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Shell Locked In Bitter Legal Battle Over Pollution In Nigeria

Who needs television which you can watch the planet "burn" before your very eyes.
by Emmanuel Goujon
Lagos, Nigeria (AFP) Feb 26, 2006
Anglo-Dutch giant Shell, which is locked in a bitter legal battle over environmental damage in Nigeria's oil-rich southern Delta, is appealing against a hefty 1.5-billion-dollar (1.2-billion-euro) fine for pollution. On Friday, the federal high court in the southern city of Port Harcourt slapped the fine for environmental pollution on the company following a suit filed by the local Ijaw community.

"The court ruled that we should pay 1.5 billion dollars to communities in the Niger Delta (but we have) already lodged an appeal in a higher court," a company spokesman said.

A group calling itself the "Ijaw Aborigines of Bayelsa State" had taken Shell to court because the company had ignored an order from the Nigerian senate in 2004 to pay the money to the impoverished local community.

Last year Shell made a net profit of 22.94 billion dollars (19.03 billion euros) for 2005, the highest full-year profit in British corporate history, on the back of record high oil prices.

The Anglo-Dutch giant said it had appealed "on, among other grounds, the strength of independent expert advice, which demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the claims of the group".

Shell contends that the pollution of the waters and farmland in the Delta region is a result of sabotage and it is therefore not responsible for the damage.

But this stance is compromised not only by the rulings of parliament and the high court in Port Harcourt, but also by a verdict from the federal court in Benin City.

On November 14 last year the Benin City court ordered Shell to immediately cease gas flaring, following a complaint filed by seven Ijaw villages who said they were suffering from severe respiratory ailments.

The court decreed that flaring was a "violation of fundamental rights and dignity which was guaranteed under the constitution".

Shell also appealed against this ruling and continued gas flaring, provoking a fresh suit on December 16.

The Ijaws have been aided in their fight by various local and international bodies, including the Environmental Rights Action and the Nigerian branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN).

Akinbode Oluwafemi from ERA/FoEN told AFP that although the two suits were not directly linked, both were "from the Niger Delta people, who have been suffering. "Both are trying to get justice for the people," he explained.

"Our own demand is more than compensation. We think they should stop gas flaring completely," Oluwafemi said.

"What we expect Shell to do is to stop ignoring the law and the judicial system of Nigeria. Shell should allow justice to prevail instead of launching appeal after appeal."

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil exporter, producing a total of around 2.6 million barrels per day. But the wells and flow stations of the Niger Delta are vulnerable to attack from pirates, separatist militants and angry local groups.

Shell's woes have been exacerbated by increasing attacks by Ijaws on oil installations and the February 8 kidnapping of nine foreign oil workers.

There are a plethora of angry Ijaw separatist or militant groups.

All are united by a common complaint -- Nigeria's 30-billion-barrel oil reserves are the rightful property of the Delta's 14-million-strong Ijaw tribe and have been unjustly taken by the federal government and foreign oil majors.

Since the latest kidnapping, Shell has slashed Nigeria's key crude exports -- the source of more than 90 percent of the country's external revenue and two thirds of the government budget -- by 455,000 barrels per day, or 20 percent.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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