The Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) have filed a suit against President Umaru Yar’Adua, the Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and six major oil companies operating in Nigeria before the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja over pollution and associated human rights violations in the Niger Delta.
Also joined as Defendants in the suit are: Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC); Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd; Agip Nigeria PLC; Chevron Oil Nigeria PLC; Total Nigeria PLC; and Exxonmobil Corporation.
In the suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/08/09, dated 25 July 2009, and filed by Solicitor to SERAP, and President West African Bar Association, (WABA), Mr Femi Falana, the Plaintiff alleged that “the government of Nigeria and the oil companies are individually and/or collectively responsible for serious violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; and to economic and social development. The Defendants have failed to effectively address the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries; oil spills and waste materials polluting water used for drinking and other domestic purposes; and to enforce laws and regulations to protect the environment and prevent pollution.”
Relying on Amnesty International’s report, the UNDP report, and other documentary evidence, SERAP lamented that “The region is suffering from administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict. The people of the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta have suffered for decades from oil spills, which occur both on land and offshore.”
Citing specific cases, the Plaintiff stated that “A culture of impunity has been reinforced for oil companies in the Niger Delta because of a lack of any adequate sanctions for bad practice that damages human rights. The government of Nigeria and the NNPC have not acted with due diligence to ensure that oil companies do not violate human rights. Rather, they have failed to act to stop destructive behaviour by oil companies and to provide adequate funding to the joint ventures for the control of pollution and environmental damage.”
According to the Plaintiff, “The Defendants individually and/or collectively either actually caused the human rights harms highlighted or contributed to them significantly. The oil companies aided and abetted the government of Nigeria in the violations of human rights of the people of the Niger Delta. The oil companies are active participants in the serious violation of the human rights of the Niger Delta people.”
“The Nigerian government is obligated to prevent third parties, including oil companies, from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of the right to an adequate standard of living. The failure to put in place and enforce adequate regulations that would protect the environment and human rights is a clear violation of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations,” the Plaintiff further argued.
The Plaintiff also said that “Multinational corporations must not be complicit in human rights violations. They must not perform any wrongful act that would cause human rights harms; must be aware of their role not to provide assistance or any support that would contribute to human rights violations; and must not knowingly and substantially assist in the violation of human rights.”
The Plaintiff is therefore asking the ECOWAS Court for:
A. A DECLARATION that everyone in the Niger Delta is entitled to the internationally recognized human right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate access to food, to healthcare, to clean water, to clean and healthy environment; to socio and economic development; and the right to life and human security and dignity.
B. A DECLARATION that the failure and/or complicity and negligence of the Defendants individually and/or collectively to effectively and adequately clean up and remediate contaminated land and water; and to address the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries is unlawful and a breach of international human rights obligations it violates the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
C. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Defendants to establish any adequate monitoring of the human impacts of oil-related pollution – despite the fact that the oil industry in the Niger Delta is operating in a relatively densely populated area characterized by high levels of poverty and vulnerability, is unlawful as it violates the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
D. AN ORDER directing the Defendants to ensure the full enjoyment of the people of Niger Delta to an adequate standard of living, including adequate access to food, to healthcare, to clean water, to clean and healthy environment; to socio and economic development; and the right to life and human security and dignity.
E. AN ORDER directing the government of Nigeria to establish adequate regulations for the operations of multinationals in the Niger Delta, and to effectively clean-up and prevent pollution and damage to human rights
F. AN ORDER directing the government of Nigeria to carry out a transparent and effective investigation into the activities of oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and to bring to justice those suspected to be involved and/or complicit in the violation of human rights highlighted above
G. AN ORDER directing the Defendants individually and/or collectively to pay adequate monetary compensation of 1 Billion Dollars (USD) ($1 billion) to the victims of human rights violations in the Niger Delta, and other forms of reparation that the Honourable Court may deem fit to grant