Four Nigerian farmers secured a landmark legal victory in the Netherlands against Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, as a Dutch court ordered the company to pay the farmers compensation over oil spills.
The names of the farmers, according to Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, are Alali Efanga, Friday Akpan, Fidelis Oguru, and Eric Dooh.
Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, in collaboration with their partners in the Netherlands, were involved in the litigation.
Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands were also the plaintiff in the case, alongside the farmers, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
The communities affected by the spills are in Rivers and Bayelsa states.
The Court of Appeal in The Hague on Friday ruled that Shell was liable for two oil leaks that occurred in a community in the oil-rich Niger Delta and must, therefore, pay compensation for damages done to farmlands, according to a report by Aljazeera.
“Shell Nigeria is sentenced to compensate farmers for damages,” the court was quoted as saying in its ruling.
The spills, reported to have occurred between 2004 and 2007, resulted in a protracted civil suit against the company which has been ordered to clean up the affected communities and prevent future leaks.
The ruling did not say how much Shell would have to pay out as compensation or who among the four farmers would receive compensation.
The amount of compensation would be established at a later date, the TV network said.
Shell can still lodge an appeal at the Dutch Supreme Court against the ruling which some people say could pave way for similar litigations against the International Oil Companies operating in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.
Apart from their environment being heavily polluted because of decades of oil exploration, the people in the Niger Delta region daily have to contend with poverty despite billions of naira that have accrued to the Nigerian government and the oil companies.
“This judgement didn’t come as a surprise to some of us,” said a renowned environmental activist in Nigeria, Nnimmo Bassey, who has been among the several people involved in the litigation.
“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 that they must pay for the extreme harm they have inflicted on the people and the environment.
“It took long, two plaintiffs died, but their struggle has not been in vain. No corporation – private or public – should ever think they can commit Ecocide in the Niger Delta and not be held accountable. It may take long, but judgment day comes. This is one decision by the Dutch Court, others will definitely come,” Mr Bassey said on Friday night.
Shell is reported to have insisted that it believes the spills were caused by sabotage.
“We are … disappointed that this court has made a different finding on the cause of these spills and in its finding that SPDC is liable,” the company said in a statement, according to the report by Aljazeera.