LAGOS, Nigeria – Tens of thousands of Nigerian fishermen and farmers are suing multinational oil giant Shell in two new lawsuits filed Wednesday in a British High Court, alleging that decades of uncleaned oil spills have destroyed their lives.
London law firm Leigh Day & Co. is representing them after winning an unprecedented $83.5 million in damages from Shell in a landmark ruling by the same court last year. Shell originally offered villagers $50,000.
In a statement Wednesday before the trial opened, Shell blamed sabotage and oil theft for the ongoing pollution and noted it had halted oil production in 1993 in Ogoniland, the area where the two communities are located in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern Niger Delta.
Shell said it will challenge the jurisdiction of the British court.
“Asking the English court to intervene … is a direct challenge to the internal political acts and decisions of the Nigerian state,” Shell said.
The Ogoni are among the most traumatized of millions of Nigerians suffering oil pollution since the late 1950s on a level that human rights activists say would never be allowed in the home countries of the multinationals that operate in Nigeria in joint partnerships with the Nigerian government. Peaceful Ogoni protests in the 1990s were attacked by firing troops who turned the oil-producing south into a war zone. Human rights activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by a military government in 1995.
Typically, victims of oil pollution spend years battling a Nigerian court system, widely criticized by rights groups as corrupt, only to come away with a pittance, so lawyers decided to challenge Shell at its London headquarters.