By Styvn Obodoekwe
Long awaited judgment on the litigation over oil pollution between four Niger Delta farmers and oil giant, Shell at the Dutch Court has been fixed for December 18. The date was announced by the president of the Court of Appeal, on October 9 when the appeal case came up for hearing at the Hague. While adjourning the case to December 18 for judgment, the Dutch Appeal Court president specifically requested that counsel to the four Niger Delta farmers be present in the court on the judgment day. The court further affirmed that it has jurisdiction to entertain the case, a development which is considered a major setback to Shell which, had seriously tried to use the issue of jurisdiction to frustrate the matter. i.e court sessions in the Hague due to COVID-19 restrictions, they monitored proceedings virtually from Port Harcourt as it was streamed live.
Although the Nigerian farmers and their Nigerian lawyer, Chima Williams who, is the acting executive director of Environmental Rights Action, ERA, a frontline environmental justice NGO, were not able to physically attend the court session because of COVID-19 challenge, they were able to monitor proceedings virtually in Port Harcourt where the session was streamed live.
During the hearing which lasted for two days (October 8 and 9), new evidence gathered and tendered before the court by counsel to the farmers, Chamma Samkalden to counter Shell’s claims that it is not culpable in the destruction of the sources of livelihood of the farmers, were discussed. The new evidence, according to Chima Williams, addressed sufficiently, the issues of whether Shell has cleaned up the mess satisfactorily, whether the oil company has done enough to prevent spills from occurring and whether Shell’s headquarters, which is in the Netherlands, is responsible for the operations of the Nigerian offices of the company.
According to ERA’s acting executive director who has been on the case since its inception, “Shell was ordered by the court to provide access to certain documents, including audit reports, and internal memos which provide evidence on the relationship between the parent company and its Nigerian subsidiary.” He stated that further evidence on the management of the Nigerian operations from the Netherlands came from an ongoing criminal proceeding in Italy against Shell, adding that experts appointed by the court have made it clear that Shell’s investigations into the cause of the spills were flawed.
Addressing the community members and the parties to the matter, the ERA boss noted that with what transpired in the court on the hearing days, there is hope of victory for the farmers against Shell. He expressed optimism that the matter will end in favour of the communities. Williams commended them for their perseverance and consistency, stressing that victory is around the corner. He admonished them to embrace God and hand over the case to him as they await the judgment day
Reacting to the court proceedings, the chairman of ERA’s Board of Directors, Rev. Nnimmo Bassey said that it is important that judgment should be delivered so that the parties would know their fate and sort out the matter once and for all. He said the case has been in the Hague for too long, almost making it to look like a Nigerian court case.
The case started in 2008 when the four farmers from Goi, Rivers State, Oruma in Bayelsa State and Ikot Ada Udoh, Akwa Ibom State, dragged Shell Petroleum Development Company, a Nigerian subsidiary of the Anglo Dutch oil giant to court in the Netherlands, the home country of the oil giant. In the suit filed on behalf of the farmers by ERA and Millieudefnsie, the farmers are seeking redress over pollution of the environment and destruction of their farmlands and other sources of livelihood allegedly caused by Shell in the Niger Delta region. They are praying the Court to order Royal Dutch Shell to mandate its subsidiary, SPDC, to remediate and recover the environment ,which was destroyed by its facilities.
Addressing newsmen shortly after the Court adjourned proceedings, Nigerian counsel to the farmers and acting executive director, Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Chima Williams, said the case would not have been necessary if all the multinational companies operating in “Nigeria had respect for the rights of Nigerians and their environment”. He explained that the case is about oil spill caused by facilities of SPDC in Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom State, Oruma in Bayelsa State and Goi in Ogoni, Rivers State, which affected the plaintiff’s properties.
Williams noted that a High Court passed a judgment in 2015 in favour of Ikot Aada Udo and in favour of Shell in the cases of GOI and Oruma following which an appeal was filed, challenging the lower court rulings. Hearing of the appeal has taken place and judgment reserved for December 18.