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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Shell to pay €15m compensation for oil spills in Niger Delta communities

Four Nigerian farmers and their fellow villagers are to receive €15 million from the Nigerian subsidiary of Shell as compensation for oil pollution in their villages. The oil giant will also install a leak detection system to prevent future oil spills.

Chief Fidelis A. Oguru-Oruma
Two of the four Nigerian farmers (Chief Fidelis A. Oguru-Oruma (left) and Eric Dooh) sit in the law courts in The Hague on October 11, 2012. The four farmers take on Shell in a Dutch court, accusing the oil giant of destroying their livelihoods in a case that could set a precedent for global environmental responsibility. Photo credit: AFP / ANP / ROBIN UTRECHT

According to Friends of the Earth Nigeria, the historic victory at the courts and the acceptance of Shell to do the needful is a victory for all.

In 2007, the farmers and fishermen, together with Friends of the Earth Netherlands, initiated legal proceedings against the headquarters of Shell in The Hague because of the oil pollution which took place between 2004 and 2007 in the villages of Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo in Rivers State.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands, together with lawyers Chima Williams, current Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, and Channa Samkalden, took up the case and have been in court since 2008. The proceedings took so long that all the original claimants (Barizah Dooh, Chief Oguru, Elder Friday and Alali Efanga) have since died. Now, over 15 years later, the farmers and their fellow villagers are to receive compensation.

According to Plaintiff Eric Dooh, “The compensation we receive from the court case in the Netherlands will enhance a total transformation of the community people and myself in terms of reinvestment in our environment. It will be a relief for all of us when the money is finally paid as compensation for our losses after a long time of legal action against Shell.”

Executive Director of the ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, said: “Justice may have been delayed but it has now been served. The resilience of the farmers, their communities, and determination to make Shell pay is a model that will galvanise other impacted communities in the Niger Delta and elsewhere to act and stay on course. Shell’s acceptance to pay compensation and install leak detection system is both unprecedented and signals victory for all parties – the victims, environmental justice campaigners and Shell. Furthermore, if Shell can do this, it means that there is no hiding place for any corporate polluter as they may run but cannot hide from the long arms of the law.”

Echoing his views, Member, Board of Environmental Rights Development Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, said: “The victory of the Niger Delta farmers is a testament that Big Polluters may run but will find nowhere on earth to hide because they will be sought out. We celebrate the farmers still alive to savour this victory and believe the spirit of the deceased four Niger Delta farmers and others will now rest, but corporate polluters will never rest until their operations and attitudes in respect for their hosts, protection of their environment, livelihoods and humanity is guaranteed.”

Celebrating this historic feat, HRH Pere W. David Amakiri, Paramount Ruler of Oruma Community, intoned: “Though the compensation Shell agreed to cannot replace human life, we have been able to show through our patience and determination in the last 15 years that people power will always trump corporate behemoths. Shell has learned a bitter lesson.”

On his part, Mene Stephen Kobani, Paramount Ruler of Goi Community, unequivocally advised: “We anticipate that other co-travellers in the fossil fuels industry will now understand that the fires the Niger Delta farmers and fishermen lit in 2008 will continue to rage until they pay up and clean up for their mess in every Niger Delta environment.”

Shell headquarters resisted every argument to take responsibility for the actions of its subsidiary and even demanded instead that the case should be heard in a Nigerian court, But the Dutch Court refused and, in January 2021, ordered Shell to pay compensation to the Nigerian farmers to clean up the pollution, and take measures to prevent new spills by installing a leak detection system near Oruma.

Following the verdict of the court, Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Shell conducted negotiations to determine the amount of compensation to be paid.

Unprecedented case

This Nigeria case is unprecedented: for the first time in history a corporate headquarters has been held responsible for the actions of their subsidiary in another country. Shell resisted the claim for many years, arguing from their headquarters in the Netherlands that the case should be heard in a Nigerian court. The Dutch Court did not agree.

In 2021, the court ordered Shell to pay compensation to the Nigerian farmers, to clean up the mess, and to take measures to prevent new spills by installing a leak detection system near Oruma. This system will detect spills sooner.

15 years of fighting for justice

Following the verdict of the court, Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Shell conducted negotiations to determine the amount of compensation to be paid. Friends of the Earth Netherlands, together with lawyers Chima Williams and Channa Samkalden spent 15 years fighting for justice.

The proceedings took so long that all the original claimants (Barizaa Dooh, Alali Efanga, Chief Fidelis Oguru and Elder Friday Alfred Akpan) including other prominent leaders of the communities of Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo on this struggle have since died without seeing this day come to pass!

Disastrous consequences of oil contamination

The residents of Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo are finally getting compensation, but there are thousands of other villages in the Niger Delta in similar circumstances and this case makes no difference to them. As a result of oil pollution, infant mortality in the Niger Delta is twice as high as in the rest of the country. Farmers and fishermen have lost their livelihoods.

Shell continues drilling

In 2021, Friends of the Earth Netherlands with the four Niger Delta farmers won the case against Shell for oil spill pollutions in Nigeria and the Shell Climate Case where at the claims of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the court ordered Shell to reduce its global emissions by 45% by 2030.

Logically speaking, Shell can no longer explore new oil and gas sources. Yet recent data research shows that Shell is continuing large-scale investments in oil and gas, thus avoiding its responsibility and ignoring human rights. If we want to prevent the damage caused by climate change increasing still further, we really must stop using fossil fuels. Shell is doing precisely the opposite.

Large companies continue to cause pollution worldwide, damage the climate and violate human rights. Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Netherlands are arguing for strong legislation to prevent this and is working hard to achieve this on a national and international level. In the battle against dangerous climate change, a societal duty of care for companies is vital.

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