Justice is slow in coming in the Niger Delta — it has been 15 years since Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder — but in the last few months there are signs of change in the air. On Wednesday, Shell formally accepted responsibility for two major oil spills in the Niger Delta (in 2008 and 2009):
In the first case of its kind, a British high court sitting in London has ordered oil major, Royal Dutch Shell to pay compensation of potentially more than £250m ($410m) to the Bodo community of Rivers State, after the Anglo-Dutch oil group admitted liability for two spills aroun the community, following a class-action lawsuit brought in England by the Niger Delta community. (from Nigerian publication, The Leadership)
Shell, whose representatives continue to claim that most spills in the Niger Delta are caused by oil theft (bunkering) and sabotage, has nonetheless agreed that Delta communities can seek compensation for oil spills in British courts, opening the door for further cases.
The British Court decision follows a hearing in the Dutch Parliament in January, at which time Shell also admitted mistakes.
On Thursday, the United Nations Environment Programme released a long-awaited report on the Niger Delta, the first large-scale study of the environmental impacts of 50 years of oil exploitation. The report is a devastating indictment of oil company and government practices in the region, and takes issue with Shell’s claims that most spill damage is caused by sabotage. The report points to substandard practices, worn equipment and haphazard clean-up efforts, and says the region requires the “world’s largest ever oil-cleanup, costing at least $1 billion and taking up to 30 years.” (Reuters)
The UNEP report is available on the Guardian website. You can read it here: UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland
Wikileaks has faded into the background lately, but it’s important to remember that one of the leaked U.S. Embassy cables from Nigeria discussed Shell’s infiltration of every level of government in Nigeria. In the leaked cable, embassy officials wrote that top Shell officials boasted of knowing everything about key decisions in all Nigerian government ministries.
Much of what has been known for decades is finally being validated by independent research and court cases. This is only a first step, of course, as these decisions, reports and new information will not automatically lead to change (nor will that reward money travel easily to the villagers). But if these developments lead to increased pressure on Shell and the Nigerian government, progress on the ground is a real possibility.