A British court Thursday ordered a stay of proceedings against Shell in a suit brought before it by the Bodo community of Rivers State until July 2019.
The Bodo community has been involved in a protracted legal battle with Shell over the clean-up of two 2008 oil spills.
Lawyers for Bodo had accused Shell of trying to kill off the case by seeking a court order that would have meant the community had to meet onerous conditions before it could revive its litigation, which is currently on hold.
But a London High Court judge, Mrs Justice Cockerill, ruled that the litigation should remain stayed until July 1, 2019, with no conditions attached should the Bodo community’s representatives seek to re-activate it before then.
“We are delighted the court has rejected Shell’s attempt to restrict the community’s legal rights,” said the Bodo community’s lead UK lawyer, Dan Leader.
“The message is clear – Shell must clean up this appalling oil spill and the Bodo community will keep on with its legal case until they are confident that it will do so,” he said.
The 2008 oil spills devastated the lands and waterways of Bodo and Shell accepted liability for the spills in 2015, agreeing to pay 55 million pounds ($83 million at the time) to Bodo villagers and to clean up their lands and creeks.
After years of delays, the clean-up is currently underway, under the auspices of the internationally recognised Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI).
Reuters reported that Shell’s lawyers had argued at a hearing on Tuesday that the community should only be able to re-activate the legal case should Shell fail to comply with its obligation to pay for the clean-up.
But Bodo’s lawyers had countered that the community should have unfettered access to the London courts if the clean-up was not completed to a high standard.
Arguing that the pressure of litigation was a key factor in pushing Shell to implement the clean-up, they had asked the judge to keep the legal case on hold until May 2020.
Oil spills, 80 per cent of which are caused by vandalism, are common in the Niger Delta.
Oil companies have run into problems trying to clean up spills, sometimes because of obstruction and even violence by communities trying to extract bigger payouts, or to obtain clean-up contracts.