In this episode, we will continue our conversation on the role of strategic litigation as a tactic to counter the power of fossil fuel companies at large, and Shell in particular. How effective is litigation in actually holding fossil fuel companies accountable, in terms of historical environmental injustices like pollution in Ogoniland in Nigeria, and in terms of shifting power to oppressed, often racialized communities? Are court cases generally ‘too little, too late,’ or do they have genuinely transformative power? Are they a key tool to move towards a Future Beyond Shell?
There is a long history of court cases against fossil fuel companies on human rights issues. For example, the Ogoni community, an ethnic group in the Niger river delta, has brought many court case against Shell because of oil spills, the pollution of rivers that are sources of drinking water as well as sources of income, through fishing. Other court cases they have brought center on prosecuting Shell for complicity in executions, torture and crimes against humanity in bids to repress protests against Shell’s activities in Ogoniland, as well as bribery and corruption in the purchase of oilfields.
Celestine mentions a number of court cases by various Ogoni communities or villages, as well as one or two brought by other Nigerian communities:
Bodo community: https://www.leighday.co.uk/latest-updates/cases-and-testimonials/cases/shell-bodo/
Ogale and Bille community: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/feb/12/nigeria-communities-can-bring-claims-against-shell-uk-supreme-court-rules
Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo communities: https://en.milieudefensie.nl/news/nigerian-farmers-and-friends-of-the-earth-win-oilpollution-case-against-shell-in-historic-ruling
Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP’s case: https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/ourcases/wiwa-et-al-v-royal-dutch-petroleum-et-al
The above case was further taken on by widows of the murdered Ogoni Nine: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/06/one-nigerian-widow-vs-shell/
Celestine also mentions the UNEP report of 2011 on the scale of destruction in the Niger Delta region: https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/disasters-conflicts/where-wework/nigeria/environmental-assessment-ogoniland-report
MS: This is the second of two episodes on court cases, where we want to address the role of strategic litigation as a tactic to counter the power of Shell. Can we dismantle the company in a just and effective manner through the courts? In this episode on court cases, we are honored to talk to Celestine Akbopari. He is a lifelong environmental and human rights activist from Ogoniland in Nigeria, and founder of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum. Celestine was born at the end of the Nigerian civil war, to a small farming family in the Kaani community. This community is a part of the larger Ogoni people, a minority ethnic group in Nigeria who have long struggled against Shell and the Nigerian government for environmental and human rights violations. These violations relate to oil production on their community’s lands, in the Niger Delta region. Today, Celestine’s work fully centers on the struggle of his community to seek justice for these harms. In 2007 he founded the People Advancement Center and has helped to mobilize for many of the court cases that have been brought against Shell from Nigeria.
AR: Celestine will bring up a number of court cases that were brought by various Ogoni communities in Nigeria. We want to give you a little bit of background on a few of these court cases. The litigation brought by the Bodo community against Shell in 2011 is one major court case he will discuss, as well as the court case brought by the Ogale and Bille communities in 2015. Both cases were brought to demand reparations and clean up from Shell, after their operations had caused massive oil spills. The oil spills have polluted rivers, depriving the local population from their main source of drinking water as well as their main source of income, which is fishing. Left with no alternative they’re forced to drink from the polluted waters while sickness and mortality rates within the area are starkly rising. These court cases were fought in Nigeria before they were brought to the UK, but only recently did courts even rule that the UK has jurisdiction over Shell’s pursuits abroad.
Another court case Celestine will discuss with us is the court case brought by four farmers from the Goi and Oruma villages in Ogoni territory against Shell. This court case was brought in the Netherlands, and also demanded reparations for oil spills on these communities’ lands, impacting their livelihoods. The Dutch court ruled in the farmers’ favor this year, but a number of the plaintiffs passed away in the time it took to reach a verdict.
These cases were brought in the UK and in the Netherlands because Shell is headquartered in these countries.
Now it is time to hear more about these cases from our expert, so without further ado, welcome Celestine! Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today!
C: Thank you Archana for having me. I am glad to be here.
MS: Celestine, also a warm welcome from my side. I am going to jump right in with the first question: Could you tell us a little bit more about the history of court cases against Shell from Nigeria? Who has started them?
