By Angela James,
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria welcomes the recent judgement by the Netherlands court of appeal that held Shell liable for the oil spills it caused across Nigeria’s coastal communities of the Niger Delta in 2008.
Recall that in 2008, four Nigerian farmers from Ikot Ada Udo, Oruma and Goi in the Niger Delta supported by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and sister organization, Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands, sued Shell because of oil pollution in the three Nigerian villages
This case was the first in which a Dutch company, together with its subsidiary, had been sued in a Dutch court for damage caused abroad.
Shell in the process argued that the actions committed in Nigeria cannot be tried in the Netherlands. It also denied it caused the spill and that criminals and third party interference were responsible for oil spills in 2008.
On their part, the farmers demanded that Shell clean up the oil spills; pay compensation for the damages caused; and improve the maintenance of its pipelines and installations to prevent future spills.
The court had ruled in December 2015 that Shell must provide the plaintiffs internal company documents essential to the case and this was the first of its kind in the Dutch legal history.
In a press statement, Barr. Nosa Tokunbor, legal officer, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria stated that the case had dragged on for over 13 years with a lot of legal somersaults occasioned by Shell, noting the appeal court in the Hague on January 29, 2021, ruled that Royal Dutch Shell was liable to pay compensation for the oil spills which polluted rivers, fishpond and farmlands that thousands of local farmers and fishermen.
But reacting to the court ruling, Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), described the outcome of the case as a landmark judgment which the organisation is very proud of.
He said the judgement showed that the days of oil companies in Nigeria, particularly Shell criminalizing local communities and framing them up for sabotage of crude oil pipelines are over. According to him, “Shell no longer has any hiding place, as this victory will open up a floodgate of court cases against Shell and the oil companies doing business in Nigeria and hiding under weak regulations, lack of enforcement of its extant rules, and taking advantage of the lack of political will of the Nigerian government to bring oil transnationals to account.
The significance of the landmark judgement is that it addresses the question of access to justice that is very much in question in Nigeria when it comes to holding the oil companies accountable for their human rights violations and environmental degradation. The judgment has further shown the environmental liability of parent companies for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries,” Ojo stated.
Ojo further stated that “the judgement is urgent and strategic as the world transits away from fossil fuels there is the need to ensure that the devastation done to our environment by Shell is cleaned up and appropriate compensation is paid to communities that have suffered in many cases irreparable losses.”
Notably, Shell has been selling its land-based assets and along with it, its legacies of environmental devastation, social dislocation, violence and poverty to avoid accountability.
Therefore, “Our communities owe it to themselves and their generations unborn to ensure that Shell does not escape its responsibilities.”
Ojo, called on the Niger delta communities and CSOs not to relent in their pursuit for justice adding that over 13 years struggle in the court has paid off. He enjoined Shell to comply with the court proceedings while urging the judge to do the needful in awarding compensation and preventive costs.
ERA/FoEN again calls on the Nigerian government to revamp its regulatory bodies in the oil industry, ensure that criminal acts of oil transnationals are punished severely and that the country starts taking concrete steps to wean Nigeria off its dependence on revenues from oil and gas, build a new economy on the back of a clear renewable energy framework as quickly as possible and ensure the gradual phasing out of oil and gas activities in Nigeria.