The Niger Delta communities are taking Shell to court after a major oil spill devastated the Boda region of Nigeria. The two oil spills occurred in 2008 and 2009, and over 15,000 people stepped forward to voice their impact on health, livelihood, and losses suffered. The official lawsuit was filed in March 2012 and Shell agreed to a settlement in early 2015. The oil spill was attributed to the regions pipelines that were over 50 years old and poorly maintained. In addition, the lawsuit states that Shell was too slow in reacting to the spills after the initial alert. The Milieudefensie issued a publication fact sheet covering the oil spill citing aging oil facilities, Nigerian oil spill laws, and the overall impact of the region.
The details of the lawsuit, which included over 15,000 plaintiffs, focused on the weak management of facilities, improper maintenance and site safety, and overall negligence of the Shell company’s response to the spill. This, the plaintiffs claim, resulted in thousands of people being affected by health-related conditions caused by eating contaminated foods, extended exposure of crude oil, and other acute health complications. But humans were not the only ones to be affected by the spill, the Niger Delta lost countless crops, aquatic life and even mangrove forests over the years due the oil spills.
Shell was on the defense and admitted that its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company, was liable for the spills, but denied the allegations of cause, citing the spills were due to oil theft and sabotage. In addition, they also disputed the alleged amount of oil and size of area affected by the spills.
To avoid a full court hearing, Shell opted for a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in January 2015. Shelling out £55 Million to end the lawsuit in an out of court settlement agreement. The £55 million is planned to be split between those impacted by the spill, each receiving £2,200, and the remaining £20 million going to the community.
While many are happy with the settlement and the Boda region gaining victory against Shell, others are not happy that it took over 6 years for them to resolve the issue. In addition to the delay in reconciliation, many believe the settlement is a direct admittance to years of ‘ecological crime’.
Current Farmer Status
Even though the court battle has been won, the local farmers of the Niger Delta region continue to battle the aftermath of the 2008 and 2009 oil spills. While we can expect the £20 million going back into the community to help boost the clean up efforts, the every day farmers are still suffering from the long term impact this regional devastation has caused.
The immediate crop failure of the initial spill was certainly felt, years later, farmers are still trying to regain fertile lands to produce the proper quantity and quality of foods for their countrymen. Stunted crop growth has limited their production, increased soil temperatures have proved difficult to harvest in, and rotting tubers are just a few of the on-going challenges these farmers continue to face years later.