The oil spills in the Niger Delta region are nothing new.
They have been the cause of many violent uprisings that have come to mark the region, so much so that the Niger Delta region has become one marked by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage, and illegal refining.
Now, lawyers for over 40,000 Nigerians are demanding action from Shell to clean up oil spills. On Tuesday, Britain’s high court began hearing the lawsuits which were filed by the Ogale and Bille people.
The plaintiffs in the case are alleging that decades of oil spills have fouled the water and destroyed the lives of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the Niger Delta River.
Shell was the first oil company to operate in Nigeria, starting production in 1958. Nigeria’s then military government had in 1990 sent armed troops to put down protests by the Ogoni people, turning the oil-producing south into a war zone.
The oil giant is arguing that the case should be heard in Nigeria since it involves their Nigerian subsidiary that runs a joint venture with Nigeria’s government.
The plaintiffs are, however, insisting that they have brought the case to Britain which is Shell’s home base because Nigerian courts are too corrupt. The leader of Nigeria’s Ogale people, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, told The Associated Press news agency on the eve the hearing;
“Let the shareholders of Shell who are residents of the advanced world, like Britain, let them see a representative of a kingdom that is being destroyed for them to have money, …That’s blood money.”
Leigh Day, a London law firm, is handling the plaintiffs case after the firm won a landmark agreement from Shell to pay $83.5m in compensation to the Bodo community for damage caused by oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
Both communities, Ogale and Bille, are located in Ogoniland, part of the oil-rich southern Niger River Delta and they want Shell held responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC).
SPDC is, however, insisting that it has produced no oil or gas in the region since 1993 and arguing in court that the case of the plaintiffs is speculative and full of “legal and evidential weaknesses”. It is also saying that it will challenge the jurisdiction of the UK courts in this case.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari had promised a clean-up of Ogoniland but the clean-up which was supposed to start in June is yet to begin.