Shell might be “shelling” out the money again as two Nigerian communities sue them

It appears it’s not only the Bodo community of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region that will receive settlements for oil spills in their rivers and farmlands. According to reports, thousands of fishermen and farmers in the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta also have the permission to sue Shell Petroleum Company, in a UK court, the second of its type in two years. The legal representatives for the Bodo community, Leigh Day, will also be representing the Ogale and Bille communities in the case against Shell.

The oil spills in Nigeria are the worst of its kind in the world, but these cases receive the least publicity. The United Nations Environment Program published a report in 2011 about Nigeria’s spill problems stating, among many things, that this would take at least 30 years to cleanup. Shell Petroleum Corporation, whose pipelines are responsible for most of the spills, promised to look into it “in a few months”. They never did. This instituted the lawsuit against them by the Bodo community in a UK court. The community asked for 300 million Pounds, but had to settle for 55 million Pounds.

Last year, the Shell Corporation paid N600,000 into the accounts of about 15,600 farmers and fishermen of the Bodo community, especially those whose only source of livelihood were destroyed by major oil spills in 2008 and 2009. The settlement fee was paid by Shell to avoid trial at the UK Court where they had been charged. It looked like the community could have gotten more from the court. However, they seemed to be happy with the settlement last year. It was the highest settlement paid to an African community for environmental damage, and the first to be paid directly to members of the community and not village heads. “It’s several years’ earning. I don’t think I have ever seen a happier bunch of people. The minimum wage in Nigeria is 18,000 Naira a month and 70 percent of the Bodo population lives below the poverty line. Every single one of the 15,600 has said yes to the deal,” said one of the British lawyers who represented the community.

It looks like the Ogale and Bille communities in Rivers state, Nigeria, are trying to toe the same path as the Bodo community. This easily looks like an indictment on past administrations of Nigeria. Its inability to defend its people and its environment and ask for oil companies to take responsibility for oil spills has seemingly made communities seek for help elsewhere. The Shell Company is not only to blame, the federal government who has stakes in many of these oil companies seem reluctant to prosecute them. There have been allegations of Shell paying bribes to Nigerian government officials, to curry favour from them. However, now it seems there is no place to run now that Shell’s mother nation, the UK, has picked up responsibility.

Last month, Nigeria’s Minister for Environment, Amina .J. Mohammed, announced that the federal government will soon begin the cleanup of the Niger Delta, starting with Ogoni land, a task that’s been a long time in coming. She has also been taking steps to achieve that. However, such promises have been made in previous times and nothing happened. If the Nigerian government won’t listen to its communities after so many years of complaining, it appears there is another that will.

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