- Ex-Bayelsa Commissioner, Iniruo Wills Hails Ruling, Seeks More Environmental Justice For N’Delta Communities
- Global Environmental Groups/Activists React
In a ruling that set corporate accountability precedence for oil multinationals globally, a Dutch appeal court in the Hague on Friday ruled that the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria (SPDC) should pay compensation to Nigerian farmers for despoiling their communities in Rivers and Bayelsa states.
The litigation against shell has been ongoing in the last 13 years with efforts by the oil giant to torpedo it.
The amount of compensation to be paid to the farmers is to be determined later, according to reports by some Dutch newspapers, but the ruling convicted Shell of liability for two oil spills in Goi Rivers state and Oruma in Bayelsa, ravaging communities.
The names of the farmers are Alali Efanga, Friday Alfrad Akpan, Chief Fidelis A. Oguru and Eric Dooh.
The case against parent company Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and its subsidiary, SPDC was instituted in 2008 by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) and four Nigerian farmers.
The case is unique because it is the first time a Dutch company has been held liable together with its foreign subsidiary for the breach of its duty of care abroad.
In the past Shell had argued that it should not be held legally responsible in the Netherlands for the actions of a foreign subsidiary in Nigeria.
But the Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Nigerian plaintiffs held Shell and SPDC individually responsible for the oil spills and the failure to clean up the pollution.
The judge will later decide whether Shell will be required to give the Nigerian farmers financial compensation.
Following the ruling, the judge also ordered Shell to clean up the pollution and prevent further spills in Niger Delta communities.
The case borders primarily on the spills from underground oil pipelines as the plaintiffs claimed their villages have become virtually unliveable due to the spills.
They also argued that polluted soil became unusable and fishing grounds were lost, causing them to lose their income.
In its defence, Shell had said that the spills are the result of sabotage and that the company is therefore not liable for them.
Milieudefensie argued that pipelines are often outdated and that Shell is doing too little to prevent sabotage.
Reacting to the ruling, former Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa State, Iniruo Wills hailed the outcome of case. He, however expressed concerns over the difficulty in getting justice on various environmental matters filed in Nigerian courts, noting it has worsened the degradation experienced by communities in the Niger Delta.
Wills, who is the President, Homeland Chapter of Ijaw Professionals Association in a statement said: “This is a most welcome landmark ruling. It is a crying shame that hapless folks and communities have to shop for environmental justice abroad because they can’t find it in Nigeria.
“In addition to litigating specific cases, there is a need for intensive sensitization of the Nigerian judiciary and the regulatory system (including Federal Ministry/Ministers of Petroleum and Environment) to demonstrate a sense of urgency, duty and commitment – shamefully lacking for over sixty years till date – to environmental justice for communities whose existence is threatened by the continually worsening plague of oil and gas pollution,” Wills said.
Earlier, in a statement made available to The New Diplomat, before the ruling, Chima Williams of Friends of the Earth Nigeria (Environmental Rights Action) had said: “This case has taken so long that two claimants are no longer alive. But the problems caused by the immense oil spill from Shell’s pipelines have still not been resolved after 13 years. It hurts that this can happen. The court has an opportunity today to set a new standard that will give hope to ordinary citizens that no matter how powerful a company is, there will always be a day of reckoning.”
Also, in another reaction sent to The New Diplomat, Donald Pols of Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), who had eagerly awaited the Friday’s verdict said: “After almost 13 years, we will hear whether Nigerians will finally receive justice or whether Shell has succeeded in completely shirking its responsibility for the pollution. For the inhabitants of the Niger Delta it is crucial that their land is cleaned up and their lost crops and livelihoods are compensated by the guilty party: Shell. A victory would herald the beginning of a new era in which large multinationals such as Shell can no longer go about their business lawlessly but are accountable for their entire operations, including overseas.”
While calling for stronger international regulation to curtail the excesses of oil multinationals, Friends of the Earth Netherlands added that the ruling has far-reaching consequences for the corporate accountability policy of Dutch multinationals.
“The lengthy legal proceedings have shown that there is a worldwide need for better and clearer legislation and regulations for transnational corporations. The Nigeria lawsuit has shown that when it comes to environmental pollution, a large company like Shell applies double standards: in the Netherlands, such oil spills would never be accepted.
“It is time for a legally binding instrument to regulate transnational corporations with respect to human rights. European citizens can call upon the European Commission to enforce human rights and environmental due diligence.” The Dutch environmental group added in the statement.
It would be recalled, Royal Dutch Shell’s operation in the country is as old as Nigeria itself, dating back to 1958 when the country discovered black gold from its first drilled oil well in Oloibiri, Bayelsa. Over the decades, the company has allegedly contributed to the unprecedented pollution in the oil-rich Niger Delta, making the region to be one of the most polluted places on earth, according to an Amnesty International report released in 2018.