The Ikebiri community in Bayelsa State has dragged the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC, to an Italian court over a 2010 oil spill that they said destroyed their livelihoods, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The community, comprising several mostly fishing villages, said the oil company offered a N4.5 million compensation for the spill, a minute fraction of the €2 million it is demanding.
Joined as respondents in the suit, filed on May 4 in Milan, Italy, are NAOC and its parent firm, ENI. The plaintiff demand the clean-up of their community as well as compensation for the pollution caused.
The NAOC, the Nigerian subsidiary of Italian oil giant, ENI, operates in the Niger Delta under a joint venture agreement with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (60 per cent), NAOC (20 per cent), and Oando (20 per cent).
On April 5, 2010, an oil pipeline operated by NAOC burst about 250 metres from a creek north of Ikebiri community, causing irreparable damage to sources of livelihoods – destroyed aquatic life, dug-out fishing ponds, farmlands, according to the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
“It took six days for NAOC to agree to a joint inspection visit where it was concluded that ‘equipment failure’ caused the spill,” Godwin Ojo, ERA/FoEN’s Executive Director, said at a press conference in Lagos on Tuesday.
“NAOC operates seven wells and eight pipelines with several flow lines in the area of Ikebiri.
“You will be shocked to know that after that visit, the leak was closed but the surrounding polluted area of bush was set ablaze in a ‘state of the art technology’ often deployed by Agip and without the consent of the local community. No other clean up has taken place since.”
The NAOC did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The company recorded 2,418 oil spills between 2010 and 2016 with 0.8 percent of that figure occurring between 2010 and 2011, according to Nigeria’s Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
But Mr. Ojo said NAOC has a history of underestimating its spills, adding that although the company accepted responsibility for the spill at Ikebiri community, it refused to pay adequate compensation.
“The tactics of underestimating spills to reduce damage has been challenged by this historic court case,” Mr. Ojo said.
“Though NAOC claimed the polluted area is 9 hectares and an estimated 50 barrels of oil leaked, we know from chemical analysis that the polluted area is much wider, at least 17.6 hectares wide, while evidence of pollution has also been found by soil sample analysis 2 kilometres downstream from the spill site.”
Mr. Ojo said immediately after the 2010 oil spill, the Ikebiri community engaged in discussions with NAOC and ENI for emergency relief materials and compensation.
“An initial payment of N2 million was made to the community for relief materials,” Mr. Ojo said.
“However, to date, the community has received no compensation for damages as a result of the spill. An initial offer of N4.5 million was rejected by the community as compensation as insufficient, and ENI have since discontinued discussions with the community regarding compensation.”
Mr. Ojo, whose organization’s in-house lawyer is on the legal team of the Ikebiri community, said the court case would compel the oil company to clean up the spill in the community as well as pay the €2 million compensation.
“This is an unprecedented case in Italy, and its success has been a product of four years of painstaking research and documentation and the patience of the Ikebiri people suffering this ordeal this past seven years,” he said.
“We hope that this case will be successful being the first instance of an Italian company having to face justice in Italy for its actions in destroying the environment overseas.
“It will help end the impunity and offer hope to other communities that have suffered damages as a result of pollution from oil wells or pipelines operated by Agip/ENI or any other multinational firm operating in the Niger Delta and elsewhere.”