|ERA, Friends of the Earth Nigeria Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey
With a damning verdict that the Shell Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) has violated the need to care for its host community, the District Court of The Hague on Wednesday (Jan. 30) ordered the oil firm to pay damages for oil spills in Ikot Ada Udo of Akwa Ibom State. But the court dismissed four other cases against the oil multinational.
Amnesty International and Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) said the court’s verdict relating to Shell’s liability for pollution in the Niger Delta showed that justice was possible.
In a statement made available to The Guardian, Wednesday, the court accused Shell of negligence.
The court noted that near that village, sabotage was committed in a very simple way in 2006 and 2007 by opening the over-ground valves with a monkey wrench (adjustable spanner) of a deserted oil well by Shell Nigeria.
Shell Nigeria, the court observed, could and should have prevented this sabotage in an easy way by installing the concrete plug before 2006, which it did not do until 2010 during the hearing of lawsuit. The court said this was why it sentenced SPDC, the Nigerian sub-subsidiary of the Shell concern to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff.
“The amount of these damages shall be determined in separate proceedings (the so- called damages assessment procedure), since the parties in these proceedings have only litigated about the liability up till present, and they have not litigated yet about the amount of the damages,” the court said.
But four Nigerian farmers and fishermen who initiated the other lawsuits together with the Dutch Environmental Defense Organization (Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Milieudefensie), had their cases dismissed. The four had held four corporations of the Shell concern with its headquarters in The Hague liable for the damages caused by four specific oil spills in the surroundings of their villages in the Niger Delta.
The district court said it established that the four oil spills were not caused by defective maintenance by Shell, but by sabotage from third parties. It stressed that pursuant to applicable Nigerian law, an oil company is not liable for oil spills caused by sabotage in principle.
“In the four cases as regards an oil spill in 2004 near the village of Goi and as regards an oil spill in 2005 near the village of Oruma, in the view of the district court, Shell Nigeria had taken sufficient precautions to prevent the sabotage from its underground oil pipelines. This is why the district court of The Hague, according to the general rule of Nigerian law, has dismissed the claims in those four cases from the plaintiffs Oguru, Efanga and Dooh,” the court said.
It further directed that all parties against which the district court ruled, may lodge an appeal with the Court of Appeal in The Hague within three months.
Amnesty International’s Africa programme director Audrey Gaughran, said clearly it’s good news that one of the plaintiffs in this case managed to clamber over all the obstacles to something approaching justice. According to him, the court found Shell had a duty of care when it comes to preventing tampering with its pipelines.
“However, the fact that the other plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed underscores the very serious obstacles people from the Niger Delta face in accessing justice when their lives have been destroyed by oil pollution. Given the really serious difficulties of bringing these cases at all, the significance of today’s ruling is that one plaintiff prevailed and will get damages. It is clear that governments need to look at the formidable obstacles claimants face especially when taking massive oil companies to court,” he said.
HNDC Executive Director, Sunny Ofehe, described the case as a big victory for Nigerians in Diaspora campaign to raise international awareness on the plight of the ordinary Niger Delta people. He pointed out that the fact that the Dutch court in its first ruling on jurisdiction accepted that it had the legal right and competence to handle the case meant the attention of the world would be drawn to the Niger Delta.
“The verdict today although very disappointing, but did not come as a surprise. The fact that the court ruled that Shell Nigeria must pay compensation to one of the farmers proves that Shell is liable to the spills in that community,” he added .
Besides, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has described the ruling as a major watershed in the quest for environmental justice in the Niger Delta.
ERA/FoEN is, however, disappointed that the court ruled otherwise with regard to the Goi and Oruma communities in Rivers and Bayelsa States respectively.
In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN said that while it disagreed with the court’s position that the polluted farmlands and fishponds in Goi and Oruma were due to alleged sabotage by local community people, the ruling on Ikot Ada Udo had set a precedent for global environmental accountability because companies could now be tried in their home countries for their acts or omissions in their host countries.
“This ruling is commendable. Through its action, Shell has demonstrated disdain for the wellbeing of communities that suffer the impacts of its reckless exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta. The company knew for a long time that its pipeline was damaged but did not do anything even when it could have stopped the leaking pipes. It is just and fair that it is held accountable”, said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey.
ERA/FoEN Director, Programmes and Administration, Godwin Uyi Ojo added: “While we commend the Dutch court ruling, it is now time the western countries pass laws compelling companies to enforce the same environmental responsibility standards abroad as at home.
“Shell’s volte-face in the face of incontrovertible evidence has again shown the double standard of the oil companies in treating spills incidents in Nigeria differently from their pollution in Europe or North America. We are still optimistic that the Goi and Oruma communities will get justice. The ruling against the two communities will be appealed.”
Source: The Guardian
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