It took two decades before Shell was first called out for destroying a large part of the Niger Delta. And thirty more years would go by before some semblance of justice was finally delivered for the people of Ogoniland. But it can never compensate for the lives that were lost and large tracts of the fertile Niger Delta that were polluted forever. It was an almost futile battle waged by the people.
The energy behemoth has finally been forced to shell out compensation to the communities in the oil-rich Ogoniland in Nigeria for all the destruction of the once fertile delta. It colluded with the Nigerian government to have activists executed but had to finally agree to pay in the end.
The Decades-Old Havoc
For decades, Shell waged a covert war against the people of Ogoniland even as it plundered the riches of the region. The stench of crude oil still pervades the region as one splash through the oil-drenched puddles left behind by oil spills years ago.
It has been more than 20 years since Ken Saro Wiwa along with 8 other Ogoni leaders were executed for daring to stand up to Shell. It would take another decade before 4 Nigerian farmers along with Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, would drag Shell to court to hold the company accountable for its destruction of the Niger Delta.
Two million barrels of oil were leaked between 1976 and 1991 before Shell was forced to abandon the operation. But the damage was done. The predatory and avaricious tactics employed by Shell led to vast stretches of bleak, lifeless landscapes.
The United Nations Environment Programme had published a damning assessment of the environmental disaster in Ogoniland and had recommended that Shell clean up every drop that it had caused to be spilled.
The ruling by the Dutch court has finally led to Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary being made to pay $111 million. But the company continues to maintain that the oil spills were the result of the civil war and blamed third parties.
Shell continues to employ every legal subterfuge to get away with murder. But finally, it appears to have run out of tricks, says Lucius Nwosu, who represents members of Ogoniland’s Ejama-Ebubu community.
Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Ogoniland says that the persistence of the people of the region has finally paid off. He applauded their patience for waiting over 3 decades before the case was decided.
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a mass-based movement organization of the indigenous Ogoni people, said that the compensation offer was validation of the devastation caused by Shell in Ogoniland, and the requirement for appropriate remediation.
Environmental activist Kentebe Eberiado said that the result of the Ogoniland case should lead to a slew of more cases for the horror that they were subjected to for the past 5 decades.
Court Ruling Against Shell In Ogoniland
The Dutch court ruled that the Nigerian arm of Shell was being penalized to compensate the farmers for the damages done over decades. The company will also have to install equipment to detect leakages in the pipeline.
CHanna Samkalden, the lawyer for the Nigerian farmers, and Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, said that justice has finally been delivered for the majority of his clients.
But the fear remains that the court ruling might not be implemented by the Dutch company, which has in the past been accused of buying out governments for their nefarious purposes.
The cleanup work has picked up in earnest in recent months after President Buhari apologized for the delay. 17 sites have been certified as cleaned. The UN estimates that it could take 30 years to reverse the appalling level of pollution caused by Shell during its operations.
Shell faces other legal action as the widows of four of the activists executed have accused the notorious company of complicity in their deaths. They were hanged for daring to oppose the activities of Shell, and fighting for the rights of the people of Ogoniland.