Oil Spill: Shell Admits Guilt, Pays Bodo Fishermen

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Mutiu Sunmonu

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Shell Nigeria is paying fishermen in Bodo and the community a total of N16 billion as compensation for the 2008 oil spill which damaged their source of livelihood even though some of the victims have died

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Jan. 19, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

SEVEN years after losing their source of livelihood to oil spilled by the Shell Nigeria, Fishermen in Bodo Community in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria has cause to smile in 2015. Shell Nigeria, the largest oil producing company in the country, has agreed to pay a penalty of about 55 million Pounds Sterling (about N16bn) to 15, 600 Bodo fishermen and the community for the massive crude oil spills of 2008/2009. The compensation will amount to about N600,000 for each of the plaintiffs with the balance going for community projects such as school blocks and health centres.

Ledum Mitee
Mitee

But the payment is coming a too late for some of the fishermen who died as a result of the oil spill. According to Ledum Mitee, chairman of the Nigeria Extrative Industries Transparency Initiative, the settlement of the case against Shell by the Bodo community is a welcome relief to the villages but it may have come a little late for other victims of the massive spillage that have died as a result of the effects of the pollution. “It is a sad commentary on our justice system that required the villages to go outside the shores of this country to get justice. It also shows the disdain the multinational companies have for our justice system because it is obvious to me that there would not have been a settlement and at such value had the matter been brought before courts here. It is also a vindication of the non-violent option that the Ogonis have irrevocably adopted,” Mitee said.

Similarly, some non governmental organisation are not overly happy about Shell’s gesture.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, described the agreement by Shell as welcome news for a new year loaded with violence and other unpalatable news and congratulated the Bodo people and all who worked on this case. However, HOMEF in a statement signed by Cadmus Atake, project and Communications Officer, HOMEF said the by making the payment Shell has confirmed that it is guilty. When compared to what polluting oil companies pay elsewhere for their ecological crimes, HOMEF sees the money given to Bodo people as inadequate for the severity of damage done.

“The fishermen cannot hope to return to fishing in the Bodo rivers and creeks because of the depth of hydrocarbon pollution resulting from the oil spills,” said Nnimmo Bassey, director of HOMEF. He added: “Although the amount being offered each fisherman is better than the pittance that Shell initially offered to pay, this can hardly purchase a good fishing boat and equipment necessary to return to the fishing business that the people know best – that is if they chose to move to other communities with cleaner waters in which to fish. Sadly, although the Bodo pollution also damaged the Goi community waters that community continues to languish in abject neglect without remedy.”

Nnimmo Bassey
Bassey

HOMEF sees the main victory as setting a clear precedent, given that Shell accepted liability and was not pretending to be making a payout on humanitarian basis as they have claimed in the past. “Since the oil companies do not respect fines imposed on them by Nigerian regulatory agencies, or even the National Assembly, this decision should encourage other communities to bring up cases against Shell and other oil companies operating in the Nigeria, Ghana and other countries,” says George Awudi, a member of the international Advisory Board of HOMEF.

“Payment of compensation and building of schools and clinics will not by any means reduce the demand for an urgent clean-up of the Ogoni environment. Three and a half years after the UNEP report the Ogoni people are still waiting for concrete clean up action. HOMEF regrets that in the ongoing political campaigns the political parties do not pay any attention to the severe environmental damage in the Niger Delta and the rest of the nation. A safe environment is a foundational basis for human survival, it said.

Nonetheless, Shell has said that there was no doubt that it admitted responsibility from the onset. According to Precious Okolobo, media relations manager, Shell Nigeria, “As soon as the investigation on the Bodo oil spill was completed in 2008, we have always wanted to compensate the people. The delay has been as a result of exaggerated claims. We are fully committed to the clean-up of the environment. But until crude theft is tackled, the issue of environmental pollution will continue to hunt us,” Shell said.

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