ASW launch – L to R – David Lammy MP, David A Bailey – curator, Lazarus Tamana, MOSOP Europe

Lazarus Tamana Coordinator of MOSOP Europe writes from court today.

Today is the preliminary judgement in the case brought by the people of Bodo in Ogoni by legal firm Leigh Day & Co against Shell. The judgement will form the legal issues that will be part of the trial expected to take place at the High Court in London in May  2015.

For the first time in the history of the Ogoni struggle, Shell had to face formal court proceedings in April this year during the preliminary issues hearing in the London court, for  two major  oil spill of 2008 and 2009, which devastated  Bodo  community and the neighbouring towns and villages of Gokana Local Government Area in Ogoni. The case is very unique for the simple fact that a small community in Ogoni is able to drag Shell to a London court to give an account of its environmental records in Ogoni and the Niger Delta. The community have already been successful in getting Shell to accept responsibility for the spills, although the company disputes the amount of oil spilled.

The Ogoni people, from available records, suffered environmental devastation as a result of deliberate  and sometimes careless operations  from the Shell Oil company, dating back to 1958 when oil was first discovered in Bomu location in Ogoni. Over the years, it has been the habit of Shell to blame the local communities and the oil thieves  for most of the  oil spills in the Niger Delta. Shell does not take into consideration the issue of their aging pipes, some are over 58 years old. These pipes have  never been replaced due to costs of replacement. No reference is made to the failure of their equipment, which has caused numerous spills onto the rivers and farm land in the Niger Delta. Shell has never mentioned careless operations, which is part and parcel of the oil industry in Nigeria. The Ogoni people  has accused Shell of double standards, which has resulting in spills on many occasions.

Polluted creeks in Ogoni. Photo Sarah Shoraka

In 2011, with the persistent campaign of The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)  over the years for an environmental assessment of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)  was able to produce a report. The report represents the best available understanding as to what Shell and other oil companies did in terms of devastation to the Ogoni  environment, and the corresponding implications  for affected populations, over many years of oil industry operations. The report also confirms what MOSOP and the Ogoni people have been saying with respect to the devastation caused by Shell oil to the Ogoni environment. The Ogoni people are anticipating the third anniversary of the publication of the UNEP report in August this year but no significant discussions have been initiated for the clean up, either by the Nigerian Government or Shell.

The Bodo community who brought the case against Shell are rural coastal villagers, majority of them are subsistence farmers and fishermen, whose means of livelihood have been taken away as a result of massive and regular oil spills on their Rivers and farms.

The preliminary judgment today is very significant in many ways for the Bodo people of Ogoni and the Niger Deltans as a whole. The fact that Shell  who is above the law in Nigeria is in London court facing environmental  accountability, neglect in failing to protect, maintain or repair the pipeline, will be a source of jubilation for the people of the Niger delta.  The hearing of the Bodo case in London  is enough to encourage other Niger Delta communities to open a floodgate of claims against the oil companies in Nigeria, thereby  opening a  new paradigm  in the Niger Delta environmental struggle.

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Note from Lazarus on the outcome of the day.

The atmosphere in court today for me, was one of excitement and disbelieve, that the London court decided that Shell Nigeria could be legally liable for illegal bunkering of its pipelines, if it failed to take reasonable steps to protect its  infrastructure.

MOSOP and the Ogoni people including other Niger Delta communities feel a sense of fulfillment about the judgment of today.  Shell can not run away from her responsibilities any longer with the pronouncement in court today. The major trial will start May next year.