By Constance Meju
As Shell, Nigeria’s oil giant reels over the knock it received Friday from the Appeal Court in the Hague over unattended massive oil spills in two communities in the Niger Delta, national and international activists and development agencies are hailing the landmark judgment which they say, will change development in the environmental landscape of the Niger Delta.
The Appeal Court in the Hague on Friday January 29, made history when it upturned the 2012 ruling of a lower court in the Hague which denied farmers from two oil devastated communities, Oruma in Ogbia,Bayela State and Goi in Ogoni, Rivers State compensation claims for destruction of their farmland and fish ponds arising from spills.
The court after painstaking hearing and examination of documents and evidence at the disposal of the court, ruled that Shell Nigeria was liable for the destructions and ordered it to pay compensation to the farmers, clean-up the oil and put in place mechanism to ensure there are no future spills.
ERA/Friends of the Earth acting executive director Chima William ho monitored from Port Harcourt, described the judgment as historic as, “a global standard has been set that oil companies will not only be held responsible for destructions to host communities and citizens, but are also be held accountable”.
He said citizens of the Niger Delta he added, “should be in celebration mood as any oppressor will have his/her day of judgment. Shell is no longer above the law”.
Aljazeralive reports of joy at the Dutch end of Friends of the Earth.
“Tears of joy here. After 13 year, we’ve won,” the Dutch branch tweeted following the ruling.
Donald Pols, head of the FoEN, Dutch branch, Milleudefensie (initiators of the Dutch litigation) described the ruling as, “fantastic news for the environment and people living in developing countries”.
He said, “It means people living in developing countries can take on the multinationals who do them harm”.
Responding to the ruling, Shell expressed disappointment. We are disappointed that this court has made a different finding on the cause of these spills and in its finding that SPDC I liable,” the multinational said in a company statement.
The Nigerian office reportedly jolted by the outcome, claimed, ”Like all Shell operated ventures globally, e are committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment”, a claim that does flow with the company’s numerous records of environmental abuse.
Environment Laureate and executive director Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey said Shell has finally been told the truth.
“This judgment didn’t come as a surprise to some of us. The evidence was overwhelming and has refused to disappear even till now. There are some crimes that are hard to hide. Environmental crimes are of that sort. It takes willful blindness to pretend not to see, smell or feel.
“We are happy that Shell has been told the truth today. It took long, two 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. It may take long, but judgment day comes”.
An international funder on extractives BothENDS, Netherlands joined in the celebration. In WhatsApp messages to its partners, the body said it is a long overdue victory.
Nigerian government’s only intervention wa the notice ordering community members out of Goi
The messages read:
“Dear all, I hope you heard the great news from the Dutch court today! Shell has to pay the Ogoni farmers!!!
“This sets a great precedent for other court cases and of course a VERY LONG OVERDUE victory for Nigerians and the Ogoni”.
High Chief Eric Barizaa Dooh (middle), and his Goi team. First left is Bridget Pidomson
Inside sources say Shell ill proceed to the Dutch Supreme Court but development partners who have been working with the Dutch Embassy to reduce tension over destructions from oil activities by Shell advise that Shell should back down and respect the Hague ruling.
They say the ruling indicates the seriousness of the Dutch government on getting Shell to improve its services and relationship with host communities.
“This is what the Nigerian government cannot do. The judgment will change the environment landscape and end a very strong signal to actors in the industry to act responsibly. If other countries do same-Italy rule against Agip, US against Chevron, it will help restore sanity in the oil and gas sector,” an academic who would rather not be named stated.
Chima William, Nigerian counsel to the farmers and acting executive director ERA/FoEN addressing the press