Nigerian Communities File A Lawsuit In A London Court Against Shell
Sequel to the 2021 ruling by the UK Supreme Court that allowed Nigerians to file a lawsuit against Shell in English courts, over 11,000 residents of Ogale in the Niger Delta have lodged a claim for reimbursement against Shell in the London High Court. The residents mainly fishermen and farmers are seeking compensation for years of oil spills that contaminated the land and groundwater in their community.
This legal action holds great importance as it represents the latest attempt to determine if multinational corporations can be held responsible for the actions of their subsidiary companies abroad.
In the ruling of 2021, the judges stated that there was a plausible argument to be made because Shell exerted substantial control over its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC, thus making the company accountable. According to Leigh Day, the litigators on behalf of the Nigerians, it was representing 11,317 people and 17 institutions including churches and schools in the Ogale community of Rivers State, Nigeria. The plaintiffs claimed compensation for loss of livelihoods and damage against Shell.
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Leigh Day stated that the claim from Ogale is in addition to the one brought by the 2,335 individual claims from the Bille community in 2015. This brings the total number of individuals seeking reimbursement from Shell to 13,652. The lawsuits allege that oil spills caused by Shell’s activities in the Niger Delta have ruined crops, polluted drinking water sources, and negatively impacted aquatic wildlife. In the suit, the claimants seek compensation from Shell and are asking Shell to clean up the oil.
According to the 2011 Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Ogoni population is daily subjected to severe oil pollution that affects their water supplies, air quality, and agricultural land. UNEP advised that prompt measures should be taken to conduct the largest land-based cleanup operation in history, and determined that there was a “pressing danger to public health”.
Leigh Day stated in their legal notes that despite Shell’s huge global profits, they have not taken any steps to address the needs of the Ogale and Bille communities. They also highlight that the legal arguments have far-reaching implications, particularly as Shell has declared its intent to exit the Niger Delta and divest its onshore oilfields and assets.
“If Shell’s legal arguments prevail, they would have no legal obligation to provide any remedy to multiple Nigerian communities polluted as a result of their poor operating practices. The “Just Transition” for Shell would not seem to include clean up and remedy for communities impacted over many years by their operations.
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“The next stage in the case is for a case management hearing to be set in Spring 2023, ahead of the full trial which is likely to occur the following year.” the notes added.
In reacting to the lawsuit, a representative from Shell stated that most of the spills associated with the Ogale and Bille claims were the result of illegal activities by third parties, such as pipeline tampering. Despite this, the SPDC intends to keep cleaning the impacted areas.
“We believe litigation does little to address the real problem in the Niger Delta: oil spills due to crude oil theft, illegal refining, and sabotage, with which SPDC is constantly faced and which cause the most environmental damage.” He added.