C: When I joined the mainstream human rights community as a volunteer, I observed, and it was a common knowledge that you don’t take Shell to court because you would not win. And apart from that you will not win, you will die before decisions are taken. It’s a common knowledge. So we started working with some international organizations like Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth International. In fact, there was a time I was the face of the dignity campaign Amnesty International in the Niger Delta. So Amnesty international started to introduce some of the human rights activists to Leigh Day. Leigh Day is a team of lawyers in the UK. And since, you know, you cannot win Shell in the Nigerian courts, because they keep bribing the judges until the litigants will die, that we can test it, we can try it in the UK court. So the border community where there was an oil spill that was a serious oil spill in 2008, and 2009, massive oil spill where Leigh Day took the matter to a UK court. So when eventually there was an out of court settlement that eventually gave a broader community a 55 million pounds. So people were like, oh, so Shell is not that superstar that we thought they were when it comes to the foreign courts. And that’s how you started seeing communities taking Shell to court outside of Nigeria. And some of those communities were the Goi community you are aware off, the Bille and Ogale. The Goi community has to do with the four farmers from Oruma from a tribal state and you have a Goi community. But before then, there was a first trial out of a community called Ikebiri, Ikebiri kindom is in Bayelsa State. When the Chief from the community, Chief Francis Ododo, on behalf of his community took Eni, Eni is an Italian company, so they tried this case, in an Italian court in Milan. The other one is upload them in Nigeria, they did not talk to the community. But when the matter was taken to Milan in 2017, that was what Environmental Right Action tried that. When they did that, the company started releasing money that they said they didn’t have before. So it is for those instances that the community people were asking for a settlement of 104.5 million Naira, which the oil company said they will not give, nobody, nothing. But when they went to the court in Milan and they settled out of court, the company spent over 1 billion Naira in opening roads, health care and electricity. So our people started, you know, thinking that, yes, there is hope for us. Recently another court. You heard about the Ejama- Ebubu case. That matter was in a court in Nigeria for 31 years. Of the 11 or 12 litigants only one is alive. All the others have died. And I can tell you for free that the favorable judgment that happened this August happened because of these successful cases. Litigants are hearing from abroad like the Goi case at The Hague and the Ogale matter in London.
MS: I think what you’re mentioning is really interesting. Especially the differences between bringing Shell to court in Nigeria versus bringing them to court internationally. And I think that’s an aspect that we want to delve into a bit more in a little bit. But yeah, you’ve already been mentioning a couple of different cases. And I was wondering whether there are one or two cases that you find particularly important, and that has maybe happened in the most recent time. Of course, I think internationally, often, the one case that people know the most of is the Ken Sarowiwa case that has been initiated in the aftermath of the killing of the Ogoni nine. But especially this year, luckily, has been a hard year for Shell in terms of losing court cases. So if you could elaborate, maybe a little bit more on one or two cases that you found particularly important in the recent time.
C: Okay, the Bodo matter is important to me, because it was one of the very landmarks, it was, it was the eye opener, the Bodo matter, because the spill of 2008 and 2009 was massive. The company claimed that for sabotage, and they don’t give a damn. And before then there have been spills that led to fire outbreaks in community and that they’ve been turning their back on. They don’t do their routine checks on their facilities. They did do massive spills everywhere. But when Bodo community approached Shell, the company said that they will not do anything for the community. The community people asked for 30 million naira, mere 30 million naira. That was in 2009. Shell said that they would not pay that they can only pay 950,000 Naira not even up to a million. Shell said it would only pay 950,000 that was when the community got in touch with Amnesty International that led them to Leigh Day and eventually, when they went to court, they pulled out 55 million pounds. So that was very important to us, because there were no hope for the community because the community is efficient community. And the oil spilled destroyed the entire mangrove, the houses, the fishes, where fishing breed, destroyed their means of livelihood. And so poverty set in. And so the ruling that gave them done money was a big relief to the community because apart from financial compensation to individuals, some amount of money was set aside to develop the community. And even as we speak, some part of the money was set aside to clean up the mess just two days ago. That was on Tuesday. Today is Thursday. On Tuesday, I traveled with Reverend Bassey executive director of Head of Mother Earth Foundation to Bodo to go and see where the clean up is taking place and it will amaze you that when we got there, they even started planting mangroves, which we joined. I mean that there is hope that the mangrove forests that the oil company destroyed, that we can, you know, get them