* Confirms installation of leak detection system on 20 pipeline segments
Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt
Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) yesterday announced that it would pay €15 million to farmers in three Niger Delta communities as compensation for damages to their farms from pipeline leaks between 2004 and 2007.
The villages are Goi in Ogoni land, Rivers State; Oruma in Bayelsa State; and Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom State.
A Dutch Appeal court ruled last year, following 15 years of legal battles, that Shell’s Nigerian branch must pay out for a series of leaks and that the parent company must install new pipeline equipment to prevent further devastating spills.
Shell announced yesterday that it had reached a deal with the Dutch environmental group Milieudefensie that has helped the affected communities.
“Under the settlement, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), as operator of the SPDC joint venture, will pay an amount of €15 million for the benefit of the communities and the individual claimants,” it said in a statement.
The deal also confirms the installation of a leak detection system on 20 pipeline segments in accordance with the Dutch court’s ruling and that remediation work has been completed.
Despite acknowledging that the settlement follows upon the Dutch court ruling, the oil firm said the agreement “is on a no admission of liability basis, and settles all claims and ends all pending litigation related to the spills.”
Four Niger Delta farmers and fishermen had 13 years ago sued Shell in the Netherlands to pay for cleaning up spills from its pipelines in the Niger Delta, a major oil-producing region.
They were aided by Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth.
Shell has always attributed pollution to sabotage and said it had cleaned up affected areas.
The legal battle has lasted so long that the original farmers have now all died, but their survivors and the affected communities pushed on.
“It is a great relief to all of us that after the years of legal battle with Shell, we will soon be recipients of this money as compensation for all we have lost,” said Eric Dooh, one of the current plaintiffs.
Milieudefensie’s Director, Donald Pols, said the settlement would allow the plaintiffs and their communities to finally get on with their lives.
“If we look at the court case as a whole, the major gain is that a new standard has been set: companies will no longer be able to get away with pollution and with ignoring human rights. Now they can be called to account,” Pols said.
A statement yesterday by the Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoN), said Shell’s agreement to pay the compensation is a victory for all.
Recall that in 2007, the farmers and fishermen, together with Friends of the Earth Netherlands, initiated legal proceedings against the headquarters of Shell in The Hague because of the oil pollution in the three Niger Delta villages.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands, together with lawyers, Chima Williams, current Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, and Channa Samkalden, took up the case in 2008.
The proceedings took so long that all the original claimants (Barizah Dooh, Chief Oguru, Elder Friday and Alali Efanga) have since died. Now, over 15 years later, the farmers and their fellow villagers are to receive compensation.
According to one of the Plaintiffs, Eric Dooh, “The compensation we receive from the court case in the Netherlands will enhance a total transformation of the community and myself in terms of reinvestment in our environment. It will be a relief for all of us when the money is finally paid as compensation for our losses after a long time of legal action against Shell.”
Executive Director of the ERA/FoEN Chima Williams said: “Justice may have been delayed but it has now been served. The resilience of the farmers, their communities, and determination to make Shell pay is a model that will galvanise other impacted communities in the Niger Delta and elsewhere to act and stay on course.
“Shell’s acceptance to pay compensation and install leak detection systems is both unprecedented and signals victory for all parties – the victims, environmental justice campaigners and Shell. Furthermore, if Shell can do this, it means that there is no hiding place for any corporate polluter as they may run, but cannot hide from the long arm of the law.”
Member, Board of Environmental Rights Development Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey said: “The victory of the Niger Delta farmers is a testament that big polluters may run but will find nowhere on earth to hide because they will be sought out.
“We celebrate the farmers still alive to savour this victory and believe the spirit of the deceased four Niger Delta farmers and others will now rest, but corporate polluters will never rest until their operations and attitudes in respect for their hosts, protection of their environment, livelihoods and humanity is guaranteed.”
Celebrating, HRH Pere Wapeabiama David Amakiri, Paramount Ruler of Oruma Community said: “Though, the compensation Shell agreed to cannot replace human life, we have been able to show through our patience and determination in the last 15 years that people’s power will always triumph corporate behemoths. Shell has learnt a good lesson.”
On his part, Mene Stephen Kobani, Paramount Ruler of Goi Community said: “We anticipate that other co-travelers in the fossil fuels industry will now understand that the fires the Niger Delta farmers and fishermen lit in 2008 will continue to rage until they pay up and cleanup for their mess in every Niger Delta environment.”