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Article

27 May 2022

Author:
Nimi Princewill and Krystina Shveda, CNN

Nigeria: Environmental lawyer awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for work on holding Shell accountable for oil spills

‘Shell escaped liability for oil spills in Nigeria for years. Then four farmers took them to court -- and won’ 26 May 2022

When Nigerian environmental lawyer Chima Williams launched a lawsuit against oil giant Shell plc, he did not envisage a 13-year battle that would lead to a landmark ruling and land him a prestigious environmental award. Williams, who is the executive director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, successfully convinced the Court of Appeal in the Hague that Shell plc was responsible for the activities of its subsidiary in Nigeria -- Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) --- and for oil spills that ravaged local farmlands. The suit against Shell Nigeria was brought by four farmers from the Goi and Oruma communities in the country's oil-rich but impoverished Niger Delta region, who said their farms were left in ruins after major spills from underground pipelines.

…Shell Nigeria (SPDC) was eventually held liable for the oil spills and ordered to pay damages to the farmers in a January 29, 2021, ruling by the Court of Appeal of the Hague. SPDC was also ordered to carry out an intensive clean-up of the damage to the communities. Williams was on Wednesday awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in holding the company accountable for the environmental damage. He is one of seven global winners of the prestigious award, announced Wednesday morning, to honor grassroots, environmental activists. The prize is awarded each year by The Goldman Environmental Foundation, with ceremonies in San Francisco and Washington, DC.

…Shell Nigeria spokesman Bamidele Odugbesan told CNN the company had agreed a settlement with the four farmers from Goi and Oruma communities after last year's ruling, and that representatives are "working amiably on the actualization of the judgment."… For Williams, his lengthy David-versus-Goliath legal battle has come with highs and lows. "In 2008, I was arrested on a Shell facility when I went to expose that Shell was still flaring gas, despite a 2005 court ruling which ordered them to stop gas flaring in Iwhrekan community, in the Niger Delta," he told CNN. Williams lauded other court decisions that have signaled wins for the Niger Delta's aggrieved communities. "After January 29th, there have been a lot of positive court decisions within and outside Nigeria, some with massive monetary awards. There are great positives that these judgments have brought to protect the Niger Delta's environment."