The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) and the Bodo community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State have separately claimed victory in a compensation case filed against the company in a London High Court.
A London-based senior High Court had delivered its ruling on the Bodo preliminary issues trial brought against SPDC in a United Kingdom court.
The SPDC claimed that the senior judge, Mr Justice Akenhead had ruled that the interpretation of Nigerian law by SPDC is correct in all the crucial points argued before the court.
Shell claimed that Akenhead accepted that the Nigerian Oil Pipelines Act provides a comprehensive and complete regime for compensation for oil spills, adding that the judge’s decision limits the scope of the litigation to an assessment of actual damages sustained as a result of the operational spills.
The company said the judge dismissed attempts by the Bodo community’s UK legal representatives to add a range of additional claims over and above the compensation due under the clear Nigerian statutory regime.
It also said that the court addressed the perennial issue of liability for environmental damage caused by oil theft and criminality, and found that the Oil Pipelines Act does not hold pipeline operators responsible for damage caused by oil theft.
He identified rare, “theoretical” but “difficult to prove” exceptions, for example in the event a pipeline operator knew the time and location of a planned attack by criminals and decided not to inform the police, and also accepted that no compensation is payable for oil spilled as a result of illegal oil refining, the company said.
The Judge further recognised the significant jurisdictional problems that arise when claims relating to Nigerian land are brought in England rather than in the Nigerian courts that have jurisdiction in relation to such land.
The Tide gathered that these issues will need to be addressed during the main trial next year.
Managing Director of SPDC, Mutiu Sunmonu said: “From the outset, we’ve accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo.
“We want to compensate fairly and quickly those who have been genuinely affected and to clean up all areas where oil has been spilled from our facilities, including the many parts of Bodo which have been severely impacted by oil theft, illegal refining and sabotage activities.
“We hope the community will now direct their UK legal representatives to stop wasting even more time pursuing enormously exaggerated claims and consider sensible and fair compensation offers”, he said.
He added: “We’ve consistently maintained that the Bodo community’s UK legal representatives have a fundamental misunderstanding of Nigerian law, and today, the Judge has agreed with us. It’s disappointing that we’ve had to go through this process, which has involved a significant amount of wasted time and legal expense.”
But in contrast to the Shell position, the Bodo community argued that the groundbreaking legal ruling means that SPDC could be legally liable for illegal bunkering of its pipelines, if it failed to take reasonable steps to protect its infrastructure.
The judgment follows a ‘preliminary issues hearing’, which took place in May this year, which considered a range of complex legal arguments prior to a full trial in 2015.
The central issue being argued was whether Shell should take reasonable steps to protect its infrastructure given the foreseeable risk of bunkering, illegal hacking into pipelines to steal the oil.
This is the first time Shell has had to face formal court proceedings in the UK for its environmental record in the Niger Delta, following two massive oil spills in 2008 and 2009 which resulted in the largest loss of mangrove habitat ever caused by an oil spill.
The legal action is being taken by London law firm, Leigh Day, which is representing 15,000 Ogoni fishermen and the Bodo community, which was devastated by the oil spills, in one of the largest environmental law cases ever brought.
At the hearing, President of the Technological and Construction Court, Leigh Day, argued that under the Nigerian Oil Pipelines Act, anyone who suffered damage can claim compensation if he can show evidence that Shell was guilty of neglect in failing to ‘protect, maintain or repair’ the pipeline.
The people argued that Shell has duty of care to take reasonable steps to protect its pipelines and that it could do much more to prevent the spillage of oil when its pipelines are drilled into by criminal gangs.
However, in the ruling, the judge found that whilst Shell did not have an obligation to provide policing or military defence (which is the function of the state), it could be legally liable if it has failed to take other reasonable steps to protect the pipeline such as the use of appropriate technology (leak detection systems), a system of effective surveillance and reporting to the police and the provision of anti-tamper equipment.
