Imagine trying to make a livelihood from farmland and rivers heavily polluted by leaks from oil pipes. This is the reality for many communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

The Bayelsa State Oil and Energy Commission states that “few countries on the face of the planet have suffered more from oil pollution than Nigeria. Over the last half century, as many as ten million barrels of oil have been spilled across the country.” The contamination has long-lasting impacts on the local environment, economy, and people’s health.

Shell has been heavily criticised over the last few decades for failing to prevent and clean up oil leaks, whether caused by its own negligence or by sabotage.

ECCR has long been concerned about the impact of oil exploration and extraction on communities in Nigeria. That’s why we rejoiced with other campaigners around the world, when we heard last week that a Dutch court has ruled that Shell Nigeria must pay compensation to a group of farmers.

The legal case

Back in 2008, supported by Friends of the Earth International and other NGOs, several farmers filed a case against Shell for widespread oil pollution in their villages – Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo. To begin with, the courts decided that Shell’s parent company (based in the Netherlands) could not be held liable in a Dutch court for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary. However, this was taken to an appeal court and the new ruling gives hope of justice for the farmers.

Friends of the Earth has described the case as a “David versus Goliath struggle, of the Ogoni people versus Shell.” The court verdict has wider significance because it shows that communities affected by the actions of multinationals can speak out, be heard, and ultimately, be compensated for their suffering.

ECCR and the Niger Delta

Our research and advocacy in this area led to the launch of a report in 2010 – Shell in the Niger Delta: A Framework for Change – which shared the stories of communities and civil society organisations in the region. The report called on Shell to clean up oil spills, polluted land and waterways and to engage in a participative and transparent way with local communities.

In sharing the report, we hoped to ‘contribute to improvement in the lives of the Niger Delta’s communities by helping clarify priorities for Shell and SPDC [Shell Nigeria] and providing a framework for constructive dialogue and prompt action’.

In recent years, we’ve supported the work of The Bayelsa State Oil and Energy Commission, chaired by Dr John Sentamu, and have worked closely with the Stakeholders Alliance for Corporate Accountability to keep up the pressure on Shell.

Christopher Stockwell, Chair of ECCR’s board, welcomed the recent court ruling:

This case is pinning on a multi-national responsibility for its own actions, and those of its subsidiary over the past fifty years in Nigeria.  It is the tip of an iceberg heading towards Shell and other companies operating in Nigeria; their bill will be billions.  When the Bayelsa Commission reports it will call for major changes in the way Shell and others compensate those whose livelihoods and lives have been ruined by the companies’ callous disregard for the local people, the laying of pipelines with no protection or security, the failure to clean up spills, and the total devastation of fishing and farming grounds, mangrove forests and rivers and coasts. The figures from new research about infant mortality and reduced life expectancy from the pollution are truly shocking.

As a small, under-resourced organisation we have done our little bit to help the people of Bayelsa for twenty years and we are all in ECCR a part of what is turning the tide against these vast companies which have behaved so callously where they thought they were not being watched.”

Take action

  • Pray for communities in the Niger Delta. Give thanks for their persistence and for those who stand alongside them.
  • Do you or your church have investments with Shell or other fossil fuel companies? Explore our Money Makes Change materials and think through the connections between faith, finance and a fairer, more sustainable world.

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