Oil giant Shell has begun a legal battle to block claims brought
against it by more than 40,000 Nigerians from being heard by the
English courts. At a hearing at the High Court in London on Tuesday,
November 22, a judge was urged to find that the court does not have
jurisdiction to try actions by two Nigerian communities over oil
spills in the Niger Delta. Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and the Shell
Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) argue that the courts
in Nigeria should hear the cases instead, but the communities believe
that they will only get “justice” in the English courts.
UK law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the two communities, says
the claims are over “extensive environmental damage caused by oil
pollution” The first action was brought on behalf of 2,335 individuals
from the Bille Kingdom of Nigeria, who are mostly fishermen. They
claim their environment has been “devastated” by oil spills over the
past five years. The second is on behalf of the Ogale Community in
Ogoniland, which consists of around 40,000 people. Leigh Day says the
community “has been subjected to repeated oil spills from Shell’s
pipelines over a number of years which have still not been cleaned
Lord Goldsmith QC, for Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), and
its subsidiary SPDC, told Mr. Justice Fraser that the cases concerned
“fundamentally Nigerian issues” He said: “They are brought by many
thousands of Nigerian claimants – with thousands more in the wings –
in respect of pollution in the Niger Delta said to emanate from
Nigerian infrastructure in which the Nigerian state has a majority
“The claims raise issues of Nigerian common law, customary law and
legislation. The events are said to have occurred in Nigeria and the
alleged physical damage is all said to be found in Nigeria.” He
submitted that : “The claims concern a uniquely Nigerian problem. It
is not in dispute that oil pipeline sabotage, bunkering, and illegal
crude oil refining activities are widespread in Nigeria and that the
overall security situation is highly volatile. “These illegal
activities are routinely reported in the media and highly visible to
local communities some of whose inhabitants must be complicit in it.
In recent months, the Nigerian armed forces have taken to air strikes
in an attempt to curtail the worst of them.”
Lord Goldsmith said that the attempt to sue RDS “in relation to the
alleged acts or omissions of SPDC is obviously a device aimed at
procuring an ’anchor defendant’ in England for the purpose of
attempting to persuade the English court to exercise jurisdiction over
SPDC, a Nigerian domiciled company which has always operated
exclusively in Nigeria”.
Daniel Leader, partner in the international group claims team at Leigh
Day, said in a statement before the hearing that: “Oil spills from
Shell’s oil pipelines have blighted the lives of the thousands of
Nigerians who live in Ogale and Bille.” He said: “It is clear to the
claimants that Royal Dutch Shell is ultimately responsible for failing
to ensure that its Nigerian subsidiary operates without causing
environmental devastation.

Shell seeks to block Nigerian case from being heard
“It is time for Shell to clean up their act in Nigeria. At the moment
these communities have no choice – they have to take them to court to
get them to act.” His Royal Highness Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, tribal
king of the Ogale community, attended the hearing and said outside
court that this country was the “only place we can get justice”.
Clutching a bottle of polluted water from his community, he said: “The
last resort for the people of Ogale is the British court.” A
spokeswoman for SPDC said: “Both Bille and Ogale are areas heavily
impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining
which remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta.
“Ogale is in Ogoniland and it is important to note that SPDC has
produced no oil or gas in Ogoniland since 1993. “Access to the area
has been limited following a rise in violence, threats to staff and
attacks on facilities.”
“The community’s lawyers argue that not only does SPDC owe a duty of
care to Nigerian communities impacted by such criminal activity, but
furthermore, Royal Dutch Shell – an Anglo-Dutch domiciled holding
company without any employees – owes a similar direct duty of care to
prevent oil spilled as a result of intentional third-party
interference from damaging Niger Delta communities.”
“The Bille and Ogale communities have chosen to bring these claims in
the UK instead of in Nigeria, whose laws govern SPDC joint venture
operations. “ We are contesting the jurisdiction of the English court
over these claims. We believe that allegations concerning Nigerian
plaintiffs in dispute with a Nigerian company, over issues which took
place in Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria.’

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