So…how about that Shell lawsuit thingy eh? Have no idea what I’m talking about? Well I wouldn’t be surprised. At the beginning of August a landmark case in the British courts provided some light in the otherwise dark night sky that is Shell’s presence in Nigeria.
In brief, Shell has accepted responsibility for a series of oil spills during 2008 and 2009 in parts of Ogoniland. To be more specific, the Bodo region. The article on the Al Jazeera English website goes on to say:
“SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) has always acknowledged that the two spills which affected the Bodo community, and which are the subject of this legal action, were operational,” a statement from Shell said.
Leigh Day & Co, the lawyers representing the Bodo communities, who live in the snaking, oil-rich creeks and waterways, said the case was the first of its kind because it would be handled under British jurisdiction.
“SPDC has agreed to formally accept liability and concede to the jurisdiction of the UK,” a statement on the law firm’s website said.
“This is one of the most devastating oil spills the world has ever seen and yet it had gone almost unnoticed until we received instructions to bring about a claim against Shell in this country.”
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC, insisted most spills in Nigeria were caused by sabotage and illegal refining, but said the firm would help with the clean-up.
He was responding to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which said decades of oil pollution in the Ogoniland region of southern Nigeria may require the world’s biggest ever clean-up.
“This report makes a valuable contribution towards improving understanding of the issue of oil spills in Ogoniland,” Sunmonu said.
Despite the fact that most media orgs did not pick up on this story, we cannot underestimate its significance.
Number One, there have been virtually zero successful claims in Nigeria or any foreign courts where Shell either accepts liability or is proven to be liable for the decades of environmental destruction, economic sabotage and violence in the Delta region of Nigeria.
Secondly, Shell accepted liability!!! Now in the wake of the active lobbying, corruption and underhanded tactics being used by Shell executives (especially Anne Pickard while she was top exec of Shell in Nigeria), and exposed in the Wikileaks cable gate earlier this year, we know that Shell will do anything to avoid culpability. Why did they accept this time? Surely there must be more cases, where short of changing history, they would not be able to quietly buy their way out of responsibility.
Despite the fact that they continue to blame sabotage (rightly in some cases) for the majority of spills, much of the damage in the area began pretty much when Shell and other companies (including Chevron & BP) first entered Nigeria, and not in the recent 15 year period of violent activism on the part of local groups. The spills mentioned above alone equal 20% of the Deepwater Horizon spill, and they were just a few years ago.
Who can quantify the damage of 50+ years? And lest I come across as naive, our politicians are actively complicit in this situation.
The blog Remember Sarowiwa regularly publishes updates on legal cases and political activity around Shell and oil in Nigeria. A recent article discusses the potential concessions being made by a parliamentary bill which will tax oil companies less than they currently pay for operating in Nigeria. Less, not more. Even less money coming in, that will never be used to support the affected families and communities.
What I find dissapointing (if only because my nature can’t help but expect more), is that Nigeria is running scared from being uncompetetive. Despite the immense profits being recorded by these companies, Nigeria is counting money coming in before considering the cost to it’s people.
The USA is forcing BP to compensate every individual, company and community affected by the spill over there, has our government done even 1% of what the US is doing to BP? No. And still, they bend over backwards to accommodate them. We know that our politicians will always fill their pockets first.
Now, in light of the court case above, if this window can really provide applicable case law, I say lets jump on it! I’m no lawyer, but I would hope that there is a chance that we can finally start making Shell pay. It’s not like they don’t have the cash. We cannot be scared that they will take their business elsewhere, quite frankly, there just isn’t enough oil in the world for that.
What we should be scared of, is the otherwise obvious assertion that the lives of every Nigerian affected by the situation in Delta is obviously worth less than the $112 price tag of Brent crude oil today.