4 Nigerian farmers lose some, win some against Shell

Published on January 30, 2013 by pmnews   ·   No Comments

THE HAGUE(AFP) – A Dutch court on Wednesday rejected a bid by Nigerian farmers to hold Shell’s parent company responsible for oil damage to their villages, saying only the Anglo-Dutch oil giant’s Nigerian subsidiary was partly responsible.

Both sides claimed victory in the case that pressure groups had hoped would set a precedent for global corporate responsibility.

Environmentalists hailed the first ruling by a Dutch court on the responsibility of a subsidiary of a Dutch company operating abroad, while Shell said it was pleased its parent company had been cleared.

The court “dismissed all claims against the parent companies… since pursuant to Nigerian law a parent company in principle is not obliged to prevent its subsidiaries from harming third parties abroad,” judge Henk Wien said.

File photo: Four Nigerian farmers (L to R) Alali Efanga, Friday Alfred Akpan-Ikot Ada Udo, Chief Fidelis A. Oguruñ Oruma and Eric Dooh sitting in the law courts in The Hague. AFP Photo

File photo: Four Nigerian farmers (L to R) Alali Efanga, Friday Alfred Akpan-Ikot Ada Udo, Chief Fidelis A. Oguruñ Oruma and Eric Dooh sitting in the law courts in The Hague. AFP Photo

The four farmers and fishermen, backed by lobby group Friends of the Earth, first filed the case in 2008 against the Netherlands-headquartered oil giant in a court thousands of miles (kilometres) from their homes.

Environmental groups had hoped the case would open the floodgates for hundreds of similar claims around the world.

Wien said however that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary must pay damages to the farmers and fishermen in one claim relating to oil spills near the Niger Delta village of Ikot Ada Udo, which the court blamed on sabotage that Shell Nigeria could have prevented.

“Shell Nigeria has been sentenced to pay damages in one of the cases. All claims in the other four proceedings have been dismissed,” Wien said.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Geert Ritsema said his reaction to the verdict was mixed, but that the group would appeal.

“The court in principle said Shell is responsible to prevent sabotage,” Ritsema said. “It has never happened that a Dutch court convicted a company for its operations abroad.”

“For two villages justice has not been done yet, but Friends of the Earth is determined to fight on,” he said.

“We are really stunned… flabbergasted that the court simply said the spill (is the result of) sabotage,” he said.

The four farmers from the villages of Goi, Ikot Ada Udo and Oruma wanted Shell to clean up the mess, repair and maintain defective pipelines to prevent further damage, and pay out compensation.

“The court acknowledged that there has been interference and that Shell hasn’t taken good care of its facilities,” said Mene Eric Barizaa Dooh, the only plaintiff present in court.

“But, the court has not given a fair hearing (to the people from his village of Goi). The place is still badly contaminated. That is a very serious issue and leaves us with a perpetual problem.”

Shell welcomed the decision clearing the parent company of responsibility.

“We are very pleased by the ruling of the court today that both Shell and Shell Nigeria have been proven right in the sense that the parent company is neither liable nor responsible and that the damages and leaks have been caused by sabotage and theft,” said vice president of environment Allard Castelein.

Former Friends of the Earth International head Nnimmo Bassey told AFP by telephone from Abuja that the case had set a precedent: “I can see many cases coming up.”

Environmental groups say multinationals have double standards in developing countries and regions such as Europe or North America. They want the Netherlands, and other Western nations, to pass laws forcing companies to enforce the same environmental responsibility standards abroad as at home.

In a landmark ruling, the Dutch judiciary in 2009 declared itself competent to try the case despite protests from Shell that its Nigerian subsidiary was solely legally responsible for any damage.

Oil pollution has ravaged large swathes of the Niger Delta, situated in the southeast of the world’s eighth-largest oil producer, which exports nearly two million barrels a day.

Shell, the biggest producer in the west African nation where it has been drilling for the last half-a-century, denied responsibility.

The company blamed oil spills between 2004 and 2007 on illegal theft and sabotage.

Friends of the Earth says the scale of Nigeria’s oil pollution was twice that of the five million barrels dumped in the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010, the biggest ever marine spill. Shell disputes the Nigerian figure.

The UN’s environmental agency released a report in 2011, saying decades of oil pollution in the Niger Delta’s Ogoniland region may require the world’s biggest ever clean-up and could take up to 30 years.