Britain’s High Court has started hearing new lawsuits filed by two communities in Rivers State, Ogale and Bille, alleging that decades of oil spills have fouled the water and destroyed the lives of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the Niger Delta where Shell subsidiary has operated since the 1950s.
They took their fight to Shell’s home base because they say the Nigerian courts are too corrupt.
“Let the shareholders of Shell who are residents of the advanced world, like Britain see a representative of a kingdom that is being destroyed in order for them to have money”, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, a leader of Ogale people told journalists.
“This blood money. My System cannot given me justice. There is only one place that can give me justice. That is why I am here,” Okpabi said.
London law firm, Leigh Day, is handling the case after it won a landmark agreement from Shell to pay $83.5 million in compensation to the Bodo community for damage caused by oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
Shell originally offered $50,000 before Bodo took the case to the same UK Court.
They want to hold Shell, incorporated in Uk, responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC).
The subsidiary said it has produced no oil or gas in the region since 1993. The area is heavily affected by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining.
It is arguing in court that the legal challenge is speculative and full of legal and evidential weaknesses.
SPDC, the operator of a joint venture between the Federal Government of Nigeria, Shell and two other oil companies, said it will challenge the jurisdiction of the UK courts in this case, arguing that it concerned Nigerian company over issues in Nigeria.
“If the claimants lawyers are correct as to the existence of this novel duty of care, shell and many other parents of multinational groups will be liable to the many hundreds of millions of people around the world with whom their subsidiaries come into contact in the ordinary course of their various operators”, said the company in its court argument.
“That would constitute a radical, if not historic expansion of the law and open the floodgates to litigation on an unprecedented scale” it added.