In a dramatic turn of events, global oil giant Shell has admitted it is responsible for two devastating oil spills in Ogoniland in Nigeria, despite denying the incidents that happened in 2008 and 2009.
The oil spills that occurred in the period destroyed the Bodo fishing community in Ogoniland, a small community in the oil-rich Niger Delta, depriving the community of its livelihood. The community sued Shell in the UK, claiming the spills had destroyed the environment.
According to the BBC, the lawyer for the Bodo community says they would seek hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for what they describe as the ‘world’s most devastating oil spills.’
Shell, however, insists it will only pay compensations under Nigerian laws.
Shell claims less than 40,000 gallons of oil were spilt, but the Guardian newspaper of the UK reports that the spills could equal the 1989 Exxon Valdez disasters in Alaska. In that incident, 10 million gallons of oil spilled and destroyed the remote coastline.
Meanwhile, the UN will publish today August 4, 2011 a long-awaited report on the impact of the oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoniland.
According to the BBC, the report is controversial in part because it was funded by Shell.
Shell however, has stopped pumping oil in Ogoniland for about 15 years now.
The Ogoni people of the Niger Delta have suffered unimaginably since Nigeria discovered oil in the 1950s. They are among the most marginalised and underdeveloped in that country.
In 1995, one of the Ogoni people’s most prominent citizen and the African continent’s prolific writers and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed after a conroversial trial that drew global attention. The then military leader of Nigeria Sani Abacha, ignored global appeals for clemency and executed Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots, who were in the forefront of the campaign against Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta, particularly, Ogoniland.
The other eight who were executed together with Saro-Wiwa are Dr. Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuinen, Baribo Bera, Saturday Dobee, Felix Nwate, Nordu Eawo, Paul Levura and Daniel Gboko.
In 2009, after 13 years of persistently fighting for justice against Royal Dutch Shell for the company’s activities in their land, the Ogonis of the Niger Delta in Nigeria won a court case against Shell.
Following the court case settlement in New York, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to the Ogonis, but denied all the charges, claiming the company had done no wrong, but was paying the amount to facilitate reconciliation.
Shell is partly owned by the Nigerian government.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi