Special to USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston.
By Chido Nwangwu (in Houston) and Obinwa Nnaji (USAfrica Executive Editor in Lagos).
For an oil spill in the 1970 which affected about 256 hectares of land and water areas in the Ejama-Ebubu community in Tai Eleme Local Council of Rivers State of Nigeria, it has been justice that came long and hard.
On July 5, 2010, a federal court in Asaba (Delta State of Nigeria) awarded N15.4 billion to the small but traumatized community as special and punitive damages against Shell, Shell International Company Limited and Shell International Exploration and Production, especially its Nigeria operations, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC). The substantive suit was filed in 2001; since that time Shell delayed the case with 26 interlocutory applications and 3 interlocutory appeals. The community’s lead lawyer is Lucius Nwosu, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Justice Ibrahim Buba ruled that: “I have, upon calm assessment on the unchallenged evidence of the plaintiffs, that cases cited and relied upon, which I read and come to one and only inevitable conclusion, that the case of the plaintiffs have merit and accordingly accept the evidence that is capable of belief. Indeed, from the nature of the damages caused, the amount of general damages claimed is not exaggerated….. This is a 2001 matter that has a chequered history. The plaintiffs by the paragraph 32 of their amended statement of claims, jointly and severally claimed against the defendants, special damages of N1.772 billion, allowing for interest for delayed payment for five years from 1996 at a modest mean Central Bank of Nigeria deregulated rate for that volume at 25 per cent per annum, totalling N5.4 billion and punitive general damages of N10 billion for general inconveniences, acid rain, pollution of underground water and hardship to the population, who have been deprived of the right to self-sustenance, education and good life.”
Justice Buba added that: “The defendants, as oil producing companies and in the course of transporting their oil, constructed pipelines to convey their crude oil from oil well to Bonny Oil Terminal for export, it is in that process that the spillage complained against did occur. It is argued that the law is settled that, pleadings not supported by evidence go to no issue. Since the defendants elected not to call evidence, all facts raised in their defence go to no issue. On the other hand, their refusal to call evidence does not relieve the plaintiffs of the duty to (prove) their case.”
“I therefore, enter judgment for the plaintiffs against the defendants in the following terms, judgment be and is hereby entered for the plaintiffs against the defendants jointly and severally and I make the following order, the defendants shall pay the plaintiffs, special damages in the sum of N1.7772 billion made up as follows, direct value of yearly renewable crops/amenities, lost of income, N44.5 million, injurious affection, N613.7 million; Forestry N115.5 million; Hunting, income N236.2 million, animal traps N4.9 million and water supply, N80 million and Health hazards, shock fear, N100 million and desecration of shrines, N1.8 million. Allowing for interest for delayed payment for five years from 1996 at a modest mean Central Bank of Nigeria deregulated rate for that volume at 25 per cent per annum, totalling N5.4 billion.”
“I also award the plaintiffs claims of 25 per cent of the said sum till the date of judgment and thereafter 10 per cent of the judgment debt till payment. The burden of proof on the minimal has been discharged by the plaintiffs.”
I also assess and award the plaintiffs claim against the defendants in punitive terms of general damages in the sum of N10 billion for general inconveniences, acid rain, pollution of underground water and hardship to the population, who have been deprived of the right to self-sustenance, education and good life.”
The ruling and the environmental degradation issues hold major implications for other oil exploration giants in Nigeria, as USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu and our editors have argued in a forthcoming CNN International profile of USAfrica. On October 19, 1998, Chido wrote a highly referenced special report on the issues of the Niger Delta, oil exploration and pollution in Nigeria since 1958. It is titled ‘OIL in NIGERIA: Liquid Gold or Petro-Dollars Curse?’ https://usafricaonline.com/chido.petrogas.html