THE latest stage in the battle to hold Shell to account over oil industry pollution in Nigeria has reached the High Court in London.
Following a five-day hearing, the court is currently determining whether Shell plc, the UK parent company, is liable for oil spills in the Niger Delta communities of Ogale and Bille rather than its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
Litigation has dragged on since 2015 as a result of Shell arguing that the claims brought by the two communities could not be heard in a London courtroom because it was not legally responsible for the actions of SPDC. It has continued to do so despite a 2021 UK Supreme Court ruling saying that there was a “good arguable case” that Shell plc was liable.
As proceedings got underway in late July, protesters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice bearing placards denouncing the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. They included representatives from Just Stop Oil, Christian Climate Action and Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop).
They were addressed by Mosop leader Lazarus Tamana, who has been spearheading the fight to get Shell to compensate those whose fisheries and farmlands have been contaminated by oil spills in Ogoniland, a small kingdom in Rivers State.
‘We need a change. We need Shell to be sanctioned,’ he told demonstrators. ‘It is we campaigners who can actually effect that change. They are not worried. The big bosses are taking fat salaries and living in comfort while we are suffering at their expense. We need to stop that and we need to stop that quickly.’
Ogoniland has been an historic flashpoint in the battle against the operations of Shell and other oil multinationals in Niger Delta following the execution of Mosop founder Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow environmental campaigners in 1995.
The hangings took place two years after mass protests forced Shell to permanently withdraw from Ogoniland, where it had been drilling for oil since the late 1950s. Mosop says that ageing pipelines that traverse the area on their way to the Bonny Island hydrocarbon terminal continue to be responsible for oil spills that destroy people’s livelihoods and cause ill health.
‘It is down to equipment failure – the pipes are very old and need to be maintained and repaired, and when spills do occur, they need to be cleaned up, but this is not happening. Shell don’t value the host community, they are only interested in profits,’ Tamana told Africa Briefing.
Shell counters that the burst pipes are due to ‘illegal third-party interference,’ meaning sabotage or oil theft, an allegation Mosop refutes.
In the suit, the people of Ogale, a small rural farming town, and Bille, a fishing village, claim that their land and waters have been severely contaminated by spills, leaving them without their source of food or income.
They are being represented by Leigh Day, which accuses Shell of attempting to delay legal accountability. ‘Once again, eight years after these claims were issued, Shell are trying to further delay the proceedings and to protect the parent company, Shell plc, from any legal scrutiny,’ said Leigh Day partner Dan Leader.
‘While they deploy a myriad of meritless technical legal arguments our clients continue to live with the devastating impacts of pollution from Shell’s oil pipelines. We hope and expect the court to cut through Shell’s obstruction and progress the litigation quickly.’
In 2015, the law firm secured a £55 million settlement with Shell on behalf of the people of Bodo, also in Ogoniland, after two major oil spills caused widespread contamination a few years earlier.
Judgement in the current case is expected to be made in the next few weeks.