At paragraph 92(g) the Court held: “Short of a policing or military or paramilitary defence of the pipelines, it is my judgment that the protection requirement within Section 11(5)(b) involves a general shielding and caring obligation. An example falling within this would be the receipt by the licencee of information that malicious third parties are planning to break into the pipeline at an approximately definable time and place; protection could well usually involve informing the police of this and possibly facilitating access for the police, if requested. Other examples may also fall within the maintenance requirement such as renewing protective coatings on the pipeline or, with the advent of new and reliable technology, the provision of updated anti-tamper equipment which might give early and actionable warning of tampering with the pipeline.”
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), more than 6,800 spills were recorded between 1976 and 2001. The number of spills has significantly increased in recent years and Shell recorded 3,000 spills between 2007 and 2012.
Speaking after the hearing, Martyn Day, the senior partner at Leigh Day, said: “This is a highly significant judgment. For years, Shell has argued that they are only legally liable for oil spills which are caused by operational failure of their pipelines and that they have no liability for the devastation caused by bunkered oil.
“This judgment entirely undermines that defence and states in clear terms that Shell does have potential liability, if it fails to take reasonable steps to protect its pipelines.
“This will have broad implications since Shell is now potentially liable for the mass pollution of the Niger Delta in which it has pumped and spilt oil over, at least, the last 20 years, not just for operational oil spills.”
The Bodo community is a rural coastal settlement consisting of 31,000 people who live in 35 villages. The majority of its inhabitants are subsistence fishermen and farmers.
Bodo community claims that 1,000 hectares of mangroves have been destroyed by the spills and a further 5,000 hectares have been impacted.
In 2011, Shell admitted liability for the spills but continues to dispute the amount of oil spilled and the extent of the damage caused.
Leigh Day began the multi-million pound legal action at the High Court in March, 2012, after talks broke down over compensation and a cleanup package for the community.
According to the claimants’ lawyers, the spills have destroyed the fishing industry, just as they claim that Shell has failed to speedily compensate the people of Bodo and have prevaricated for years.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland 2011 backed up these findings. It surveyed pipelines and visited all oil spill sites, including the Bodo creek.
The UNEP report found hydrocarbon contamination in water in some sites to be 1,000 times higher than permitted under Nigerian drinking water standards, and recommended a comprehensive clean up of Ogoniland.
However, three years after the UNEP report, Shell said more than half of the polluted sites in Ogoni has been cleaned up and remediated while the few remaining ones are being progressed.
Other measures, including emergency water provision to affected communities, and the implementation of integrated water infrastructure projects, with one in Eleme already commissioned by the Rivers State Government.
Wike Blasts NASS Over Ex-Service Chiefs’ Confirmation …Blames Poor Performance Of NDDC On Presidency, NASS
The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says Nigerians are disappointed with the National Assembly for confirming sacked service chiefs as ambassadors.
The governor related the disappointment of Nigerians to members of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta, when they paid a courtesy visit to him at Government House, Port Harcourt, last Wednesday.
Wike wondered why senators, who agreed with Nigerians when they decried the poor performance of the service chiefs, would sit to clear them for another appointment.
“Let me use this opportunity to express the dismay of most Nigerians to the Senate. Convey this to the Senate. We must be courageous in whatever we are doing. Everything must not be party affairs. You (senators) sat and discussed that they should dismiss the service chiefs. You said they’re not performing.
“Now, the same people who were not performing, you have confirmed them as ambassadors. What kind of country are we?
“In anything we do, we must remember that there is tomorrow; our conscience is key. It’s not because I want to be loyalists to a party. No. There are things you cannot reconcile at all,” he said.
Speaking about the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Wike said the commission has abandoned its core mandate; leaving those who canvassed for its establishment disillusioned.
“I don’t like talking about NDDC. It is unfortunate that those who fought for it, if they knew that this is how NDDC will be, I don’t think they would have even asked for it.”
He noted that over the years, various National Assembly committees on NDDC hah failed to provide sufficient direction that would make the commission focus on its core mandate of developing the region.
Wike said some politicians have transformed the NDDC into a cash cow for the prosecution of sinister political agenda.
To buttress this, he accused the commission of spending N10billion to unseat him from office, but added that the scheme failed.
