Was Chevron just doing what it had to protect its workers in Nigeria? Or did it sanction a military crackdown the likes of which would never be tolerated in the United States? That is the question being put before a San Francisco jury.
On Monday, Larry Bowoto is the plaintiff in Bowoto versus Chevron, a federal lawsuit charging Chevron with human rights abuses for shootings in Nigeria.
Ten years ago Bowoto was among more than 100 villagers who boarded and seized a chevron oil platform about nine miles off the Nigerian coast. They were demanding money and jobs through a series of letters threatening "violence, sea piracy and war."
"The hostage takers they boarded our platform in May of 1998 they were armed with knives and other weapons, threatened our workers, poured diesel fuel on the platform and threatened to burn it down," said Chevron spokesman Don Campbell.
On the fourth day, Chevron called on the Nigerian Navy for help. Two demonstrators were shot and killed, others injured.
"We don't think that rebel hostage-takers should have access to U.S. courts to sue U.S. companies when through their own acts of violence they've prompted a standoff or confrontation that needs to be resolved," said Campbell.
Bowoto's supporters demonstrated against chevron at one of its San Francisco gas stations today.
Laura Liboti is founder of a group called Justice in Nigeria Now. She says the oil company has damaged the waterways villagers relied on for fishing and farming.
"Their livelihood has been devastated and they contact the company for jobs and the way the company responds is to shoot them," said Liboti.
U.C. Berkeley Energy Institute professor Dan Kamman is an oil industry expert and is married to a Nigerian woman.
"Environmental communities have a legitimate beef that no matter what the letter of the law is, they have not been compensated for the damage being done to their livelihoods," said Kamman.
Environmental issues are not being addressed in this courtroom, only the events on that oil platform. There is a gag order in place, so none of the lawyers or Bowoto can talk to the media.
To learn more about Bowoto versus ChevronThe Back Story.