Nigerian farmers hail Shell ruling, however future stays unsure | Enterprise and Economic system Information

Lagos, Nigeria – It took Fidelis Oguru 13 years to achieve the victory he and a group of other farmers in Nigeria’s oil-rich region of the Niger Delta wanted so badly.

On Friday, the Hague Court of Appeal ruled that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), had been guilty of pipeline leak pollution in the villages of Oruma and Goi in the Niger Delta.

The Dutch court ordered the Nigerian arm of the British-Dutch company to pay the affected villages compensation that has yet to be decided.

“I am very happy and I thank God,” said Oguru, an 80-year-old farmer and one of the plaintiffs from Oruma Village.

He said Al Jazeera oil leaks from pipelines had destroyed farmland and waterways in the area, and the SPDC’s reluctance to replace old pipelines had frightened farmers to watch their crops like cassava and plantain succumb to the oil spill and their livelihoods eroded.

Frequent appeals to the SPDC for compensation and environmental cleanup were pointless, he said.

In 2008, four farmers from the villages of Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo received support from an environmental campaign group, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, to take action against Shell in a Dutch court between 2004 and 2004 for oil spills related to the SPDC 2007.

“I went to the Netherlands in 2013 when the judgment was made [court] decided against us, ”recalled Oguru.

SPDC and other oil companies often blame sabotage for oil leaks. Under Nigerian law, which is applied in Dutch civil proceedings, the company is not liable if the leaks are due to sabotage.

On Friday, however, the court found that it was unable to establish “beyond doubt” that saboteurs were responsible for leaks that spewed out oil on a total of around 60 football fields in Oruma and Goi.

Although the court ruled that sabotage was responsible for an oil leak in the village of Ikot Ada Udo, it said that the Shell liability case would continue.

Eric Dooh, a 50-year-old plaintiff from Goi, told Al Jazeera that the victory meant “oppressed people” like farmers from the Niger Delta can take their “rightful place in society”.

He said the ruling sets a “world-class precedent” that could be a tipping point to give hope to those who have similar cases against multinational oil companies that they will get justice regardless of the number of years and troubles they have been through can go to attain [through]”.

“Other multinationals also need to know that they must adhere to international best practices and respect basic human rights in their oil exploration activities,” he said.

“The win isn’t just for me,” added Dooh. “It is for the entire Niger Delta region.”

Friends of the Earth supporters unfurl a banner in front of the District Court in The Hague, Netherlands [Mike Corder/AP]Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian environmental activist, also believes Friday’s decision marks the beginning of a “process that should bring hope … [because] Lies told by the [oil] Industry cannot hold water forever ”.

“Victory means no matter how long an injustice has been going on, justice must come someday, and it means people haven’t passed for 13 years,” Bassey, former executive director of Environmental Rights Action, a local advocacy NGO, told Al Jazeera.

Shell discovered and began exploiting Nigeria’s vast oil reserves in the late 1950s and has long been heavily criticized for the oil spill and allegedly close and empowering ties with the government.

Bassey said that large parts of the Niger Delta remain “victim zones” and that many areas still experience daily oil spills and contamination. He also cited an oil well fire in the state of Ondo that has been raging since May without “standstill, without cleanup”.

The only place where serious efforts are being made to remediate the environment in the Niger Delta is in Ogoniland, Bassey said, and even that is “very tentative and not yet comprehensive”.

Meanwhile, Shell said it was dismayed by Friday’s ruling, believing the spills were caused by sabotage.

“We are … disappointed that this court made a different determination regarding the cause of these spills and found SPDC to be liable,” the company said in a statement.

The SPDC said in a statement: “Like all Shell-operated companies around the world, we are committed to working safely and protecting the local environment.”

But Bassey said sabotage had been ruled out in many cases of oil spills in the Niger Delta.

“Saying the spill was caused by sabotage was a formula to evade responsibility that needs to be exposed,” he said.

Oil on the surface of the creek near an illegal refinery in Ogoniland outside Port Harcourt in the Nigerian Delta region [File: Sunday Alamba/AP]

Too little too late?

Despite the verdict, Dooh lamented the damage done – he said oil leaks in Goi had ruined his fish farm and destroyed his father’s bakery.

Like many others, he was forced to move his family to a nearby town to avoid contamination.

“It was very difficult and hectic for me to deal with,” he said.

The successful plaintiffs are now waiting to see how much compensation they will receive.

Dooh said he hoped to use the funds to restore his damaged land, businesses and build a school.

“When I reinvest [in my village]It will give me the opportunity to create employment opportunities for people. “

But for Oguru, the compensation will likely come too late.

He said Shell had destroyed all of the land he used for his fish farms. “The loss [caused by the spill] has given me a very bad setback that has affected my livelihood – farming and fishing, ”said Oguru.

He started developing eye problems in 2018 and went blind in 2020. His age and health problems will likely prevent him from using the compensation to restore his land.

“I am stranded.”

Comments are closed.