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Oil Spill: Shell Ordered To Pay N15B Punitive Damages

Source: OUR REPORTER. - thewillnigeria.com


San Francisco, July 05, (THEWILL) – Justice delayed they say is not Justice denied. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, SPDC, has been ordered to pay N15.4 billion naira to Ejama-Ebubu Community, Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State following an oil spill that affected about 255.369 hectares of land in the community in 1970.

Though the lawsuit was instituted against Shell in 2001, more than 30 years after the spill with two High Court Justices (Justice Adamu Bello and Justice Regina Nwodo) having earlier heard the matter, the case had been plagued by multiple interlocutory applications and appeals by Shell whose lawyers had tried every trick in the book to frustrate the matter.

In his ruling in the case, Justice Ibrahim Buba said, "I have, upon calm assessment on the unchallenged evidence of the plaintiffs, that cases cited and relied upon, which I read and come to one and only inevitable conclusion, that the case of the plaintiffs have merit and accordingly accept the evidence that is capable of belief. Indeed, from the nature of the damages caused, the amount of general damages claimed is not exaggerated.

Continuing, he said, "I have no doubt whatsoever, that the special damages has been proved, as the burden on the plaintiffs is a minimal proof. I also assess and award punitive general damages as claimed, having found out that the damages claimed is not exaggerated.

"I therefore, enter judgment for the plaintiffs against the defendants in the following terms: judgment be and is hereby entered for the plaintiffs against the defendants jointly and severally. 

"I make the following order: the defendants shall pay the plaintiffs, special damages in the sum of N1.7772bn made up as follows, direct value of annual renewable crops/amenities, loss of income, N44.5m; injurious affection, N613.7m; forestry N115.5m; hunting income N236.2m; animal traps N4.9m and water supply; N80m and health hazards, shock fear N100m and desecration of shrines, N1.8m. 

"Allowing for interest for delayed payment for five years from 1996 at a modest mean Central Bank of Nigeria deregulated rate for that volume at 25 per cent per annum, totalling N5.4billion.

"I also award the plaintiffs claims of 25 per cent of the said sum till the date of judgment and thereafter 10 per cent of the judgment debt till payment. The burden of proof on the minimal have been discharged by the plaintiff. I also assess and award the plaintiffs claim against the defendants in punitive terms of general damages in the sum of N10 billion for general inconveniences, acid rain, pollution of underground water and hardship to the population who have been deprived of the right to self sustenance, education and good life.

"An order directing the defendant to de-pollute and rehabilitate the dry land swamps to its pre-impact status."

The community represented by Lucius Nwosu, SAN, had claimed that the spill caused the community a lot of hardship having polluted their farmlands, swamps and water.

They claimed their source of livelihood had been destroyed by the spill. The plaintiffs called various witnesses during the course of the trial and claimed N10 billion naira as costs.

To support their claim, the community tendered several letters written by Shell officials to them offering to clean up the spill including purchasing the lands affected.

In agreeing with the community’s claim, the judge said, "It is submitted that the next question for consideration, is whether the oil spillage went beyond the defendants’ right of way and got into the plaintiffs land.

"It is argued that PW1 tendered exhibit P1, delineating the area affected by the spill, which is 255.369 hectares. It is contended for the plaintiffs that the letters, Exhibit P6, P7, P8 and P9, all accepted that 255 hectares were impacted and should be cleaned up. That apart, from all the letters mentioned, including exhibit P1 admitted that the spill occurred in 1970.

The defendants had argued that the spill occurred during the Civil War but Justice Buba rejected the argument saying, "The suggestion that it happened during the war cannot be correct. It is then asked, what is the effect of the spill having shown the extent of the impact. It is contended that exhibit P4, described the area as unfit for human activities. Exhibit P5 is the report commissioned by the defendants themselves. Part II of exhibit P5 was referred to under executive summary and shows the effect clearly that the defendants’ appointed scientists, made the recommendation as to the negative impact in that area."

"Indeed, exhibit P10 provides extensively the background, scope, method, certification, stakeholders engagement, etc, he ruled.

THEWILL sought comments from Shell on the judgment but no one was available to make a statement before we published.