After 12 years of legal tussle, the Okia Community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State has secured a landmark judgment against oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company.
The judgement, which was delivered on December 4, 2013 by Justice I.N. Buba of the Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State, awarded N305,637,381.60 million against SPDC for special and general damages caused by crude oil spillage.
In 2001, the community had dragged the oil giant before the court over the damage oil spill from the company had done to their environment, which has deprived them of their fishing business.
In suit FHC/B/CS/145/2001, filed by Pius Gbenewi, Benson A. Barda, Chief Francis Gold, Chief Ben Ekiokanga and Reuben Braboke, on behalf of the community, the community in its Statement of Claims stated: “Sometimes in August 1998, there was a crude oil spillage or outflow from the defendant’s Forcados offshore loading terminal, otherwise known as and called 48 Forcados loading line, in which some barrels of crude oil spilled into the Forcados and Ramos rivers.”
The community further accused Shell of deliberately neglecting the spillage in spite of several letters written to the company by the community, urging SPDC to address the issue and pay compensation.
The community added: “It (spillage) was subsequently and negligently allowed by the defendant to be dispersed by tide, current and sea waves thereby spreading to the plaintiffs Okia community resulting in the extensive damage to fishing gears, ponds, farmlands, crops, fishing channels, swamps, which are property of the plaintiffs, Okia community and individual fishermen and women.”
As result of the oil company’s refusal to clean up the spillage, the community instituted over N300 million law suit against SPDC and demanded compensation for special damages in “capital value for temporary loss of income in fishing rights to the adult fishing population of about 400 people (N232,837.000.00), open market value of fishing nets for individuals, graded and categorised as two or three ply for creek fishing operation (the minimum length of 50 metres and maximum of 100meters) – 6inch 50 ply N50.000.00 to N105.000 (N9,019,068.00), allowances for fresh water supply (N4, 500, 000), consultancy fee for counsel and estate surveyor and valuer (N49,271,213.60), as well as general damages (N10,000,000).”
The judgment reads: “Judgment be and is hereby entered for the plaintiffs in the sum of N305,637,381.60 (Three Hundred and Five Million, Six Hundred and Thirty Seven Thousand, Three Hundred and Eighty One Naira, Sixty Kobo) only being special and general damages caused by the Defendant’s crude ‘oil spillage to the Plaintiffs’ properties being Capital value for temporary loss of income in fishing rights to the adult fishing population of about 400 people N232,837,000,00.
“Issued at Asaba, under the Seal of the Court and the Hand of the Presiding Judge this 4th day of December, 2013.”
In the Statement of Claim, the plaintiffs averred that the “community’s resources for livelihood became irredeemably devoid of the wealth of fish and marine snails, crabs, periwinkles and mollusks for fishing, as a result of escape of fish from the rivers and creeks and by direct-annihilation of the fish end marine snails, fish, crabs etc, in the swamps, lakes, ponds and canals with resultant non-ingress of fish into the resources due to the biodegradable detergent effect of the spilled crude oil in the resources.
“The soil no longer support the growth of crops and forest/swamp which was adversely affected by the said spillage and could also not support the production of native salt and wood essential to the plaintiff’s community well being.”
The property of the inhabitants of the areas, namely fishing nets, fishing lines and fishing traps, which were set in the rivers, lakes, creaks, canal, and ponds were completely destroyed together with the aforementioned resources by the said crude oil spillage from the Defendants 48 Forcados offshore loading terminal base/line.