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Following a 13-year trial, Shell Nigeria has been ordered by a Dutch court to compensate four Nigerian famers for major oil spills the farmers say caused harmful pollution to their lands. 

Shell Nigeria must now compensate the farmers for the losses they suffered due to the oil spills, in the two villages of Goi and Oruma in 2004 and 2005. The court also added that Shell hadn't done enough to clean up the spills.

Donald Pols, head of Friends of the Earth’s Netherlands, which supported the case, said: “This is fantastic news for the environment and people living in developing countries. It means people in developing countries can take on the multinationals who do them harm.”

Meanwhile Eric Doo, one of the farmers involved, said: “Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil. This verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger Delta.”

Dooh’s father is one of two complainants who have died during the 13-year case, following debate over whether Shell’s parent company should be held responsible for the actions of its Nigerian arm. 

The case only started to make serious headway in 2015 after The Hague appeals court ruled that Dutch courts had jurisdiction over the case, seven years after the farmers first brought their case forward. 

The appeals court also ruled that Shell’s parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, and its subsidiary, must install warning equipment on its pipelines in Oruma in order to limit the environmental damage should another spill occur. 

In a statement following the decision, Shell reiterated its position that it believed the spills were caused by sabotage. 

“Like all Shell-operated ventures globally, we are committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment,” the company said, according to the Guardian. “Sabotage, crude oil theft, and illegal refining are a major challenge in the Niger delta.”

Over five decades, oil and gas extraction have caused large-scale, continuous contamination of the water and soil in Niger Delta communities. According to Amnesty International, a 2016 clean-up effort launched by the Nigerian government has been ineffective, with work starting in only 11% of the most affected areas.

In this March 24, 2011 file photo, oil is seen on the creek water's surface near an illegal oil refinery in Ogoniland, outside Port Harcourt, in Nigeria's Delta region.
In this March 24, 2011 file photo, oil is seen on the creek water's surface near an illegal oil refinery in Ogoniland, outside Port Harcourt, in Nigeria's Delta region.
Image: Sunday Alamba/AP

“Numerous conflicts of interest around Shell have also been revealed involving the management of the clean-up agency, HYPREP, and the Nigerian government,” the organization said in a July 2020 statement co-signed by the Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth Europe. 

Amnesty International also said the Nigerian government had not publicly accounted for how the $31 million allocated for the clean up project has been spent. 

A similar situation is also developing in Chad, on Nigeria’s south-eastern border, where a group of primarily subsistence farmers in the villages around the Nya Pende River are confronting officials of British mining company Glencore UK in mediation, after the UK government accepted their human rights complaint. 

The situation stems from a 2018 incident where an earth bank supporting one of Glencore’s oil concession waste basins in Badile collapsed, leaving waste the size of 34 Olympic-sized swimming pools to flow into, and contaminate, the Nya Pende River — the primary water source for the surrounding villages. 


Defend the Planet

4 Nigerian Farmers Win Landmark Case Against Shell Nigeria for Oil Damage

By Akindare Lewis