Jul 27, 2010

Ogoni: The people of Ejama Ebubu compensated for oil spill after a 40 year wait.

The Shell corporation has been ordered by the Nigerian courts to pay out a large sum of compensation for an oil spill that severely damaged Ogoni lands 40 years ago.

Below is an article published by the Nigerian Compass:

On Monday, July 5, 2010, a High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to pay the people of Ejama Ebubu, a community in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State N16. 7 billion (S100 million).


The money was compensation for the oil spill that occurred in the community 40 years ago.


The court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, also ordered the oil giants to de-pollute the land and swamps to their states before the spill took place.


While most observers expect the people of Ejama Ebubu to roll out the drums and celebrate, having waited for 40 years for justice to take its course, the situation is quite different.


From the entrance of the community, where Shell has a noticeable presence, including a flow station that seems to have been abandoned, to the other end (a fenced farm road that accommodates an engine Shell brought many years ago to check the impact of the spill), where the spill took place, and destroyed the only stream serving the community, as well as fish ponds, and farm lands, it appears as if the judgment makes no meaning as majority of the people go about their normal activities.


Before the community went to court, the people had waited for 31 years for Shell to fulfil the promises it made after the spill occurred in 1970.


The community’s counsel, Emmanuel Asido Esq., who took the case to a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt in 2001, said the matter had earlier passed through four judges before Buba delivered judgement.


Mr Johnson Tanee, a man in his late thirties or early forties, and a native of Bori, who grew up in the community, sees the compensation as a temporary relief for Ejama Ebubu people. The land in the community, he noted, can never be the same again, because about two million barrels of crude oil spilled out of Shell’s pipelines when the incident occurred.


He blamed the Federal Government for allowing Shell to deliberately avoid carrying out its responsibilities even when “it had succeeded in ruining the economy of Ejama Ebubu.”


The community, according to him, is not supposed to be dominated by unemployed youths, who hope against hope for a better living.


“The people of the community used to excavate sand for internal use, and sell at times to people from neighbouring communities. But today, we buy the commodity when we want to build. We have been deprived of our means of livelihood for 40 years, and the situation will remain like that forever,” Tanee added.


The level of unemployment in Ejama Ebubu, like most communities in the Niger Delta region, is high.


Some of the youths resort to riding commercial motorcycles to make ends meet. But their area of operation is restricted, as they are not allowed to ply the major road.


The traditional ruler of the community, Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara, Oneh-eh Eta Ejaman XI, Emere Nkunna I of Eleme, told our correspondent that he was about 15 years old when the spill occurred.


He, however, remembered vividly how it disrupted the way of life in the community. The traditional ruler said that no amount of compensation could restore the community to its original state.


“One early morning, there was a blow-out. Everywhere was dark, but there was fire at the same time. People were running helter-skelter. For two weeks, oil was flowing everywhere, until Shell came with some white experts. The response was very late. If they had responded on time, and listened to the cries of the people, the impact of the spill would have been reduced.


“The fire burnt sand into coal tar. Do you know what that means? Most of our people had to flee the community to neighbouring towns and villages. Many families were dislocated. There was instant hunger in the land. The first time it rained after the incident, the water dropping from the roof was dark. We could not fetch and store water for domestic use.


“Most of those who lost their lives were fish pond owners, and farmers who didn’t want to starve to death at home when they had foodstuffs in the farm. People would just leave their house, and drown because heights of crude had covered the whole place,” Agbara said.


While he welcomed the verdict of the court, he said the damage to the community was more than N15. 7 billion, stressing that since Shell started drilling oil in the community in 1952, the people of the area had nothing to show for it as they lacked basic amenities.


He added: “We don’t have water for drinking, the roads are very bad. We don’t have Elf, Chevron, Agip or Mobil in Ejama Ebubu Community; we only have Shell. Everywhere you go in my community, you see Shell pipelines. As a result of the spill, there is constant heat in the community, and this is affecting our roofing materials. This means that we are always spending money replacing our zinc. They rot easily. Our cassava is very bad. If you add fertiliser, it gets worse.


“It is good for Nigerians to come over and see the way we live. Nigerians should tell Shell to pay the compensation, clean up the community. It is our right. My people are peace-loving, that is why there has been no crisis on the matter.”


In its reaction, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) said the judgement would help address the culture of recklessness by oil companies operating in Ogoniland in particular and the Niger Delta in general.


MOSOP, which spoke through its Press Officer, Sunny Zorvah, said it believed the oil giant would respect and implement the judgement urgently, and urged Shell to demonstrate to the world that it values the Ogoni and others of the Niger Delta and not just profits, by drawing lessons from the Gulf of Mexico BP Spill.


“This is one of other laudable efforts that would help to bring to justice the continued reckless and irresponsible activities of the oil companies operating in Ogoni and other parts of the Niger Delta and their disregard for the rights of people who have been deprived of the right to self-sustenance, education and good life.


“We hope that Shell will stop its legal filibuster which has kept the case in court for almost a decade and deprived the community justice for decades,” it added.


The movement equally called on Shell to de-pollute and rehabilitate the dry land swamps to its pre-impact status.