Environment

Justice for Nigeria : Four Farmers Finally Won the Lawsuit Against Shell for Oil Spills

Published on: 26 May 2022 04:50 PM

This is the story of a lawsuit that lasted for 13 years, where the Nigerian environmental lawyer, Chima Williams held Shell accountable for the activities of its subsidiaries in Nigeria—Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC)—and the oil spill damage that cost many farmers their farmlands.

Shell is the leading oil operator in Africa's greatest oil-producing area, the Niger Delta. Every year, there are hundreds of spills, which has led to a severely damaged ecosystem and high rates of poverty.

"We have groundwater polluted with benzene 900 times above WHO level, we have farmlands with poor yields, rivers that are barely fishable, neonatal deaths numbering thousands yearly as a result of spills. We have reduced neuroplasticity of the brain as a result of oil pollution," activist Saatah Nubari in Niger Delta told CNN.

The lawsuit was won by the four farmers from the Goi and Oruma communities in the Niger Delta region on January 29, 2021, ruling by the Court of Appeal of the Hague 2021. The company had to compensate for the damage and organize clean-up actions to make up for the devastating consequences. It was the first time for Shell that the company was sued in its home country for the actions of SPDC, the foreign subsidiary.

Williams was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in making the firm responsible for environmental degradation. It was revealed Wednesday morning that he was one of seven global recipients of the renowned prize, which honors grassroots environmental campaigners. The prize is given out every year at events in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. by the Goldman Environmental Foundation.

"These seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity," the Vice President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, Jennifer Goldman Wallis, said.

Shell denied the accusations in the beginning, insisting that a sabotage operation had occurred and that the trial should be held in Nigeria. Consequently, a Dutch lower court concluded in 2013 that the parent corporation of Shell could not be held liable for crimes committed by its Nigerian affiliate.

However, Williams defended his clients by replying that the parent company had "authority flow" to the subsidiary, which led the Court of Appeal to align with them. 

"The first ruling that we got favorably was on jurisdiction. The Dutch High Court sitting in The Hague ruled that they had jurisdiction to hear the cases from Nigeria. That was the first hurdle that we scaled through," he said.

Shell stood firm on their first declaration.  "We continue to believe that the spills in Oruma and Goi were the result of sabotage. We are therefore disappointed that this court has made a different finding on the cause of these spills and in its finding," mentioning that sabotage, oil theft, and illegal refining constitute "a major challenge" in the region.

"Throughout our operations globally, in 2021, it's only in Nigeria that we recorded crude theft. And this has implications on our cost. When our facilities are tampered with and there's a spill, we spend money to stop the spill, fix our facility, clean up and remediate the environment," the Shell Nigeria spokesman said.

It seems hard, according to Nubari Williams, a Nigerian environmental activist, to hold companies accountable for the damage they are causing in Nigeria. In 2008, Williams was arrested at a Shell plant after he uncovered the firm's gas flaring in Iwhrekan, Niger Delta.

Shell Nigeria spokeswoman Odugbesan responded to the claim that Shell is untouchable in Nigeria by saying that the company paid about 50 billion naira in 2021 (about $111 million as of the previous year) to settle a lawsuit brought by another community.

Source : CNN

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