Chima Williams, ED ERA /Friends of the Earth, Nigeria addressing journalists
The long cry for environmental justice by Niger Delta oil ravaged communities and activists finally received succor Friday January 29, 2021 as an Appeal Court in the Hague, Netherlands granted the pleas by farmers from two communities-Oruma in Bayelsa and Goi in Ogoni, Rivers states, for the indictment of Nigeria’s biggest multi-national oil company, Shell and order to pay compensation for damages and clean-up of their long polluted farmlands, fish ponds and environment.
The Appeal Court in the ruling instituted by the farmers through Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth International, upturned the earlier ruling of a Hague High Court which in 2012, absolved Shell from blame over the spills and consequent damages in the two communities though it granted relief to another farmer in the same suit, Friday Akpan from Ikot Adauduo. ERA and partners challenged the ruling against Oruma and Goi while Shell appealed against the order to pay compensation to Friday Akpan.
In the ruling virtually monitored in Port Harcourt by the affected farmers and some of their community members, ERA staff and journalists at Visa Karena Hotel, Port Harcourt, the Appeal Court declared Shell liable for the spills which destroyed their environment and livelihoods and ordered the multinational company to pay compensation to the affected. It also ordered Shell to clean-up the spills and ensure that no spills occur in those communities in future.
Environmental activists including Ken Saro-wiwa have fought for years for oil companies, Shell leading, to be held liable for the numerous pill that have occurred in the region destroying, the vegetation and waterways of the once rich delta but such efforts continued to be frustrated until Friday.
The atmosphere at the Obiri Hall, venue of the court monitoring was therefore joyful and relieved of the anxiety the long wait for justice created as all, the farmers, ERA staff and other community members rejoiced over the ruling. Counsel to the farmers from the Nigerian end, Chima William, who is also the acting executive director of ERA/FoEN described the ruling as historic.
“History has been made. The result of the work we have done for the past 13 years has arrived. History has been made in jurisprudence across the world. The Court of Appeal in the Hague upturned the decision of the lower court in the Hague! “Our work with Niger Delta communities, trying to see that, a multinational, Shell that has destroyed the environment and livelihoods of the people is held accountable has recorded success.”
He said the journey of seeking redress for the farmers started in 2008, and in 2012, the High Court in the Hague delivered a judgment that denied Chief Oguru from Oruma in Bayelsa and High Chief Eric Barizaa Dooh from Goi, Ogoni in Rivers State prayers for compensation from the Big Shell. “The journey started in 2008. Around 2012 thereabout, the lower court delivered a judgment that denied Oruma in Bayelsa State and Goi in Ogoni, Rivers State claims against Shell. Same High Court upheld our claims in favour of Ikot Adaudo, Akwa Ibom. Today the Appeal Court has held Shell liable for destructions caused in Oruma and Goi, for destruction caused by oil spills that polluted citizens’ farmlands, fish ponds and the environment.
“It has held Shell liable and accountable to pay compensation for destructions to communities represented by victims who own farms, fish ponds”. The ERA/FoEN executive director said a key victory is the order to Shell to end further oil spills. “…the court has asked Shell to ensure that no further spills occur in these communities. That is the high point of the ruling; that Shell (parent and daughter) are to be held accountable for further spills”.
Chima said the ruling has given hope to all Niger Deltans affected by oil and gas activities. “This day has given back hope to all Niger Deltans who are under the jackboot of the destruction of multi-national companies in their communities, who have sought relief to defend and protect their environment”.
Devastated land of Goi
According to him, the Hague ruling has properly brought Shell to book after decades of playing above the law. “Nigerian courts have been ruling on damages and destruction but, this is the first ruling holding a multinational company accountable and restricting them from further destruction. Shell has been properly brought to judgment in its home country.”
Chima explained that ruling on Ikot-Adaudo was deferred for further and that compensation would be worked out and ruled on later for Goi and Oruma in line with procedures at the Hague. He expressed gratitude to all who helped to achieve the historic victory as he urged Shell to do the needful, pay the farmers, cleanup and protect the environment rather than move the case further. “We are waiting to see whether Shell will become a responsible company or push further but they can’t change anything; this judgment, where law is respected, and with due process, we believe will be respected.
“It is up to Shell to accept the judgment or make it more expensive by continuing to appeal. What communities are appealing against as evident”, the ED stated. For the farmers, the ruling has brought great joy. “I am very, very much overjoyed and happy to be alive to see this day. This case has made me very poor, made me suffer. I pray this judgment (case) should not go further, that Shell should quickly pay us and properly cleanup the environment so my children can begin to use the land.
“We thank ERA/FoEN who took us even to Netherlands in 2012. We have received a good judgment today”, Chief Oguru from Oruma told journalists. High Chief Eric Barizaa Dooh, whose Goi community was sacked from their ancestral homes by the oil pollution and the family lost a bakery, fish ponds and farm lands, described the victory as a victory for Niger Deltans and all Ogoni.
Asked how the judgment would affect his people, he said signs of changes began to show even before the judgment as invitations to some critical stakeholder engagement denied Goi community have started coming in. Said he, “Signs began to show even before the judgment; last Tuesday, Shell invited us for GMoU meeting and there was another invitation to a Bodo road contract.” He said the ruling will help the rebuilding of destroyed life in Goi, abain between to oil spill sites. Also speaking on Goi, Bridget Pidomson said the ruling will change a lot of things for the ravished community.
“I am over happy. The Lord has done it for the Ogonis. The judgment will bring a lot of good things. People have been suffering so much when it comes to food, vegetation, water, air-borne diseases. “I am very happy that Shell will compensate our people and not allow oil to spill again”. For Churchill Efanga from Oruma, there is joy in knowing justice that cannot be gotten at home can come from outside. “I am overwhelmed, over-excited. I was there as CDC chairman when the spill occurred. Shell came, conducted test at the site but no result, no equipment, no clean-up. Worst part was that our black men sided Shell but Netherlands has said that what Shell did was wrong.
And as Ikot Adaudo awaits ruling on Shell appeal against the Hague High Court ruling that gave it victory, Friday expressed optimism that victory will still come its way. “The judgment was quite okay. Already they have seen that Ikot Akaudo has a good case”, he said.