Foreign experts have described as a major landmark, the suit filed by Ogoni people against the Dutch oil company, Shell, in Netherlands last week by farmers in the host oil community.
Shell was dragged to court in The Hague, Netherlands, by four Nigerian farmers from Ogoni in Rivers State in collaboration with environmental campaigners, Friends of the Earth. The farmers said they could no longer work or feed their families because oil spills caused by Shell in the area have damaged crops and fish farms.
Commenting on the suit, an environmental law expert, Professor Jonathan Verschuuren, of the Netherlands’ Tilburg University, said: “It was a really important case, if (the claimants) are successful. It is a big step in cases where Western multinationals commit acts that cause pollution. Up until now, you had to go through a developing country’s courts,” he said.
The plaintiffs, according to Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, opted to drag Shell before a Dutch court because they were said to have lacked confidence in Nigerian courts as hundreds of legal cases allegedly brought by victims of oil pollution have become “stranded in the inefficient and corrupt Nigerian legal system.”
The NGO added: “Furthermore, the verdicts are often not or inadequately carried out and the damages awarded – if they are paid – are far from sufficient.”
Senior Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, Evert Hessink, explained why the case was taken to The Netherlands: “We have more confidence in the Dutch system,” he said.
The group also said it took the case to The Netherlands so that Shell’s headquarters could be held accountable for the actions of its subsidiaries. “It’s not about whether the headquarters know every detail. It is about whether senior managers and executives of a well-organised international company were aware of the problem and were able to instruct their company,” Hessink added.
“When it’s clear that this is a possibility, many others from Nigeria, or other countries that have issues with Dutch or European companies, can take this route,” he added.