Royal justice: Nigerian king takes Shell to court

A Nigerian tribal king has flown to London to attend a court hearing demanding that Shell take action to clean up the environmental damages caused by decades of oil spills in Nigeria.

Nigerian tribal king Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi is in London to attend a three-day court hearing on whether British courts should hear two legal claims made by more than 40,000 Nigerians against Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).

During the hearing, Okpabi held up plastic bottles, which he said contain contaminated water from his community in Ogale, in the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta.

“My people are drinking this water,” he said.

“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.”

Shell is challenging the court’s jurisdiction, arguing that the case should be heard in Nigeria because it involves its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC.

But Okpabi disagrees.

“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 to see the court compel Shell to implement a 2011 report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which concluded that decades of oil spills have polluted the region’s water, damaged the fishing industry and degraded air quality – and that immediate action was needed to remedy this.

There have been an estimated 7,000 oil spills in the Niger Delta between 1970 and 2000, as International Business Times reported.

In January 2015, Shell agreed to pay more than USD 80 million to the Nigeria fishing community of Bodo for two oil spills in 2008.

In November 2015, Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Developed accused Shell of failing to implement the 2011 UNEP recommendations.

One month later, a Dutch court granted leave to four Nigerian farmers and fisherman to sue the company for environmental pollution.


Image credit: Jenn Farr, flickr/Creative Commons

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