On day 58 of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, the US government forced BP to allocate $20 billion to compensate victims affected.
While US lawmakers decried the fact that only $71 million had been paid out last Tuesday, the contrast with the Niger Delta is striking. Victims in the small village of Ebebu have waited for 40 years for Shell to clean up a major oil spill. The average life expectancy in the region is 45 years. Delays are the norm for oil spills in Nigeria. Communities wait weeks, months and even years before companies respond to oil spills and even longer before they pay minimal compensation.
A compensation fund, like that created within one day of US negotiations with BP, is urgently required for Niger Delta, where villagers have battled oil giants in costly litigations only to receive inadequate compensation or nothing at all.
Since companies get off the hook easily in the Nigerian courts, some victims, like Alali Efanga have taken their claims to a District Court in The Hague, home of oil giant Shell, in a case brought with Friends of the Earth Netherlands. Companies headquartered in London, The Hague or Houston must be held responsible, and activism is needed from governments, courts and civil society to force companies to compensate victims who have lost everything because of oil production. The same level of accountability applied in the US must be applied in Nigeria.