Royal Dutch Shell was brought to court on Tuesday, as Nigerians demand the company take responsibility for its oil spills that have environmentally devastated the Niger Delta region.
Oil spills coming from Shell pipelines and facilities have polluted the oil-rich region, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Niger Deltans. Lawyers representing over 40,000 Nigerians in the affected areas brought two legal suits against the Anglo-Dutch company at the High Court in London.
In 2011, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) exposed the devastating effects oil spills have had on the Ogoniland region, one of the many Niger Delta communities ravaged by oil pollution. Its report revealed poor air quality, dangerously high levels of hydrocarbons in the water, and mangroves polluted with bitumen. The UNEP offered assistance to the Nigerian government to clean up the area, but said it would take 30 years or more to complete.
Today, Nigerians are hoping that Shell will be mandated to accept responsibility assist in the cleanup.
“There are strange diseases in my community – skin diseases, people are dying sudden deaths, some people are impotent,” King Emere Godwin Okpabi, traditional ruler of Ogale community, told AFP. The monarch flew to London to attend the hearing, hoping that justice will be served for his people.
Speaking with AFP, Mr. Okpabi held up a clear plastic water bottle showing contaminated water from his community. “My people are drinking this water,” he said. “I can afford to buy water. But can I afford to buy for everyone? No.”
Mr. Okpabi believes that the people of the Niger Delta have a better chance of justice being served in the United Kingdom rather than in Nigeria, where the judicial system is afflicted by corruption.
“Shell is Nigeria and Nigeria is Shell. You can never, never defeat Shell in a Nigerian court. The truth is that the Nigerian legal system is corrupt,” the traditional ruler said.
But Shell has argued that the case should be heard in Nigeria, as its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC, is responsible for the oil spills. The oil giant will therefore challenge the jurisdiction of the British courts throughout the four-day hearing.
Shell has also pointed its finger to oil thieves and pipeline saboteurs, such as the Niger Delta Avengers, saying that these groups should be held responsible for oil pollution.
“Both Bille and Ogale are areas heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage, and illegal refining which remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta,” a Shell spokesperson said. She added that SPDC has not produced oil or gas in Ogoniland since 1993, and that the SPDC is supporting the cleanup process in the region.
But the plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that Shell’s leaky pipes continue to pollute the area and therefore the company must be held responsible.
It would be recalled that Shell agreed to pay over $80 million to the Bodo community in January 2015 due to two oil spills that occurred in the region in 2008. This case was similarly heard in a London court