The governor urged the committee’s leadership to prevail on the management of the NDDC to embark on legacy infrastructure projects such as flyovers in the impacted states, and not waste resources on doing 50 or 100-metre roads.
“You, as the Senate Committee chairman, and that of the House Committee, you’re from the region too. You are supervising NDDC; so, why not sit down with them to know the legacy projects they want to carry out this year in the Niger Delta states. Tell them these are projects they must make sure they execute first.
“Rather than do that, you allow them do 50 or 100 meters’ road or a close that leads to someone’s house. What’s their business there?”, he asked.
The governor accused the Presidency, the National Assembly and the ruling party of aiding the gross inefficiency of the NDDC.
“The National Assembly is part of the problem of NDDC. The Presidency is part of the problem of NDDC, and the party in power is part of the problem of NDDC, whichever party it is. They don’t allow NDDC to perform. We too, in Niger Delta, are not allowing them to perform. We are enemies to ourselves.”
He noted how the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) refused to endorse the amendment of the Electoral Act for fear that they would lose the 2019 General Election when it was the best thing to do for the country.
The governor also expressed displeasure over a senator who overstepped his immunity during plenary to demean a serving governor by calling him a ‘drunk’.
In his speech, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, said they were in Government House, to assure Wike, as the host of NDDC, that the commission would be supervised to perform within its core mandate.
“As a committee, we are aware that you have some reservations with the NDDC based on your state’s previous relationship with them. We have come to assure you that with the people you have seen here, who are patriotic Nigerians, we will make sure that the aspirations and the aims of creating the NDDC would be achieved.
“We will do everything possible within the limits of the Constitution, through our oversight functions, for them to achieve their objectives.”
Nwaoboshi also commended the governor for having done well in providing security in Rivers State with NDDC benefiting from it.
He noted that Wike has become the strongest voice that has continued to speak truth to power at the risk of his political career.
“We say without fear of contradiction that you are the strongest voice in the Niger Delta region. You have always been courageous, even at the risk of your political career, to speak truth to power.”
“You have also advanced the interest of the people of the Niger Delta. That is why anybody visiting Niger Delta will have nothing but to come and see that courageous man that is bestriding the area like a colossus”, Nwaoboshi added.
Traders, Landlords Lose Millions As Fire Razes Another Market, Houses
There was uncontrollable wailing, yesterday, as traders and some residents woke up to the sad news that fire had destroyed the Timber Market at Marine Base in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area of Rivers State.
It was gathered that the fire gutted the popular market in the state around 11:30pm, last Wednesday and continued burning until the early hours of yesterday.
It was gathered that the mysterious fire razed the entire market and some residential buildings within the area.
A source in the area, who gave her name simply as Gift, narrated that activities had closed for the day before the fire engulfed the makeshift market.
Gift noted that they had called the state fire service when the incident started, but quickly added that the service’s response could not turn up because of lack of personnel.
She said, “There was heavy fire last night at Marine Base market. The fire burnt down the market. Traders in the market lost every of their goods.
“The fire started around 11:30pm, when the market had already closed. Nobody died in the incident but traders lost everything they had to the fire.
“When the fire started, we called fire service. They said they would come. After about 30 minutes, we called the line again; a lady picked the call but said they can’t come because their men were not on the ground. They have gone for another duty.
“People have lost goods worth millions of Naira. Some of the shop owners came in around 12:30am, and met their shops razed, while some came and saved few of their goods.”
Another victim, who was seen wailing over the loss of his merchandise, said, “Last night around 11:35pm, the fire started, and the fire is still raging this morning as you can see. There were series of calls put across to fire fighters, but none responded up to this moment (morning).
“The fire actually affected areas where we are selling planks for buildings. Even shops where they sell caskets were also affected by the fire.”
One of the victims, who simply gave his name as Onyema, said that he became hypertensive patient as a result of incessant fire outbreaks at the Timber Market.
Onyema noted that when he got calls from some of his colleagues about the fire, he refused to rush down due to his health condition.
Another victim, Chidi Ogbomma, who sells building materials said, “I was at home around 11:30pm to 12midnight when I was called that there was fire at the market.
