Oil giant Shell’s agreement to pay £55 million (about N16 billion) to 15,600 fishermen in Bodo community in Ogoniland is not commensurate with the disaster it had visited on the area, an environmental advocacy group has said.
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, said in a statement Wednesday that the oil giant’s agreement for settlement is an admittance of years of “ecological crime” in the Niger Delta community.
“When compared to what polluting oil companies pay elsewhere for their ecological crimes, HOMEF sees the compensation which will amount to about N600,000 for each of the plaintiffs with the balance going for community projects – school blocks and health centres – as inadequate for the severity of damage done,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF.
Shell, in a statement on Wednesday, had accepted responsibility to two oil spills that devastated Bodo, a predominantly fishing community in Ogoni, Rivers State, in 2008 and 2009.
Following the spill, the fishermen in the community and Shell became embroiled in a legal tussle that had lasted three years.
“From the outset, we’ve accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo,” Mutiu Sunmonu,” Shell’s Managing Director said in the statement.
“We’ve always wanted to compensate the community fairly and we are pleased to have reached agreement.”
According to the settlement plan, £35 million will be paid to individuals while £20 million would go to the entire community.
Shell also said it would begin clean up of the sites immediately.
HOMEF, however, welcomed Shell’s agreement to pay the penalty noting that it was a confirmation of their guilt.
“The fishermen cannot hope to return to fishing in the Bodo rivers and creeks because of the depth of hydrocarbon pollution resulting from the oil spills,” Mr. Bassey said.
“Although the amount being offered each fisherman is better than the pittance that Shell initially offered to pay, this can hardly purchase a good fishing boat and equipment necessary to return to the fishing business that the people know best – that is if they chose to move to other communities with cleaner waters in which to fish.
“Sadly, although the Bodo pollution also damaged the Goi community waters, that community continues to languish in abject neglect without remedy.”
In 2009, Shell agreed to a US$15.5 million settlement following a lawsuit in US brought by some Ogoni indigenes.
A United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, report on Ogoniland in 2011 recommended, among other things, that an initial sum of US$1 billion be provided by the Nigerian government and Shell for the remediation of the environment.
Over three years later, the report remains unimplemented.
HOMEF said that the major victory in Wednesday’s settlement was that Shell, unlike in the past, did not claim to be making the settlement on humanitarian grounds.
“Since the oil companies do not respect fines imposed on them by Nigerian regulatory agencies, or even the National Assembly, this decision should encourage other communities to bring up cases against Shell and other oil companies operating in the Nigeria, Ghana and other countries,” said George Awudi, a member of the international Advisory Board of HOMEF.
HOMEF further regretted that ongoing political campaigns have not paid any attention to the severe environmental damage in the Niger Delta and the rest of the nation.
“A safe environment is a foundational basis for human survival,” the group said.
“Payment of compensation and building of schools and clinics will not by any means reduce the demand for an urgent clean-up of the Ogoni environment.
“Three and a half years after the UNEP report the Ogoni people are still waiting for concrete clean up action.”