Oil Spill: Dutch court gives Justice to Niger Delta farmers 13yrs after

one of the farmers who is  blind, Chief Fidelis A. Oguru of Oruma community Ogbia, Bayelsa state celebrating his victory at the Dutch Court against Shell over oil spill on his land.

From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt

The ruling of a Dutch court sitting in Hague, Netherlands ordering Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to compensate four communities in Niger Delta over oil spills from the company’s facilities that affected the livelihoods of the victims, has rekindle the hope of the people of the Niger Delta that there is still justice for the oppressed.

The Appeal court had on Friday in Hague, that Shell should compensate the affected communities; Goi community in Ogoni, Rivers state and Oruma in Bayelsa. The court also ordered that Shell should ensure there is no further oil spill in the areas.

This was a victory not only to the four farmers who instituted the lawsuit through the aid of Friends of the Earth against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 2003, following oil spills that destroyed their farmlands and others properties in Ikot Ada Udo community in Akwa Ibom State, Oruma community in Bayelsa State and Goi community in Rivers State, but to all Niger Deltans and Nigeria at large.

The farmers, which include Princewill Alali Efanga, Chief Eric Barizaa Dooh, Elder Friday Alfred Akpan, and Chief Felix Ayoro-Oguru, had urged the Court to order Royal Dutch Shell to mandate its subsidiary, SPDC, to remediate and recover the environment, that was destroyed by its facilities.

One of the parties in the suit, Chief Fidelis Ayoro-Oguru, a native of Oruma community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayela state, while jubilating over the judgement through Zoom in Port Harcourt, expressed joy that he was alive to witness his years of hope come to actualization.

According to Chief Oguru who is currently blind following years of hardship and lack of proper medication on his health as a result of damage melted on his source of livelihood (land), lauded the judgement of the court, stressing that the victory will restore his years of suffering.

He expressed: “I am very much happy over the judgement which I have just been informed for the many years which has made me poor and I am suffering even right now. My condition which Shell has made it impossible for me to survive, including my family.

“Today, I have just got a very successful judgement, I am very much happy and I pray that this judgement should not go further just to admitted and then Shell should come and pay me the compensation.

“I thank the Friends of the Earth, Environmental Rights Action represented by Barr Chima Williams, who has taken us even to Netherlands in 2012 where we were in the court, although that time the ruling was not in our favour at the lower court, but today we have received a very good judgement.

“I pray that should just come and pay me the compensation for destroying my land. They destroyed my fish pond, economic trees that my father left for me, crops, the land itself. They didn’t even do cleanup even till today.

“I am also saying that the court should order them to come and do proper cleanup so that the land will be useful for us again, so when I am no later get there my children will make good use of the land”.

To Princewill Alali, son of Late Alali Efanga, one of the victims of the pollution in Bayelsa, expressed gladness that if judgement is obeyed, his and siblings will be restored again after years of suffering following the demised of their parent five years ago.

“The spill occurred in the year 2005 when I was still very young but my father, Chief Alali Efanga continued to discuss the issue with me even till his death in 2016.

“The land whereby the the spill occurred is destroyed and since we lost our dad, I and my siblings have been suffering because our livelihood depends on the proceeds that comes from the land”.

Chief Eric Dooh, a native of Goi community in Rivers State and a victim of the Shell pollution, said that right from 2003 when he instituted the case, he was optimistic that some day he will gain justice to restore back his father’s dynasty.

Chief Dooh who disclosed that after instituting the case against Shell in 2003, it took the court seven years to stablish jurisdiction in the matter, said the victory is for all the oppressed by the multinational in the region.

Speaking with The AUTHORITY in Port Harcourt immediately after the ruling, Dooh said, “The judgement is victory for all. I have no monetary idea for the compensation but what I know is that the environment is going to be restored so that I can now go back to reinvest in that place and create job opportunities for my people.

“What I expect from Shell this time should be a turning point for the company, to do the needful, enforce the principle of the human rights, to realize that the host communities have the right of place in whatever thing they are doing, to see if they can invest part of the benefits they get in the Ogoni land and Niger Delta area and it will create an enabling environment for people to live and enjoy themselves”.

He recount: “The year the spill occurred in Goi, my home community was in August 2003, and it emaneted from the Trans-Niger pipeline about a kilometer from my community. 

“There is no oil well in my community but my environment is in between the Bomu oil fields and the Bodo West oil fields, and when there is pollution because of the tider flows of environment, the spill coming from Bodo is carried by the high tide into my community and spill from Bomu oil field because of the topography of the area, it flows downwards through the sea into my father’s investment in Goi.

“The case was instituted in 2003. It took Nnimmo Bassey, Barr Chima Williams, Ann, Celestine Akpobari, MOSOP and so many other people to battle for it. It took about seven years to establish only jurisdiction before the matter started. As the first instance, I lost because they felt my issue is in kind of threat because the physical investments are there. Is not something that is transferrable and that is why I am optimistic that at the end of the tunnel there will be light.

“They destroyed my farmland, they destroyed economic trees, our poutery farm, bakery, school, my shrine and others”.

Dooh added: “It is a world-class precedent against a multinational oil company. They will never behave the way they have been behaving. It will be a lesson to other multinational oil companies that are operating in the Niger Delta to do the right thing and the polluter-pay principle will be in full force”.

Explaining the judgement to newsmen in Port Harcourt, Barr Chima Williams, the Acting Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said the ruling is historic and have put the entire Niger Delta in the mood of celebration.

Williams who is also the Nigerian counsel for the farmers in the suit noted that the ruling upturned that of 2012 judgment delivered by a lower court; a High court in the same Hague, Netherlands against Goi and Oruma communities. 

He further explained that the judgment on Ikot-Ada-Udo was set aside because the court wanted to source further evidence before ruling on the matter.

According to Williams: “Today is a historic day in the Niger Delta. We have been working with the communities to ensure that the multinational, Shell that has destroyed our environment and our source of livelihood are held accountable. The journey started way back 2008 and today, we are having a judgement from the Court of Appeal in the Hague, Netherlands. 

“We will recall that sometime ago, in 2012 or there about, the lower Court in the Hague delivered a judgement that denied the communities of Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom, Oruma in Bayelsa State and Goi in Ogoniland of Rivers State. The Court denied them of their claims against Shell.

“The court has ordered Shell to pay compensation to these victims and also to ensure that no further spill occurs in these communities and this is the high point of the judgment.

“For Ikot-Ada-Udo, the judgment has not been delivered because the court wants to have some further information and evidence to know what to rule on.”

Meanwhile, an international environmentalist,  Rev Nnimmo Bassey, has congratulated the plaintiffs in the matter for insisting on justice 13 years after.

The environmentalist write on his Facebook page, “Finally the court at the Hague today ruled that Shell cannot shrug off pollution and destruction of communities and their environment for ever. Congratulations to the resilient Nigerian plaintiffs (Alali Efanga, Friday Alfred Akpan, Chief Fidelis A. Oguru and Eric Dooh) from Oruma, Ikot Ada Udo and Goi”.

Bassey also thanked all partners that fought for victory in the matter.

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