JOHANNESBURG // Shell has agreed to pay a Nigerian fishing community GBP£55 million (Dh305.9m) for the worst oil spill ever suffered in the country.
It is thought to be one of the largest ever payouts to an entire community following environmental damage, the claimants’ London lawyers, Leigh Day, said.
Wednesday’s agreement ends a three-year legal battle in Britain over two spills in 2008 that destroyed thousands of hectares of mangroves and the fish and shellfish that sustained villagers of the Bodo community in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta.
Oil giant Shell said it is paying £35m to 15,600 fishermen and farmers and £20m to their Bodo community.
“We’ve always wanted to compensate the community fairly,” said Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Nigeria, which is 55 per cent owned by the Nigerian government.
Shell originally offered £4,000 pounds to the entire community, Leigh Day said.
Chief Sylvester Kogbara, chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, said he hoped “that Shell will take their host communities seriously now” and embark on a clean-up of all of Ogoniland.
Mr Sunmonu said the company is “fully committed” to a clean-up.
A UN environment programme report has estimated it could take up to 30 years to fully rehabilitate Ogoniland, an area where villagers have been in conflict with Shell for decades.
Chief Kogbara said the community money will be used to provide much needed basic services. “We have no health facilities, our schools are very basic, there’s no clean water supply,” he said.
Each villager will receive £2,200 for themselves. The minimum monthly wage in Nigeria is less than US$100 (Dh367.3).
Chief Kogbara said villagers are now discussing setting up as petty traders and other small businesses until their environment is restored.
Despite the effect of Shell’s oil spill on the Bodo community, Mr Sunmonu insisted that oil theft and illegal refining remain “the real tragedy of the Niger Delta”.
“Areas that are cleaned up will simply become re-impacted,” he said.
Amnesty International said Shell continues to blame oil theft for spills – which means it does not have to pay compensation – when the company’s own documents state its ageing oil pipelines present a “major risk and hazard.”
Shell had argued that only 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Bodo while Amnesty International used an independent assessor who put it at over 100,000 barrels – considered the largest ever oil spill in mangroves.
“Oil pollution in the Niger Delta is one of the biggest corporate scandals of our time,” said Audrey Gaughran of the human rights group. She said thousands more people remain at risk because of Shell’s failure to fix ageing and dilapidated pipelines.
* Associated Press