Four Nigerian villagers are suing Royal Dutch Shell for failing to clean-up oils spills that have destroyed their farms and damaged their health in landmark case that has started in The Hague.
Backed by an NGO, Friends of the Earth; the fishermen and farmers are seeking unspecified damages for pollution of land and waterways around their homes. Campaigners said that if successful, the case could open flood-gates to a raft of claims for compensation on Shell and other oil majors in a country where oil companies doesn’t do much in compensating communities when affected in oil spills.
Speaking to the international court, Channa Samkalden, a lawyer representing the Nigerians said that Shell had allowed its pipelines to fall into disrepair and then had not cleaned up the mess from subsequent leaks. She said: “Shell knew for a long time that the pipeline was damaged but didn’t do anything. They could have stopped the leaks.”
One of the plaintiffs from the Goi community which is based near a Shell pipeline, Eric Dooh said: “My community is a ghost land as a result of the devastation. We had good vegetation. Today people have respiratory problems and are getting sick.”
Shell however denied negligence. The company said the pipelines were sometimes damaged by pipeline vandals trying to steal oil. Around 150,000 barrels of oil, worth $6bn, are stolen from the Nigeria delta every year, the company told Reuters.
In a statement, the company said it was “committed to cleaning up all spills from its facilities whether resulting from sabotage or from operational causes where communities grant access to do so.” It added: “The real tragedy of the Niger Delta is the widespread and continual criminal activity, including sabotage, theft and illegal refining, that causes the vast majority of oil spills. It is this criminality which all organizations with an interest in Nigeria’s future should focus their efforts on highlighting and addressing.”
The villagers are hoping the court would rule in their favour as they have concrete evidence to back their claims. The ruling they believe may bring about the emancipation their people need from oil companies in the area.