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Shell subsidiaries fought Nigerians over oil spill damages

Now, six decades later, locals could see justice. A landmark legal case is laying the groundwork for communities to sue parent companies for destruction caused by their subsidiaries

The Bomu manifold oil spill continued leaking for more than two years, according to a United Nations investigation. This creek in Kebgere Dere is not directly close to the Manifold, but rains and floods pushed the still-flowing oil into the water soon after the spill began. What once held the primary source of livelihood for the community can no longer sustain aquatic life. Maggie Andresen/The Guardian


By Maggie Andresen for Floodlight and The Guardian


Chief Patricia Ogbonnaya walked through her Nigerian farm on a July afternoon examining what should have been ripe fruit trees and thriving fish ponds. She pointed to dark stains on tree trunks that stop abruptly at the same level across her land.
“That’s how high the oil reached during the flood.”
Last autumn, a Shell pipeline burst and saturated the surrounding area with crude oil. A heavy downpour swept the oil over Ekpeye land, drenching farms and swampland where many of the animals hunted by Ogbonnaya’s community made their home.
For decades, Nigerian residents and families like Ogbonnaya’s have sought to sue a Shell subsidiary for such spills on their land. But they faced a problem: The company wouldn't acknowledge responsibility for spills, making it nearly impossible to sue them in Nigerian courts.
A recent court ruling can soon change that, allowing Nigerian residents to sue oil and gas giants like Shell for spills stemming from decades of drilling in the Niger Delta.
“The [supreme court] ruling, in my view, was a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies,” said Charles Adeogun-Phillips, a former UN war crimes prosecutor and international legal expert. READ MORE