About one year after a judgment by a Dutch Appeal Court in the Hague, Netherlands ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to pay compensation to four Niger Delta farmers for devastating their farmlands, the oil company has opened a mediation process to resolve the lingering dispute.
The court had, on January 29, 2021, found Shell liable for the pollution of farmlands and fishponds of the farmers from Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom, Oruma in Bayelsa and Goi in Rivers states.
In the landmark decision, the court ordered shell to pay them compensation over the 2008 oil spill after the Dutch branch of Friends of The Earth, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the farmers against shell.
SPDC had initially expressed disappointment in the court ruling insisting that the spill was caused by sabotage. Its Media Relations Manager, Bamidele Odugbesan, had maintained in a statement: “We continue to believe the spill in Oruma and Goi, were the result of sabotage.”
After a lull, The Guardian gathered that the firm made a U-turn and entered into a mediation process with the aim of resolving the issues amicably and to compensate the farmers.
It was learnt that the ongoing mediation would determine what would be awarded to each of the farmers as the court did not award specific damages or amounts in its ruling.
In an interview, yesterday, in Port Harcourt, the Nigerian counsel for the farmers and Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Chima Williams, confirmed that a mediation process is ongoing between the two parties.
He explained: “The court agreed with the claimants that they have suffered an injury and should be compensated but there was no specific declaration on what should be awarded as damages. So rather than going through the court processes again for damages, we are now doing friendly negotiation to resolve this aspect with shell.”
“There is no offer from both sides yet and until we complete the process, what we agree on and what we do not agree will be made public at the appropriate time. A mediator is superintending between us and shell.”
“We won our case, Shell approached us for mediation and they tend to be sincere and it is a voluntary thing from both sides. If at the end, we do not agree, we will go back to the court.”
Williams noted that both parties were eager to resolve and conclude the prolonged issue as soon as possible.
He reiterated that the Hague judgment has set a standard for environmental justice in the Niger Delta and paved the way for the right thing to be done and as well, rekindled the hopes of the people.
He maintained that such moves would save the Niger Delta environment.
Also confirming the development, one of the affected farmers, Chief Eric Dooh from Goi community in Rivers State said: “Yes, it’s true. We have started a mediation process with shell and if a fair compensation is given, it will be the ultimate of the whole process. The next thing is to embark on the cleanup exercise as soon as possible so we can now reinvest into the environment.”
Contacted, Shell spokesman in Port Harcourt, Michael Adande, said: “We can confirm that parties are exploring potential settlement.”