back, that we revegitate our mangrove forests. So that matter is very important to me. Another case that is very important to me is the Ogale matter because it’s very dramatic. Very dramatic, because they started in Nigeria in 2010 with a very big lawyer in this country, Femi Falana, senior advocate of Nigeria, and any matter he is involved in you can be sure that you will win. Well, because this matter was against Shell, they didn’t give a damn. For four years, they did not talk to them. From 2010 to 2013 they were filing motions, upon motion and adjoining the cases in their pattern. You know they keep adjoining until the litigant will die. So out of frustration the Ogale people with their lawyer took this matter to the US Court in Chicago. And the court told them that they don’t have the jurisdiction because Shell was not a company of the US, was not an American company. That it should try The Hague and the UK. And that’s why they went to the UK. And as you know, they lost at the first court. They lost at the second court and they continued until they now won the supreme court. You are aware that is happening. The ruling was given on 12th of February 2021, opening the door for other communities that have been tormented by Shell that yes, a foreign court can listen. So cases again, Shell on the offenses they commit in Nigeria or any other oversea country that is not the parent country. So these two cases are very important to me. Very important to me, because right now, people are doing compilations of the cases that they will file against Shell that was considered impossible before.
A: Thanks, Celestine. That was a great summary of the court cases I think. Could you tell us a little bit more about the Bodo and Ogale communities in terms of what Shell had done in their communities for them to bring a court case against the company? What were the offending acts committed?
C: Now the two are almost similar, because second into that territory in 1956. They discovered oil of commercial quantity and they started operating. And in that community, Shelll does not talk to anybody. What they did was to go to the federal government in Abuja to collect a paper your oil blog is in Bodo and you just go there. From that time, they deceived community people that they were going to better their lives, that they were going to employ their children, that they are going to be build roads, electricity, but they did not do any of those things. And even employment opportunities they did not do. Rather, the people started observing that their land was not, you know, yealding rich harvests anymore. The farmers observed the fishes because they’re predominantly fishermen and farmers, the fishes were no more available, because the gas that was flared, in very close proximity to human habitation brings daylight into the river, for 24 hours. So if it was night, it was still day in the river because of the gas flaring it lightens the river. So fishes don’t stay where there is daylight. Fishes now migrated to deeper oceans, where the Ogoni people does not have sophisticated fishing tools to go and fish. And in a place where there is a complete absence of government the oil companies that are destroying your livelihood and your environment are not contributing anything to you. Poverty set in. People were not going to school because parents aren’t able to send their children to school anymore. The river is the only source of drinking water is polluted. And because there are no alternatives, they continue to drink it, leading to sicknesses, ailments and they don’t have money to go to the hospital. So you have high mortality rates, people were dying. They couldn’t take care. So, now their livelihood has been destroyed. Your environment has been polluted, your air haas been polluted. The water, the only source of drinking water, the river polluted. The people became very helpless being pushed to the wall and they decided to take their destiny into their hands by mobilizing. Ken Saro-Wiwa led a campaign to mobilize that enough was enough. If after 30 years of oil extraction there was nothing to show for it and it is bad for the environment, the fishes. Everything has gone that there was no need to continue having oil companies that will continue to kill us slowly. So the struggle started and the struggle eventually led to more deaths. Ken Saro-Wiwa with over 2000 people to demonstrate the teach that on our Niger Deltas costly if you beat, if you dare the oil company. That is a matter of 1990 before the Ogoni struggle, where the community went to beg for water, and they called riot police. They killed people in the community, they run to the palace of their king, the riot policemen got to the palace killed their king, killed children, killed community people. That’s exactly what happened and that led Ken Saro-Wiwa to kick start the Ogoni struggle. So this Ogale and the Bodo, they have the same experience with the oil company. They destroyed everything and leave nothing but the signature bonus. The rights that are meant for community people, we paid to the government in Abuja, nobody talked to any person in the community. So the first time they are talking to community people, now, are communities that have the courage to take them to court. Especially foreign courts. This is the first time community people are having an interface with the oil companies, because when they go to court with this matter, they ask for out of court settlement. So you must talk to community people. It is very unfortunate that after five decades, almost six decades of oil extraction in our territory, that this is the first time the oil companies will be talking to community people because they took them to court.
