A Nigerian traditional ruler from Rivers State has accused oil giant, Shell of pocketing “blood money” after leaking pipelines conveying crude oil allegedly polluted his community’s drinking water with deadly diseases.
Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, who is the leader of Nigeria’s Ogale people, has taken the Royal Dutch Shell company to the High Court in London as he says they are responsible for the “devastating” pollution.
The court will rule on whether the case is under the UK’s jurisdiction today.
“They are running away from their responsibility,” King Okpabi told the London-based Telegraph newspaper. “Now it is time for payback.”
The king, who brought several bottles of the contaminated drinking water to the court as evidence, said it has caused cancer, skin disease, impotence and other serious illnesses among his people.
“Royal Dutch Shell came to our country in the 1950s and since then, they have been running away from the damage they have caused,” he said.
“It is a UK registered company and that is why we came to the High Court in London seeking justice….the legal system in Nigeria is highly corrupt and there is no way we could get justice (from a Nigerian court.)
“Even if you tried it could take 20 to 30 years. But we do not have that time as the situation is an emergency.”
King Okpabi said the only court that he believed was capable of the “emergency situation” was London’s High Court.
“Up until 2011, we did not know what sort of danger Shell was causing for us. But we knew there had been strange diseases because our water was not smelling well. But we still drank it.
“Now my people are having skin diseases, we are having boys and girls who cannot have children after they get married, people are getting cancer.
“We did not know we had a problem until a UN report in 2011 which made us realise we were sitting on gunpowder, that in our water there was a level of disease that was 900 per cent (higher than normal).
“This led to the gradual destruction and killing of our people since 1956, which we did not know of until the report was done.”
In a series of hearings over the past week, the ruler has argued on behalf of 40,000 fellow Nigerians that the firm is responsible for “devastating” environmental damage caused by oil pollution.
He was represented in court this week by the British firm Leigh Day, which argued that Shell should be liable for failing to protect its pipelines to prevent criminal damage.
“I am here to tell the Shell directors that they have made tons of money from our community by destroying our environment,” King Okpabi added.
“It is important for them to know that the proceeds are indeed blood money. It is heartbreaking when you see first hand, the devastation caused by the activity of these multi-national companies.
“They are running away from their responsibility…but now I have been in court and I have now seen the independence of the system, and I am confident it will decipher the truth.”
Shell was the first oil company to operate in Nigeria, starting production in 1958.
In the 1990s, the military government sent armed troops to put down protests by the Ogoni people, turning the oil-producing south into a crisis zone.
A spokesman for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), the subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell which is facing the legal action, said: “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.
“We are contesting the jurisdiction of the English court over these claims,” he said.