Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) on Saturday reacted to last Friday’s ruling of the Netherland court which indicted the company over alleged oil spill that impacted some Niger Delta coastal communities in 2008.
The Court of Appeal at The Hague on Friday upheld the ruling of the lower court in December 2015 that the SPDC was liable for the spill and must be held responsible to pay compensation to the affected people and communities.
The spill said to have occurred between 2004 and 2007, allegedly polluted a large expanse of streams and farmlands in three communities of Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom, Oruma in Rivers and Goi in Bayelsa States.
Although the spill was contained by Shell, but court documents filed by representatives of the affected communities contained claims by the people that the leaking oil pipelines traversing region, remained unattended, with the oil doing extensive damage to the environment.
Worried by the impact of the incident, which the people said disrupted normal economic activities of the area, particularly farming and fishing, four farmers from the affected communities filed an application in 2008 to accuse Shell of being responsible.
The application was supported by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and its Netherlands affiliate organization, Milieudefensie.
After more than 13 years, the Dutch High Court in December 2015 entered judgment against Shell. But the oil firm denied responsibility for the spill, rather blaming the incident on the illegal activities of criminals and third-party interference by unknown persons.
The court said it could not be established “beyond a reasonable doubt” that criminals/saboteurs or third-party interference were to blame for the oil spill.
Shell rejects ruling
But, even as some civil and environmental rights groups hailed the judgment of the Dutch court and asked the Federal Government to take steps to enforce it, the SPDC rejected the judgment and expressed disappointment over the conclusions arrived at by the judges as to the cause of the spill.
SPDC spokesperson, Bamidele Odugbesan, who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said the company still insists the spill was as a result of sabotage by criminals, as most leaks from its operations facilities were caused by vandals.
“We continue to believe that the spills in Oruma and Goi were the result of sabotage of our facilities by criminals.
“We are therefore disappointed that this court has made a different finding on the cause of these spills and in its findings that SPDC was liable.
“Sabotage, crude oil theft and illegal refining are major challenges in the Niger Delta. Indeed, in 2019, about 95 percent of spill incidents from our operations facilities in the region were due to such criminal acts”, Mr Odugbesan said.
Regardless of the causes, he said SPDC has gone ahead to clean up the mess and remediate the impacted environment, as the company did with the spills in this case.
He said the SPDC also has been working with a range of interest groups to find solutions to these complex issues, adding that like all Shell-operated ventures globally, the SPDC is committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment.
Mr Odugbesan did not say if Shell was considering an appeal against the ruling at the Supreme Court, although another senior official who not want his name revealed said an appeal by the company was most likely.
Meanwhile, the count is yet to determine the value of the compensation it would want Shell to pay to the affected communities in line with its ruling.
Rights groups applaud ruling
Apart from ERA/FoEN, which asked for the enforcement of what it described as landmark judgment against Shell, other civil society groups have also applauded the Dutch court for its ruling.
ERA/FoEN said enforcing the judgment against Shell would show to the world that the Nigerian government has the political will to bring oil transnationals to account over their misconducts in its domain.
Also, the groups said enforcing the ruling would confirm to other multi-national companies doing business in Nigeria that they can no longer hide under the country’s weak regulatory environment to perpetrate criminalities in the country against the people and get away with it.
In his reaction, President, Homeland Chapter of Ijaw Professionals Association, and a former Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa, Iniruo Wills, applauded the ruling of the Dutch court.
“This is the most welcome landmark ruling in recent times. It is a big shame that hapless folks and communities in the Niger Delta region have to shop for environmental justice abroad because they cannot find it in Nigeria,” he said.
Mr Wills said there was the need for intensive sensitization of the Nigerian judiciary and the regulatory authorities, including the Federal Ministry/Ministers of Petroleum and Environment, Department of Petroleum Resources on litigating specific cases on oil spills and the environment, to demonstrate a sense of urgency, duty and commitment.
He said it was embarrassing that for over 60 years after oil exploration and production began in Nigeria, to date environmental justice has continued to elude the oil communities, whose existence is threatened by the continually worsening plague of oil and gas pollution.
Also, speaking Environmental Rights Activist, Nnimmo Bassey, described the decision by the Dutch court as right and just.
“This judgment did not come as a surprise to some of us. The evidence was overwhelming and has refused to disappear even after 13 years. There are some crimes that are hard to hide. Environmental crimes are of that sort.
“It takes willful blindness to pretend not to see, smell or feel. We are happy that Shell has been told the truth to that. So, they must pay for the extreme harm they have inflicted on the people and the environment.
Although the judgment took too long in coming, with two of the four plaintiffs now dead, Mr Bassey said the judgment means their struggles were not in vain. (NAN)