Britain’s High Court started hearing new lawsuits yesterday filed by two communities in Rivers state, Ogale and Bille, alleging that decades of oil spills have fouled the water and destroyed the lives of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the Niger Delta, where a Shell subsidiary has operated since the 1950s.
They brought their fight to Shell’s home base because they say the Nigerian courts are too corrupt.
“Let the shareholders of Shell who are residents of the advanced world, like Britain, let them see a representative of a kingdom that is being destroyed for them to have money,” Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, leader of Nigeria’s Ogale people told
The Associated Press on the eve of the hearing. “That’s blood money.” “My system cannot give me justice,” Okpabi said. “There is only one place that can give me justice. That is why I am here.”
London law firm Leigh Day is handling the cases after it won a landmark agreement from Shell to pay $83.5 million in compensation to the Bodo community for damage caused by oil spills in 2008 and 2009. Shell originally offered $50,000 before the Bodo took their case to the same U.K. court.
They want to hold Shell, incorporated in the U.K., responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd., or SPDC.
The subsidiary said it has produced no oil or gas in the region since 1993. The area is heavily affected by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining. It is arguing in court that the legal challenge is speculative and full of “legal and evidential weaknesses.”
SPDC, the operator of a joint venture between the Nigerian government, Shell and two other oil companies, said it will challenge the jurisdiction of the U.K. courts in this case, arguing that it concerned Nigerian plaintiffs, in dispute with a Nigerian company over issues in Nigeria.
“If the Claimants’ lawyers are correct as to the existence of this novel duty of care, (Shell) and many other parents of multinational groups will be liable to the many hundreds of millions of people around the world with whom their subsidiaries come into contact in the ordinary course of their various operations,” the company said in its court argument.
“That would constitute a radical if not historic expansion of the law and open the floodgates to litigation on an unprecedented scale.”