London court on Thursday sided with one of the largest companies in the world, in a lawsuit that accuses the company of polluting precious water and farmland in Nigeria for decades.
Two communities in the West African nation brought the suit against a Nigerian subsidiary of oil supermajor Royal Dutch Shell, claiming that years of oil spills in the Niger Delta have contaminated valuable life-sustaining resources there.
The case was taken before the High Court in London because the plaintiffs, fishermen and farmers in the communities of Ogale and Bille believe they cannot receive a fair trial in their home country.
The court, however, ruled in the subsidiary’s favor Thursday by remanding the case to a lower court in Nigeria.
A spokesman for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria told BBC News that Thursday’s decision was a “common sense” ruling and dismissed the notion that the villagers could not receive a fair trial in Nigeria.
“It’s about claims by Nigerians about the operations of a Nigerian company in Nigeria and I think the Nigerian court is the best place to handle that,” SPDCN spokesman Igo Weli said.
Weli added that the company believes the pollution outlined in the lawsuit is the result of criminal activity — not negligence on Shell’s part.
“It’s about incidents related to sabotage, illegal refining and crude thefts,” he said. “Bille and Ogale are two communities that have been severely impacted by those activities, which is a major source of pollution in the Niger Delta.”
Plaintiffs, who said they are disappointed by the court ruling, argue that the SPDCN operates under the ownership of Royal Dutch Shell — which is partly headquartered in London — so the case should be heard in the British capital.
“We are confident that, as in the Netherlands, the court of appeal will see things differently,” Ogale’s leader, King Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, said. “Royal Dutch Shell makes billions of dollars of profit each year from Nigerian oil, but our communities which host its infrastructure have been left environmentally devastated.”
The pollution in the Niger Delta affects about 45,000 people who live there.
Netherlands-based Shell is the world’s sixth-largest oil company by revenue — behind three Chinese companies, a Saudi conglomerate and U.S.-based ExxonMobil — and one of the world’s largest companies of any kind. It reported $265 billion in revenue last year.