Niger delta communities devastated by giant oil spills from rusting Shell pipelines have unanimously rejected a compensation offer from the company, calling it an insult, and cruel and derisory. A court in London is now likely to decide how much the Anglo-Dutch firm should pay 11,000 fishermen and others from the Bodo community who lost their livelihoods when the 50-year-old Shell-operated trans-Niger pipeline burst twice within a few months in 2008.
Chief Patrick Porobunu, leader of a Bodo fishing community, said: "Shell is cruel, very wicked. It has given us nothing again. People here are very angry. All we have is poverty because of Shell. We have no electricity, no health. Our suffering goes on."
Estimates of how much oil was spilled ranged from around 4,000 barrels to more than 300,000. Communities this week reported that no cleanup had been done and that water wells were still polluted. Five years after the spills the creeks and waterways around Bodo have an apocalyptic feel. The air stinks of crude, long slicks of oil drift in and out of the blackened, dying mangrove swamps and a sheen of oil covers the tidal mudflats. "It's everywhere. The wind blows the oil on our vegetable crops, our food tastes of oil, our children are sick and we get skin rashes. Life here has stopped," said Barilido,
Shell offered the communities £30m, or around £1,100 for each person affected. Martyn Day, a partner with the UK law firm Leigh Day who represented the those communities, said Shell's offer was rejected unanimously at a large public meeting in Bodo. "The amount offered for most claimants equated to two to three years' net lost earnings whereas the Bodo creek has already been out of action for five years and it may well be another 20-25 before it is up and running properly again. I was not at all surprised to see the community walk out of the talks once they heard what Shell were offering."
It emerged that Shell had offered the communities only £4,000 shortly after the two spills occurred in 2008-9. "Shell continue to treat the people of Bodo with the same contempt as they did from the start when they tried in 2009 to buy us off by offering the community the total sum of £4,000 to settle the claims," said Chief Kogbara, chairman of the Bodo council .
Chief Tal Kottee, Bodo elected regent, said: "We had been expecting a good settlement from Shell. Our livelihoods here have been totally destroyed. It's an outrage that it has taken so long for a cleanup and to get compensation."
Shell is the largest firm on the London stock exchange with a market capitalisation of £141bn, for what they called its "meanness". They accused Shell of financial racism and applying different standards to cleanups in Nigeria compared with the rest of the world.
"Is it because we are Nigerian and poor that they offer so little for the damage they have caused?" said one fisherman at the Bodo meeting.
"It is a big shame on Shell that they are unwilling to pay a fraction of their profit as compensation after subjecting the people and the environment to such unthinkable harm they would not dare allow in their home country," said the Nigerian environmentalist and chair of Oilwatch International, Nnimmo Bassey.