“I don’t know where to start from,” Ogbomma lamented as his machines, industrial woods and finished products were completely consumed in the fire.
The Chairman, Marine Base Timber Market, Isaac Amaewhule, said he was called at about midnight that the market was on fire, but could not race down because he stays far away.
“When I came, the security told me that the fire started from the coffin (casket) side. They said they were very surprised to see such huge fire. They said they didn’t know what caused it.
“I am using this opportunity to call on the state government to help us because we are all Nigerians. Even people selling pure water, food, and so on, come here to sell and sustain themselves and their families,” Amaewhule pleaded.
Some of the traders lamented that they had suffered several fire disasters in the past, estimating the latest loss to over N300million.
They regretted that anytime fire outbreaks occur, they lose virtually all their property as rescue operations have always been difficult.
They appealed to the Rivers State Government to come to their aid in terms of financial assistance and construction of a befitting market for them to forestall future recurrence.
The cause of the fire outbreak could not be ascertained by the time of this report.
However, it was learnt that the fire started from the casket section of the market, even as those affected said no fire-fighters came to put out the inferno.
When The Tide visited the scene of the inferno about 7:30am, yesterday, it was observed that the fire was still raging in some parts of the wood section.
The incident occurred barely five days after a similar fire outbreak on February 20, razed property worth over N10million at the popular Mile 3 Market in the state capital.
The cause of the section of the Mile 3 Market fire incident, which mostly destroyed several shops, including cold rooms on the Bishop Okoye Line, is yet to be determined.
The second fire incident also occurred along Chief Odum Street in the Ogbumnabali area of Port Harcourt; where over 20 shanties were destroyed rendering hundreds of residents homeless.
PIB’ll Change Economic Fortunes Of Nigeria, Lawan Affirms
The Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, yesterday, assured Nigerians that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which is before the National Assembly would change the fortune of the country by the time it becomes law.
“The PIB is going to be a piece of legislation that in our estimation will change the economic fortune of Nigeria and of course improve the earnings by our businesses who are here and we want to attract many more investments into the oil and gas industry in Nigeria,” Lawan said.
The Senate President spoke in his office while playing host to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing.
Lawan said the Ninth Assembly would ensure the passage of the PIB as promised even though, he pointed out, that the bill had “suffered from a demonic influence” by refusing passage since 2008 when it was first introduced to the Sixth Assembly.
“We are so confident that we will be able to pass this bill by April. We want it signed into law by May and we want every stakeholder to be a winner,” Lawan said.
The Senate President was also upbeat about the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill now being processed by the Assembly.
“I want to assure Nigerians that we have a target and we think it’s a realistic target. It’s doable and we have the determination and capacity to affect the amendment (to Electoral Act) before we go on summer break in June/July and our committee has done so much work,” Lawan said.
On the security situation in the country, Lawan said the government was doing everything possible to change the tide.
The Senate President referred to his recent meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in which “our discussion centred on ensuring that the two arms of government work closely to ensure that we win this war as quickly as possible.
“I’m of the view that because the raining season will be here in the next two, three months, we need to secure the whole environment because for the peasant Nigerian, what is crucial to him is to be alive and go to his farm.
“If the environment is not secured, farmers will not be able to go to farms and that will be a big challenge to us because it is not going to be easy for us to provide food for all the Nigerian peasant farmers.
“So, we are working together with the Executive arm of government and we are going to achieve a remarkable result.”
The Senate President also spoke on farmers/herders clashes and cautioned on religious or ethnic profiling.
“I believe in every society or community, we have criminals…In every ethnic group, you have good people, you have bad people. Therefore, as leaders, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall into the temptation of ethnic profiling because it doesn’t help the fight against criminality and we need every hand on deck, North, South, Christians Muslims, to fight criminality wherever it is in Nigeria,” Lawan said.
Earlier, the British High Commissioner, Catriona Laing commended President Buhari over the appointment of the new service chiefs, and urged the National Assembly to ensure the passage of the PIB and Electoral Amendment Bill.
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