A Dutch court at The Hague on Wednesday ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, the Nigerian subsidiary of global oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, to pay damages in one out of the five charges brought against it by Niger Delta farmers for the pollution of their villages.
In 2008, a group of Ogoni farmers, led by Eric Dooh, with the help of environmental protection group, Friends of the Earth, instituted the case; asking the court to force Royal Dutch Shell to clean up the pollution from oil spills that destroyed vegetation, water supplies and fish ponds.
The court exonerated the parent company for the destruction of the Niger Delta environment. It ruled that the oil spills in the Niger Delta were caused by third party sabotage.
While dismissing the claim that the spills were caused by non-provision of adequate maintenance by Shell, it ruled in one case that SPDC did not provide adequate protection to stop the sabotage and ordered it to pay damages.
Shell had argued that it was doing everything possible to restore the environment. The company said the damages were as a result of sabotage and not directly caused by its exploration activities.
This case had attracted international attention as activists say it is a test of whether international companies can be held responsible for offences committed by their foreign subsidiaries.
This case is just one in a series of cases involving Royal Dutch Shell, SPDC and other multinational oil companies. Last December, an ECOWAS Community court ruled in a case brought against the Nigerian government and major oil companies in the country by the Registered Trustees of the Socio Economic Rights an Accountability Project, SERAP, that "oil spills pollute water, destroy aquatic life and soil fertility with resultant adverse effect on the health and means of livelihood of people in its vicinity."
The court ordered that the people of the Niger Delta should be compensated by the Nigerian government and the oil companies for the harm done to their communities, prevent damage to the environment caused by oil-spills, and restore damaged environment in the shortest time possible.
Also, in 2011, a United Nations report blamed the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies, including Shell for the devastation done to the Ogoni environment in the Niger Delta.
The report estimated that it will cost at least $1 billion to clean up Ogoni community and the process could take more than 25 years.