Compelling new evidence suggests the Nigerian military killed four Ogoni elders whose murders led to the execution of the playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.
The evidence also reveals that the notorious military commander Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Okuntimo, whose troops were implicated in murder and rape, was in the pay of Shell at the time of the killings and was driven around in a Shell vehicle.
Since the time of Saro-Wiwa's death, Shell has insisted that it had no financial relationship with the Nigerian military, although it has admitted paying it "field allowances" on two occasions. It has consistently denied any widespread collusion and payments. However, The Independent on Sunday has gained exclusive access to witness accounts that were to be used in evidence in the case of Wiwa vs Shell, brought by Ken Saro-Wiwa's family. The case was settled last May for $15.5m, just days before it was due to start in New York. The settlement meant the testimonies were never made public.
They provide fresh insight into Shell's financial and logistical involvement with the Nigerian military and with Lt-Col Okuntimo.
One of the key witnesses due to testify was Boniface Ejiogu, Lt-Col Okuntimo's orderly in the Internal Security Task Force, a coalition of army, navy and police. Mr Ejiogu testified to standing guard as victims were raped and tortured while Lt-Col Okuntimo was in command. Asked if he ever saw his commander receive money from Shell, he said he witnessed it on two occasions.
Mr Ejiogu described in detail how, just days before the Ogoni elders were murdered, he drove with Lt-Col Okuntimo to Shell's base in Port Harcourt, where the officer received seven large bags of money. "I was there when other soldiers were carrying the Ghana Must Go bags," he testified. The bags were so heavy the soldiers had difficulty carrying them, and one fell open. "The thing opened," Mr Ejiogu said. "I saw it was money in bundles. He said, wow, this is money. I say, yes man, it is money."
On another occasion, Mr Ejiogu witnessed four bags being given by a Shell security official to Lt-Col Okuntimo at the official's house late at night.
Another witness, Raphael Kponee, also due to testify, was a policeman working for Shell. On a different occasion, he saw three bags being loaded into Lt-Col Okuntimo's pick-up truck by his driver and another driver in front of the security building at the Shell base. Shell officials have admitted that money was paid to the officer, but purely as field allowances for his men, who were protecting Shell property in Ogoniland.
MrEjiogu also offers compelling evidence as to who may have murdered the four Ogoni elders at a meeting on 21 May 1994. Saro-Wiwa was due to speak but was turned away by the military. Mr Ejiogu said he heard Lt-Col Okuntimo tell his task force commander to "waste them... in the army you waste them is when you are shooting rapidly".
Within 24 hours Saro-Wiwa was arrested and charged with the murders. It was implied that he had had the elders killed because of their moderate stance on Ogoni issues. Despite an international outcry, he was hanged in November 1995, following a sham trial described by the then British prime minister, John Major, as "judicial murder".
A Shell spokesman said yesterday: "Allegations concerning Okuntimo and Shell are not new. There is a lack of any credible evidence in support of these allegations. Shell Petroleum Development Corporation and Shell at the time spoke out frequently against violence and publicly condemned its use."