By Adibe Emenyonu
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has lauded judgement by the Netherlands Court of Appeal that held Shell liable for oil spills across Nigeria’s coastal communities of the Niger Delta and consequently ordered it (Shell) to pay compensation for the spills which polluted rivers, fishponds and farmlands that thousands of local farmers and fishermen in the oil-rich region farm and fish.
In 2008, four Nigerian farmers from Ikot Ada Udo, Oruma and Goi in the Niger Delta supported by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and sister organisation: Milieu defensie/Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, sued Shell for oil pollution in the three Niger Delta villages.
Amongst others, the farmers demanded that Shell clean up the oil spills; pay compensation for the damages caused; and improve the maintenance of its pipelines and installations to prevent future spills.
Reacting to the judgement delivered January 29, in a statement in Benin, yesterday, Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Dr Godwin Ojo, described the outcome of the case which had dragged in the appeal court for over 13 years as a landmark judgment which the organisation is very proud of.
He said the judgement showed that the days of oil companies in Nigeria, particularly Shell criminalising local communities and framing them up for sabotage of crude oil pipelines were over, just as he added that the judgment has “further shown the environmental liability of parent companies for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries.”
Part of the statement reads: “Shell no longer has any hiding place, as this victory will open up a flood gate of court cases against Shell and the oil companies doing business in Nigeria and hiding under weak regulations, lack of enforcement of its extant rules, and taking advantage of the lack of political will of the Nigerian government to bring oil transnationals to account.
“The significance of the landmark judgement is that it addresses the question of access to justice that is very much in question in Nigeria when it comes to holding the oil companies accountable for their human rights violations and environmental degradation.
“The judgement is urgent and strategic as the world transits away from fossil fuels, there is the need to ensure that the devastation done to our environment by Shell is cleaned up and appropriate compensation is paid to communities that have suffered in many cases irreparable losses,” the statement added.
The executive director enjoined Shell to comply with the court verdict, while urging the judge to do the needful in awarding compensation and preventive costs.
Ojo, therefore, called on the Niger Delta communities and CSOs not to relent in their pursuit for justice, adding that over 13 years struggle in the court has paid off.
He also called on the Nigerian government to revamp its regulatory bodies in the oil industry by ensuring that criminal acts of oil transnationals are punished severely.
Ojo further urged the government to take concrete steps to wean Nigeria of its dependence on revenues from oil and gas, build a new economy on the back of a clear renewable energy framework as quickly as possible, and ensure the gradual phasing out of oil and gas activities in the country.