2005. Plaintiffs’ counsel Lauren Teukolsky questioned Majemu on his role among the Concerned Ilaje Citizens protesters aboard the barge. It appeared that Majemu did not play a leadership role-instead, his testimony offered the plaintiffs a chance to corroborate previous testimony on the instructions given to the protesters by the elders and organizers. For the most part, Majemu’s account paralleled the previous testimony.
Majemu described relations between the protesters and workers as relaxed during the first three days of the protest: they watched TV together, some played drafts. On the morning of May 28th, Majemu had a vantage point to witness the landing of the helicopters and the shooting death of Arolika. Majemu also described seeing a soldier with a dark eye-patch. Interestingly, Majemu described a black man wearing Chevron cover-alls descending with the soldiers from the third helicopter. I don’t believe any other witnesses have corroborated this.
Majemu was among the protesters locked inside the shipping container and subsequently detained for the next 3 weeks. Majemu testified that once in Warre, the detainees were stripped and beaten with horsewhips and rifle butts. Four other prisoners including Bola were beaten.
Next, Majemu gave his account of the payments made to the soldiers at Warre. He described seeing two black men arrive in a vehicle-both wearing Chevron logos-reach into a plastic bag, and then distribute envelopes to the guards. Majemu stated that he overheard a soldier say: “This is not what he agreed to pay us.”
Majemu also described the torture of Bola Oyinbo: Bola returned to the cell and recounted his beatings on at least seven occasions. According to Majemu, the first time Bola returned from a session with the police he “couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat-blood was coming from his mouth”. He said that on 3 occasions Bola was beaten to the point where he could no longer stand. Once, he said, Bola told him he hand been hung up by the hands. His wrists and legs were swollen, his eyes were red.
Bob Mittelstaedt’s cross-examination homed in on Majemu’s account of the soldiers’ pay-off. It was obvious throughout the deposition that Majemu’s comprehension of English was extremely limited. At no point did he show signs of understanding the questions put before him without translation. How then did he understand the exchange between the Chevron employees and the soldiers at Warre? After Mittelstaedt prompted him to repeat in Pidgin English what he heard the soldiers say, Majemu stumbled through a few of the intended words. It was not very convincing. Furthermore, on cross-examination Majemu altered the sentence slightly: “It was not what Deji had agreed to.” Deji being Chevron Nigeria Ltd.’s negotiator during the crisis.
Mittelstaedt-who never seems to miss a beat-drove home the point. As Majemu tried to recover, quoting the soldiers again, this time without mentioning Deji, Mittelstaedt called him on the inconsistency. Chevron desperately needs these witnesses to look like liars; unfortunately for the most part they just look confused.
Witness: Monday Omosaye
“It was a common front”
Omosaye is a Jehovah’s Witness, as plaintiffs’ counsel was quick to point out. [Surely JW’s don’t practice juju!] He was secretary for the 9th Concessional Oil Bloc as well as a member of the CIC. As such, he kept meeting minutes for the May 14th, 1998 quarterly meeting between CNL and the 9th Concessional, as well as for the 9th Concessional’s meeting on May 18th, 1998. Omosaye first testified about the meeting in Ikorigho between Chevron’s negotiator Deji Haastrup and the Ilaje elders on May 27th, the night before the helicopter raid on the platform.
According to Omosaye, Haastrup arrived in the late morning accompanied by several armed guards. At no point while in Ikorigho was Mr. Haastrup out of Omosaye’s sight. The meeting lasted until approximately 6 pm, when Haastrup announced that certain of the elder’s demands were within his capacity to address (e.g. number of jobs to be offered) while others (presumably reparations) would require consultation with higher Chevron management. Haastrup claimed he would return on May 29th with feedback on these demands. Omosaye strongly disputed Chevron’s claims that Haastrup was taken hostage or threatened while in Ikorigho.
John Cline cross-examined the witness, focusing on Omosaye’s meeting notes from earlier meetings. Appearing in the minutes from 9th Concessional’s quarterly meeting with CNL was an item on “unidentified groups” stating that Chevron refused to meet with the CIC because it is unknown to them and has an unclear mandate. Omosaye replied that Chevron had misunderstood the CIC: it was not a breakaway faction, or an appendage to 9th Concessional, but a “new idea for joint action on common problems affecting Ilajeland.”
Cline then focused on the CIC’s demand of 10 million Naira for expenses. [I don’t have an exchange rate for 1998, but suffice to say 10 million is exponentially greater than its equivalent in US dollars.] Omosaye clarified that a portion of the money demanded was for expenses-as seems customary in the negotiations between Chevron and the oil blocs-while the rest was for environmental and economic reparations.
To this Cline followed-up with: “Did Mr. Haastrup tell you he could not pay ransom?”
Dan Stormer returned with more questions on the relationship between the CIC and the 9th Concessional. The 9th Concessional represented nine Ilaje communities. Actual represented 4. The Concerned Ilaje Citizens represented 42. It was becoming clear that Omosaye was a member of both groups and saw no legitimacy problems between them. In fact, in its May 17th meeting, the 9th Concessional nominated 2 representatives to work with the CIC and recognized that “the CIC will not be deterred from using all legally and constitutionally allowed means to actualize their demands.” By his testimony, Chevron was indeed refusing to recognize the CIC as a legitimate coalition.
Witness: Margaret Irowarunun
“Tell them Chevron has killed their father.”
Margaret Irowarunun, Arolika’s widow, offered emotional testimony on her husband. She described him as a good father, the head of his family and a generous figure in his town. With tear-streaked face, she described him as her benefactor: “I can never forget my husband, he did everything for me…He was a benefactor that Chevron has killed.”
The defense had no questions for this witness.
Witness: Orioye Irowarunun
“I’ll never see him again”
Orioye, Arolika’s 20-year old son spoke briefly about his father’s nurturing care of him before breaking up in tears.
The defense had no questions for this witness.
Witness: Ola Oyinbo
“Coming home to joy”
In the most moving testimony to date, Bola Oyinbo’s widow, Ola, concluded the day. An expressive woman, Ola conveyed her deep love for her husband. Even through translation, her emotions carried through. At times she rose from the stand and walked before the jury to demonstrate little details of her husband’s physicality. “When you say ‘black is beautiful’ you are talking about Bola. His skin was shiny. His body was soft like a woman. He walked like a woman.” Ms. Teukolsky showed the jury photographs of the couple’s traditional wedding-a beautiful couple indeed.
She then described Bola’s condition when he returned from prison after Parabe. “He was thin, his head was broken, and he couldn’t walk normally anymore. I massaged him with hot water and he howled so loud the whole village could hear. Blood oozed from his wrist. He had sores on his arms and lashes on his back.”
Her testimony ended on the subject of their child, Bayo. Bayo means ‘joy’ in Ilaje. “Why did you name him Joy?”
“Bola was not killed in prison and when he got home, he was able to meet his child. He was coming home to meet Joy.”
No session on 11.11.08 for Veteran’s Day. Ola Oyinbo’s testimony will resume on Wednesday 11.12.08.