14,000 Nigerian Farmers Sue Shell

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14,000 Nigerian Farmers Sue Shell

Leigh Day Law filed suit in the High Court of London on Jan. 27, 2023, against oil giant Shell on behalf of Nigerian farmers who have lost their livelihoods due to oil pollution.

14,000 Nigerian Farmers Sue Shell for Environmental Damage in the Niger Delta. Image of an oil slick.
14,000 Nigerian Farmers Sue Shell for Environmental Damage in the Niger Delta. Source: Unsplash

No oil company has a 100% clean track record regarding its operations. Shell is no exception to this rule and is considered the ninth worst oil company when it comes to pollution of the natural environment. This also is worsened by reports company directors have known about the damage oil does to our environment for over 30 years and hid this knowledge instead of pivoting. So it comes as no surprise to many that in its fervour to expand, oil-rich Nigeria, a country already devastated by the legacy of colonialism, has long been targeted by Shell.

Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, and in the subsequent fervour to extract it and the poor environmental protection of the area, it is estimated that 17.5 million litres of oil have been spilled in the Niger Delta. Calls to restore the environmental devastation have been largely falling on deaf ears for years; however, in 2023, that fact is set to change for the better.

In the legal documents filed by the firm, it is claimed that the farmers’ drinking, farming, and fishing water has been contaminated with oil. So much so that it has rendered farming impossible, fishing useless, and drinking unsafe. The tap water comes out as brown and/or shiny and stinking of petroleum oil. The lawsuit comes at a time when the transition towards clean energy has been making its presence felt worldwide, as the continued devastation of our environment is only beginning to impact the northern hemisphere, where most of these companies and governments with power are based.

Unsurprisingly, Shell doesn’t plan to go down without a fight. It maintains that the spills are a result of illegal third parties stealing oil and sabotaging extraction lines. However, there is a precedent of oil companies losing to people who band together to demand change. In 2015, Leigh Day brought another case on behalf of 15,000 people of the Bodo community, who granted $68 million in compensation and a mandated cleanup. In 2021, a Dutch court ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for the damage caused by its polluting activities. With this case garnering attention in the public sphere and the reputational damage already having been dealt to the oil and gas industry, it’s hopeful that these farmers will have their day when the case is brought to trial in 2024.

This lawsuit and others similar to it raise important questions in regard to this “just” transition toward clean energy. How can we begin to claim that we are on the right side of history if we cannot even hold to account the very people who thirty years ago knew the amount of damage they were doing?

People worldwide are watching, and it is imperative that we tackle these companies head-on if we want to secure our well-being in the years to come. We cannot allow fat oil companies to get off so easily, and from what is being done now, it is hopeful that this lawsuit will help the Niger Delta and the people who live there in the future.

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