Pol­luted water in hand, Nige­rian king takes Shell to court in Lon­don

‘My peo­ple are drink­ing this water’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

LON­DON: King Emere God­win Bebe Ok­pabi holds up a plas­tic bot­tle con­tain­ing con­tam­i­nated water from his com­mu­nity in Nige­ria, proof of oil pol­lu­tion that he blames on Royal Dutch Shell-and on which he hopes a Lon­don court will de­liver jus­tice. “My peo­ple are drink­ing this water,” said the tribal king of the Ogale com­mu­nity in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Ok­pabi has flown to Lon­don for a High Court hear­ing yes­ter­day in which lawyers for more than 40,000 Nige­ri­ans are de­mand­ing ac­tion from Shell to clean up oil spills that have dev­as­tated their com­mu­ni­ties for decades.

“There are strange dis­eases in my com­mu­nity-skin dis­eases, peo­ple are dy­ing sud­den deaths, some peo­ple are im­po­tent, low sperm count,” he told AFP. “I can af­ford to buy water. But can I af­ford to buy for every­body? No.” The An­glo-Dutch oil gi­ant ar­gues that the case should be heard in Nige­ria, point­ing out that it in­volves its Nige­rian sub­sidiary SPDC, which runs a joint ven­ture with the govern­ment, and Nige­rian plain­tiffs. But Ok­pabi, wear­ing a tra­di­tional robe with a red neck­lace and black top hat, said the English jus­tice sys­tem was his only hope to end the blight on his peo­ple’s lives.

“Shell is Nige­ria and Nige­ria is Shell. You can never, never de­feat Shell in a Nige­rian court. The truth is that the Nige­rian le­gal sys­tem is cor­rupt,” he said. He wants the High Court to com­pel Shell to im­ple­ment a 2011 land­mark re­port by the UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram (UNEP), which warned of dan­ger­ously high lev­els of hy­dro­car­bons in the water, bi­tu­men-coated man­groves and poor air qual­ity. It should or­der the com­pany to “go and clean-up Ogale, go and pro­vide water for them; go and do med­i­cal his­tory for them, and where med­i­cal at­ten­tion is needed pro­vide for them,” he said. The king said no money would be enough to ad­dress the dam­age, which UNEP warned could take 25 to 30 years to re­solve, but wants com­pen­sa­tion, adding: “We are dy­ing.” Shell will chal­lenge the ju­ris­dic­tion of the English courts in the case dur­ing three days of hear­ings this week, while it also dis­putes the claims made by lawyers Leigh Day, who rep­re­sent Ogale and the smaller Bille com­mu­nity. “Both Bille and Ogale are ar­eas heav­ily im­pacted by crude oil theft, pipe­line sab­o­tage and il­le­gal re­fin­ing which re­main the main sources of pol­lu­tion across the Niger Delta,” a com­pany spokes­woman said. She noted SPDC has not pro­duced any oil or gas in Ogo­ni­land, the re­gion sur­round­ing Ogale, since 1993. But Ok­pabi and his lawyers say the com­pany’s age­ing, leaky pipe­lines still run through the re­gion and it must take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

SPDC says it has de­liv­ered water and health­care to the com­mu­nity and is sup­port­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the UNEP process by the govern­ment, which in June launched a $1 bil­lion (£800 mil­lion, 940 mil­lion eu­ros) oil pol­lu­tion clean-up pro­gram in the Niger Delta. Ok­pabi said he be­lieved Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari is “sin­cere” in want­ing to ad­dress the is­sue, but warned: “If we wait for the sys­tem to roll on its own, I hate to say this, but it may be too late for the peo­ple of Ogale.” At­tacks on Nige­rian pipe­lines have in­creased this year, cut­ting out­put and help­ing tip the coun­try into re­ces­sion, but Ok­pabi in­sists “there is no van­dal­is­ing” in Ogale. The king con­demned the sabo­teurs, warn­ing that “you can­not bomb your house to get at­ten­tion”.

How­ever, he added: “I’m also ap­peal­ing to Shell and the Nige­rian govern­ment to lis­ten to those com­mu­ni­ties that are non-vi­o­lent and do some­thing.” In Jan­uary 2015, Shell agreed to pay more than $80 mil­lion to the Nige­rian fish­ing com­mu­nity of Bodo for two oil spills in 2008, fol­low­ing a case brought by Leigh Day in Lon­don. In De­cem­ber, a Dutch court per­mit­ted four Nige­rian farm­ers and fish­er­men to sue the com­pany for en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, po­ten­tially open­ing the door to other cases to be brought in the Nether­lands.

THE HAGUE: View taken on June 30, 2015 of the head of­fice of the Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague.—AFP

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