A group of villagers in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region have slammed a massive lawsuit against multinational oil company, Royal Dutch Shell based on the United Nations Environmental Program’s assessment of Ogoniland and its environs. The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by members of the Ogale Community in Rivers State against the Shell Oil Company before the United States District Court, Eastern district of Michigan presided over by Judge Bernard Friedman and assisted by Magistrate Judge Mark Brandon.
The Plaintiffs, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, Emere Fortune Olaka Obe, Hon Princewill Ake Igwe, Hon. Dandyson Ngawala and Chief Osaro Oyor on behalf of themselves and the people of Ogale Community in Eleme Local Government in Rivers State allege that they have suffered severe health hazards and threat to their lives and violation of their right to development as a result of Shell exploration activities
Ogale Community is one of the oil producing communities in the State where Shell has been carrying out oil exploitation and production of crude oil since 1958. Shell’s indiscriminate pollution of the environment in Ogale Community is the subject of the lawsuit
The complaint filed by a U.S attorney and International Human Rights lawyer, Kayode Oladele and Mr. Benjamin Whitfield, Jr., a Detroit, U.S civil rights attorney in conjunction with top human rights lawyer and President of West African Lawyers Association, Mr. Femi Falana whose office in Lagos, Nigeria will co-ordinate the international litigation. The lawsuit is seeking a judgment of One Billion Dollars against Shell for economic losses, punitive and compensatory damages and other reliefs against Shell for its act of pollution, contamination and environmental degradation of Ogale community’s land and water. Further they averred in court documents that Shell’s exploration activities is in violation of their rights to clean water, clean environment adequate for their health and well being, minimum enjoyment of life and right to life, enjoyment of the best attainable state of physical and mental health. Others are right to live a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature and right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development as guaranteed by the Customary International Law and other Treaties of the United Nations to which the United States and Nigeria are parties including the Constitution and Laws of the Nigeria and African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights and other laws of the United States of America.
The plaintiffs further accused Shell of being responsible for violations of several internationally recognized human rights as stipulated by the United Nations. These rights comprise the right to food, the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to health, clean water and a healthy environment.
In the thirty–three-page Complaint, the Plaintiffs contend that Shell’s operations in Nigeria are well below internationally recognized standards to prevent and control pipeline oil spills alleging further that Shell has not employed the best available technology and practices that the Company uses elsewhere in the world.
In support of their claim, the Plaintiffs’ quoted a statement by the Amnesty International which describes the Plaintiffs as people who “ have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water. They eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins – if they are lucky enough to be able to still find fish. The land they farm on is being destroyed. After oil spills the air they breathe smells of oil, gas and other pollutants. People complain of breathing problems and skin lesions – and yet neither the government nor the oil companies monitor the human impacts of oil pollution.”
According to the complaint, the Niger delta is one of the most polluted regions in the world, with more oil spilled across the region each year than the spilt in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. According to Nigerian government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillage sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller spills still waiting to be cleared up. The Plaintiff’s Community is one of such communities in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Due to the Defendants’ negligent actions, a large volume of oil has continued to spill from Defendant’s operations.
Due to Shell oil exploration in Ogale land, the Plaintiffs community is now characterized by heavy contamination of land and underground water courses, sometimes more than 40 years after oil was spilled, community drinking water with dangerous concentrations of benzene and other pollutants, soil contamination more than five metres deep in many areas with most of the spill sites the Defendants claimed to have cleaned still highly contaminated, dumping of contaminated soil in unlined pits, water coated with hydrocarbons more than 1,000 times the level allowed by Nigerian drinking water standards. And failure by Shell and others to meet minimum Nigerian or own standards.
In their factual statement supporting the Complaint, the Plaintiffs gave a vivid account of UNEP’s findings and Shell’s various acts of negligence. They aver that following the pollution of the environment in Nsisioken Ogale Community and other oil producing communities in Rivers State by Shell, the Government of Nigeria commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study the nature and extent of oil contamination in and around Ogoniland in Rivers State. The Plaintiffs Nsisioken Ogale Community in Eleme Local Governmenrt Area of Rivers State is one of the oil producing communities around Ogoniland in Rivers State and was covered by the said study. The environmental assessment carried out by the UNEP confirmed the pollution of the soil by petroleum hydrocarbons and contamination of drinking water wells in Nsisioken Ogale Community in Eleme Local Government, Rivers State. The report indicted Shell as the people responsible for why the Ogale Community have been drinking water contaminated with benzene at level 900 times above the World Health Organization Guideline.
According to the Complaint, the UNEP Report specifically states that “The most serious case of groundwater contamination is at Nsisioken Ogale in Eleme Local Government Area close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company product pipeline where an 8cm layer of refined oil was observed floating on the ground which serves the community wells”.
The UNEP Report further recommends a medical examination and assessment of the health status of the inhabitants of Nsisioken Ogale Community, the provision of drinking water in order to know the extent of the hazards to the health of the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs claim that despite the UNEP findings and several years of pollution, Shell has not taken any concrete steps to protect the environment, provide safe drinking water or subject the endangered people of Nsisioken Ogale Community medical assessment and treatment.
On why the Complaint was filed in the United States, the Plaintiffs state that Shell does respect the Nigerian Judiciary. In a statement by Femi Falana and Kayode Oladele, the lawyers state that the crude oil contains benzene and other volatile organic compounds ("VOCs") - chemical compounds that can affect the environment and human health such as ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and naphthalene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ("PAHs"), diesel fumes and heavy metals such as aluminium, cadmium, nickel, lead and zinc. They accuse Shell of double standard in Nigeria and state that the Plaintiffs have decided to file their action in the United States because of the Defendants culture of impunity, lack of respect and disregard for judicial process in Nigeria thereby effectively using the slow process of the Nigerian legal system to frustrate litigation.
Plaintiffs would recover millions of dollars in damages if Shell is found liable. the