A British court has rejected the pollution claims against Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell by residents of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region demanding compensation for decades of oil spills there.
Members of the Ogale and Bille communities, who say thousands of lives have been devastated by environmental disasters from the global company, had applied for the case to be heard in Britain, arguing that rampant corruption in their home country prevents them from achieving justice in courts there.
But the High Court in London on Thursday, 27 January said it did not have jurisdiction in the case, ruling that it should be settled in Nigeria.
“Our community is disappointed but not discouraged by this judgment,” King Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, traditional ruler of the Ogale Community, said in a statement.
“This decision has to be appealed, not just for Ogale but for many other people in the Niger Delta who will be shut out if this decision is allowed to stand.
“Shell is simply being asked to clean up its oil and to compensate the communities it has devastated,” he said.
Shell’s lawyer, Peter Goldsmith, told Judge Peter Fraser during a hearing last November that the cases concerned “fundamentally Nigerian issues”, and should not be heard in London.
However, the lawyer representing the claimants, Daniel Leader of the London law firm Leigh Day, said that the spills had “blighted the lives of the thousands”.
He said they had “no choice” other than to seek legal redress in London.
Leigh Day is handling the cases after it won a landmark agreement from Shell to pay $83.5m in compensation to the Bodo community for damage caused by oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
Shell originally offered $50,000 before the Bodo community took their case to the same UK court.
Goldsmith argued that the case involves Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), which runs a joint venture with the Nigerian government.
He claimed that the case was aimed at establishing the High Court’s jurisdiction over SPDC, opening the door for further claims.
“Shell is Nigeria and Nigeria is Shell”
Leigh Day had argued that Shell was “ultimately responsible for failing to ensure that its Nigerian subsidiary operates without causing environmental devastation”.
“At the moment, these communities have no choice. They have to take them to court to get them to act,” Leader said earlier.
Okpabi told the AFP news agency in November: “Shell is Nigeria and Nigeria is Shell”.
“You can never, never defeat Shell in a Nigerian court. The truth is that the Nigerian legal system is corrupt.”
Holding up a plastic bottle containing contaminated water from his community in Nigeria, the traditional ruler said: “My people are drinking this water.”
“There are strange diseases in my community – skin diseases, people are dying sudden deaths, some people are impotent, low sperm count,” he added.
“I can afford to buy water. But can I afford to buy for everybody? No.”
SPDC claims that the main sources of pollution in Ogale and Bille are “crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining”.
The first claim was brought on behalf of 2,335 individuals from the Bille Kingdom, who are mostly fishermen whose environment has been blighted by oil spills.
The second claim was brought on behalf of the 40,000 members of the Ogale Community, who have suffered repeated oil spills since at least 1989.
The Ogale and Bille communities account for only a small portion of the millions of Nigerians that human rights activists say have been injured by contamination they say would never have been allowed in the home countries of the multinational oil companies that operate in partnership with the Nigerian government.
Sesan Adeola with news agencies