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Again, Shell Faces Dutch Court over Niger Delta Oil Damage

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Amnesty International has said Shell could be exposed to a raft of compensation claims and be forced to disclose previously withheld internal documents over its failure to stop and clean up decades of oil pollution in a test case before the Dutch Court of Appeal on Friday.

According to a statement by the international human rights watchdog, the case is the latest attempt by Niger Delta communities to hold Shell to account, with the support of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including Amnesty International.

The organisation further stated that on Friday, the Dutch Court of Appeal is expected to rule on whether Shell Nigeria can be held liable in the Netherlands for its negligence in Nigeria and also decide on whether to allow the plaintiffs access to documents withheld by Shell.

The case has been brought by Friends of the Earth on behalf of four farmers in the Niger Delta.

“This case is especially important as it could pave the way for further cases from other communities devastated by Shell’s negligence. It is vital that multinationals are made to answer for action abroad that would never be accepted in their home countries,” said Amnesty International researcher, Mark Dummett.

“There have been thousands of spills from Shell’s pipelines since the company started pumping oil in the Niger Delta in 1958, with devastating consequences for the people living there. They have heard endless false promises from Shell. Our research shows that even when Shell says it has cleaned up land, there are visible signs of the oil pollution that scars the land and destroys the economic prospects of a community that depends on farming and fishing,” he explained.

In January 2015, Shell settled a separate case in the UK, when it paid £55 million in compensation to the Niger Delta community of Bodo.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that $1 billion is needed for the first five years of oil clean-up for Ogoniland, where the company operated before it pulled out over two decades ago, following the crisis in the area.

Though Shell could not be reached to respond to the court action, THISDAY gathered from sources within the company that Shell’s inability to stop the sources of contamination in Ogoni and other areas of operation was due to the persistent oil theft and illegal refining activities in these areas.

The company has also maintained that over 80 per cent of spills in the Niger Delta are caused by illegal refining, crude theft and other forms of sabotage and not equipment failure.

According to the company, the federal government remains the leading body to orchestrate the clean up and unless the government and the community stops the oil theft and artisanal refining that are dangerous to the environment, it will be difficult for the restoration of the environment to be fully successful. 

UNEP had recommended that government should provide security, while the Ogoni people should grant the oil operators access to impacted sites but THISDAY gathered that the government and the Ogoni have not been able to provide the needed environment for any meaningful clean-up exercise to take place in some of the impacted areas.

But Shell is said to have attempted to address these problems using the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU)-enabled surveillance of the Trans Niger Pipeline (TNP); alternative livelihood programme; sensitisation/awareness campaign and frequent overflight on TNP corridor.

However, the high youth unemployment and poverty in Ogoniland have also been identified as major challenges that hamper the clean-up of the area and Shell’s youth agricultural entrepreneurial scheme and alternative livelihood programme are targeted at addressing these problems.

According to a Shell source, land disputes, leadership tussles, community factions and litigations in Ogoniland have fuelled denial of access for remediation.

 To address these challenges, Shell is said to have so far deployed community engagement for freedom to operate and GMoUs to resolve these issues.

Though the company has initiated actions to address all the recommendations directed to it in the UNEP report, it was learnt that further progress on some activities is dependent on outstanding actions to be taken by other stakeholders, federal government and Ogoni people.

The establishment of satisfactory governance arrangements for the Environmental Restoration Fund by the government and stopping oil theft and granting the company access by the affected community have been identified as some of the outstanding actions to be taken.

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