Human rights impacts of oil pollution: Nigeria

ECOWAS Court case brought against seven oil companies over oil pollution in the Niger Delta

In July 2009, Nigerian NGO Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) filed a complaint to the ECOWAS Community Court against the Nigerian Government, the state oil company Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and six oil firms: Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC); Elf Petroleum Nigeria (joint venture NNPC, Total); Agip Nigeria (joint venture Eni, NNPC); Chevron Oil Nigeria; Total Nigeria and ExxonMobil.

Italicised quotations below are selected abstracts; for full text, click hyperlinked titles.

"N'Delta: FG, NNPC can be sued but not Shell, ELF, Chevron, &Total, rules ECOWAS Court", Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), Jan 2011
"The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja has held that it has jurisdiction to entertain a case brought by the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the Federal Government and six oil companies over alleged violation of human rights and associated oil pollution in the Niger Delta...However...the Court declined jurisdiction against Chevron Oil Nigeria PLC; Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC); Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd; Exxon Mobil Corporation, Agip Nigeria PLC; and Total Nigeria PLC....The Court said: "...the process of codification of international law has not yet arrived at a point that allows claim against corporations to be brought before international courts...""

Nigeria NGO drags govt, oil firms to ECOWAS Court over pollution”,Afrique en ligne, 26 Jul 2009
“A Nigerian NGO Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a suit against the Nigerian government, the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and six major oil firms operating in the country before the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja over pollution and associated human rights violations in the Niger Delta…In the suit, the Plaintiff alleged that ‘the government of Nigeria and the oil companies are individually and/or collectively responsible for serious violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; and to economic and social development.’”

Complaint to ECOWAS Community Court regarding oil pollution in the Niger Delta, filed by Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), 25 Jul 2009
“Subject matter of proceedings: Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; and to economic and social development – as a consequence of: the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries; oil spills and waste materials polluting water used for drinking and other domestic purposes; failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and failure to enforce laws and regulations to protect the environment and prevent pollution.”

ECOWAS Court adjourned case against Shell, ELF, others for ruling”,Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), 21 Sep 2010
“The ECOWAS Court of Justice sitting in Abuja today adjourned to November 30, 2010 for ruling on the preliminary objections in the case instituted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against seven oil companies in Nigeria, and the Federal Government."

Five Oil Firms Reject ECOWAS Court”, This Day (Nigeria), 7 June 2010
“Five oil companies in the country led by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have rejected the power and jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja to hear the suit instituted against them over pollution and associated human rights violations in the Niger Delta…NNPC said that SERAP lacks the locus standi to institute the proceedings without the consent and authorization of the victims of human rights violations complained about…Chevron Oil Nigeria stated that SERAP has no cause of action against Chevron because its 'activities are solely on shore and marketing of oil products, and not oil exploration or production…’ Shell…argued that the ECOWAS was incompetent to adjudicate the suit because SPDC is neither a member of ECOWAS nor a community institution and is not otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the Community Court of Justice…ELF…stated that SERAP has not disclosed any dispute or live issues for adjudication between them necessary for the activation of the jurisdiction of the court…Total Nigeria…argued that the ECOWAS Court has no jurisdiction to hear the suit because the alleged violations are covered by Nigerian domestic law.”

Plaintiff’s Brief of Argument in response to the Preliminary Objections by the Third Defendant/Respondent”, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), 2010
“The Third Defendant’s [Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)] principal arguments are: that the Plaintiff lacks the locus standi to institute the proceedings without the consent and authorization of the victims of human rights violations complained about herein; that the ECOWAS Court of Justice does not have the jurisdiction over the Third Defendant because the Third Defendant is an ‘individual’ which cannot be sued before the Court, and because ‘the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a domestic law’; and that the Plaintiff is estopped from re-litigating issues and claims which have been settled or pending before competent courts in Nigeria. In response, the Plaintiff contends that the Third Defendant’s/Respondent’s arguments are fundamentally flawed, based on outdated or mistaken principles of law; and cannot be sustained having regard to sound legal reasoning established by the ECOWAS Court’s own jurisprudence, and other national and international legal jurisprudence.”

Plaintiff’s Brief of Argument in response to the Preliminary Objections by the Fourth Defendant/Respondent”, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), 2010
"The Fourth Defendant’s/Respondent’s [Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)] principal arguments are: that the Plaintiff is not a legal person under Nigerian law and as such has no capacity to institute the suit; that the Community Court of Justice of the ECOWAS is incompetent to adjudicate the suit because SPDC is neither a member of ECOWAS nor a Community Institution; and that the instruments set out in Section 8 of the Plaintiff’s Application-Nature of Evidence in Support…have not been incorporated into Nigerian domestic law and are therefore incapable of being the sources of enforceable obligations on the part of the Fourth Defendant who is a private legal person existing solely under Nigerian law. The Fourth Defendant/Respondent also argued that the Plaintiff has no cause of action against the Fourth Defendant in respect of the matters the subject of the suit; and that virtually all the oil spills alleged by the Plaintiff occurred prior to June 2009 and therefore more than three years prior to the commencement of the suit on 23 July 2009, and to that extent time and statute barred…In response, the Plaintiff contends that the Fourth Defendant’s/Respondent’s arguments are fundamentally flawed, based on outdated or mistaken principles of law; and cannot be sustained having regard to sound legal reasoning established by the ECOWAS Court’s own jurisprudence, and other national and international legal jurisprudence.”