A Dutch court yesterday indicted Shell Nigeria of being partly liable for environmental damage and asked it to pay compensation to a Nigerian farmer.
However, the World Press reports that the court in its ruling on the Shell-Nigeria oil pollution case also ruled that Shell's parent company cannot be held liable for oil spills in the Niger Delta.
Four Nigerian farmers had sued Shell for polluting and destroying their farmlands and rivers.
This is the first time in Dutch history that victims from Shell's host countries have pursued a civil liability claim in the country where Shell has its headquarters, the Netherlands.
In October 2012, four Nigerian villagers took Royal Dutch Shell to court in a landmark pollution case. The fishermen and farmers, together with Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, accused the Anglo-Dutch oil company of polluting land and waterways around their homes in the Niger Delta region.
According to director of the Dutch Friends of the Earth, Geert Ritsema, Shell should be held responsible for the pollution of the Niger Delta region.
"The pipeline network of Shell in Nigeria is in a very poor state. The company does not properly maintain its pipelines. This is the root cause for around 250 spills per year. Together, the amount of oil that has been spilled by Shell over the years is twice as much as has been spilled in the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, " he earlier told reporters. The three villages that were named in this case as being polluted are Goi, hit by a spill in 2004, Oruma, affected by a spill a year later, and Ikot Ada Udo, hit by various spills in 2007.
Shell Nigeria, otherwise called SPDC Ventures, argued it had cleaned up the spills to the satisfaction of the Nigerian authorities, and had no case to answer. It maintained that saboteurs stealing oil from its pipelines should be held responsible for much of the environmental damage.
With around 31 million inhabitants, the Niger Delta is one of the world's most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems. It is an important source of food for the poor and rural population. Most residents make their livelihoods from fishing and depend on the polluted mangroves and creeks.
Reacting to the ruling which indicted Shell Nigeria of pollution in the Niger Delta region, civil society activists have said it will help bring some level of sanity in the way International Oil Companies (IOCs) operate in Nigeria.
According to the executive director of the African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Rev. David Ugolor, the IOCs will moderate their excesses now knowing that there are other opportunities for Nigerians to seek justice against their acts of negligence.
According to him, the oil majors will now learn to respect the rights of the poor people of the Niger Delta and operate in line with international best practice "because they now know that even if they can get away in Nigeria opportunities will present itself internationally as has just happened.
The civil society activist noted that the poor farmers would not have gotten justice in Nigeria if the suit had been instituted in the country, as Shell and the others in Nigeria have used their powers to undermine justice for the poor people in the Niger Delta.
"Even in some instances where there was ruling for them to compensate the people, they will appeal against it because they know the justice system in Nigeria is marked with corruption," he said.
Also reacting, the National Coordinator of Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Nigeria, Faith Nwadishi, said the ruling showed that claims by the oil majors that sabotage was the major reason for spill was not true as it had been established that lack of maintenance of their pipelines led to spills.
She expressed optimism that the judgment would reflect on other pending related cases in Nigeria and also put the IOCs on their toes, knowing that if justice is not obtained in Nigeria, it can be got outside the country.
She, however, expressed regret that Nigerians now depended on foreign courts to get justice.
"The judiciary in Nigeria is failing us. We have to take issues outside the country to get justice; this is not the first or second time. We are setting a bad precedence. It means there's no more hope for the poor because they will not have money to institute a case outside the country," she lamented.
She further noted that the parent company of Shell should also have been indicted, contending that if its subsidiary was indicted it should also rub off on the parent company for not properly monitoring the activities of its subsidiaries.