The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) at the weekend expressed disappointment over a Dutch court’s ruling just as some environmentalists applauded the decision of the Court of Appeal in favour of the farmers affected by oil spillage.
A Dutch court on Friday ordered the Nigerian subsidiary of Shell to pay compensation for over oil spills in Oruma, Bayelsa State, Goi in Rivers State and Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom State.
The Court of Appeal in The Hague ruled that the Nigerian arm of the British-Dutch company should compensate the four farmers and undertake a clean-up of pollution from leaking oil pipelines and install anti-leak devices on its pipelines. It will be recalled that four farmers had dragged Shell to a Dutch court over a 2008 oil spillage that adversely affected their farms. In a reaction, SPDC said it was disappointed by the ruling, insisting that the incidents in question were caused by sabotage.
Bamidele Odugbesan, Media Relations Manager of SPDC said on Friday that most leaks from its operations were caused by vandals. “We continue to believe that the spills in Oruma and Goi were the result of sabotage.
“We are therefore disappointed that this court has made a different finding on the cause of these spills and in its finding that SPDC is liable.
“Sabotage, crude oil theft and illegal refining are a major challenge in the Niger Delta. “Indeed in 2019, around 95 per cent of spill incidents from our operations there were due to such criminal acts.
“Regardless of cause, we clean up and remediate, as we have done with the spills in this case.
“Like all Shell-operated ventures globally, we are committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment,” Odugbesan said. The exact amount of compensation will be determined at a later date while Shell which lost can still appeal against the ruling at the Dutch Supreme Court. But Iniruo Wills, Homeland chapter President of the Ijaw Professionals Association and a former Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa State applauded the decision of the Dutch court.
“This is a most welcome landmark ruling. It is a crying shame that hapless folks and communities have to shop for environmental justice abroad because they can’t find it in Nigeria.
“In addition to litigating specific cases, there is a need for intensive sensitization of the Nigerian judiciary and the regulatory system including Federal Ministry/Ministers of Petroleum and Environment to demonstrate a sense of urgency, duty and commitment.
“It is embarrassingly lacking that for over 60 years till date that environmental justice has eluded communities whose existence is threatened by the continually worsening plague of oil and gas pollution,” Wills said.
Another Environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey noted that the decision was right and just. “This judgement didn’t come as a surprise to some of us. The evidence was overwhelming and has refused to disappear even after 13 years.
There are some crimes that are hard to hide. Environmental crimes are of that sort. “It takes wilful blindness to pretend not to see, smell or feel. We are happy that Shell has been told the truth that they must pay for the extreme harm they have inflicted on the people and the environment.
“It took long, two of the four plaintiffs died, but their struggle has not been in vain. “No corporation, private or public should ever think they can commit ecocide in the Niger Delta and not be held accountable,” Bassey said.