In order to attend a hearing on the environmental damages caused by years of oil spills in Nigeria blamed on oil company Royal Dutch Shell, King Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi of Ogale community, near Ogoni, Rivers State has flown to London.
In what may suggest a loss of faith in the Nigerian judiciary amidst fears of official conspiracy, two Nigerian communities in March sued Shell in London over multiple oil spills in the Niger Delta.
Britain’s High Court has begun to hear arguments on whether English courts can hear two legal claims on behalf of the over 40,000 Nigerians against Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).
During the hearing on Tuesday, King Okpabi held plastic bottles believed to contain contaminated water from his community in Ogale, in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region, claiming “my people are drinking this water.
“There are strange diseases in my community – skin diseases, people are dying sudden deaths, some people are impotent, low sperm count,” he was quoted by AFP as saying. “I can afford to buy water. But can I afford to buy for everybody? No. We are dying.”
King Okpabi wants the English Court to compel Shell to implement a 2011 landmark report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Oil spills were found to contaminate clean water and damage the fishing industry in Nigeria in a 2011 report. UNEP warned of dangerously high levels of hydrocarbons in the water, bitumen-coated mangroves, and poor air quality. It stated that immediate action was needed.
Shell has argued the case should be heard in Nigeria, as it involves its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC. The Anglo-Dutch oil company will use the first three days of hearings to challenge the court’s jurisdiction.
The spokesperson added that SPDC has not produced any oil or gas in Ogoniland, the region surrounding Ogale, since 1993.
However, plaintiffs have argued that aging and leaking pipelines owned by the company still run through the area.
SPDC further claimed it had delivered water and healthcare to communities and was supporting the implementation of the UNEP process, which in June saw the launch of a $1bn clean-up operation in Ogoniland, which the UN report said could be the “most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise “.
The clean-up exercise aims to restore drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves and is estimated to take up to 30 years.