A: Thanks Celestine. I really appreciate the overview of all the things that Shell has done in Ogoni territory, including the oil pollution that impacted fisheries as well as drinking water, which are really, really serious health and community wellbeing impacts that really cannot be overlooked. And it’s very interesting to hear also, your sense that court cases have really brought some improvement or amelioration of the conditions, it seems. So we wanted to move the conversation more in the direction of looking at court cases as a tactic for social movements fighting Shell, for communities fighting Shell and try to understand what is it that we can achieve with it? Is it possible to fight corporations like Shell? Is it possible to dismantle them even? So, I have a couple of specific questions, and then we can move more to the large broad question on what to do with Shell. A lot of the court cases you mentioned had been brought in the US or in the UK or in the Netherlands. For example the case that Esther Kiobel brought that was a follow on from the Ken Sarowiwa case, which is really, as you mentioned a really quite horrible event of violence and repression of protest of the movement of the MOSOP and Ogoni people movement against Shell in the 90s that resulted in the hanging of Ken Sarowiwa and his fellow activists that that are still being fought in court cases today. But that court case was brought first in the US and then now in the Netherlands. What are the consequences of bringing court cases in the countries where Shell is established like the UK and the Netherlands or the US as a foreign country versus Nigeria? What are the different trade offs? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
C: Well what are the differences between having them sued in their own countries, and Nigeria, is that when they are sued in Nigeria, they can afford to bribe the judges because of high level of corruption in Nigeria. And Shell goes for the best lawyers in the world. While community people because they don’t have money they go for lawyers that are not very SAN. In Nigeria, if you are a senior advocate what we call SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria), if you are a lawyer that is a senior advocate and you go to court, there will step down other cases, and listen to you first. The judges will respect you, because you are a SAN. And they are very costly. A poor man cannot afford the services of a SAN. So Shell can hire 15 SANs, I want you to see 50 senior advocates lined up against a small lawyer, the lawyer cannot even talk, they would shout on him at the court: sit down. And the judge will do nothing, because the judges are even afraid of the senior advocates. But when they are taken to oversee countries, oversee courts, there is no single advocate there. What they are looking at that place is justice. The issue of justice, fairness, they are not looking at their money. So in Nigeria, you observe that when cases go to court, they keep adjoining, they can listen to your case, once in a year. Imagine the Ogale matter. From 2010 to 2013 nobody talked to them until they got to a foreign court. So corruption in Nigeria has really led to some of the terrible experiences that our people had in the hands of Shell. But in a foreign court you will brand nobody. What is at play in oversea courts, is the facts. If you can prove your case, the facts, like when Shell argued that the pollution in Goi, Oruma were a result of sabotage the court’s ruling in this appeal said that you could not prove your case that it was sabotage. Because you cannot say sabotage without the proof. Prove it. They couldn’t prove it. But in Nigeria, when one says sabotage oh, yeah it is sabotage. But in a foreign court, you have to prove it. You alleges must prove so. And that’s the difference. And that’s why the community people are happy now. And because by extension, the judges in Nigeria are beginning from what we saw in Ejama, Bodo are beginning to say ‘ah’ even courts of the home countries of these companies are punishing them for offenses they commit in Nigeria, and we are here supporting them. So you can see the ripple effects. And I can tell you, Shell never talked about divestment. Shell never talked about leaving. So also until this ruling started coming right now, what Shell is trying to do now, is either registering companies in different names to go into renewable energy or they are selling their assets to move to offshore where they will not be dealing with human beings. Where they will do what they want to do and get away. So it is these cases, the substances are the foreign court that is pushing Shell out of this territory to offshore. It is this judgement that is pushing them into renewable energy. So it kind of renewed their image. So that’s the different.
A: Thanks Celestine, I think you brought up a lot of interesting points, particularly this issue of economic power or financial power that Shell has, because they are just so wealthy. I think they were valued at something like 125- 130 billion US dollars on the market the other day versus Ogoni communities don’t have anywhere near that many. So the courts might be a place to balance economic power. Nevertheless, I think that it’s quite expensive, right, to go to court for Ogoni people for Ogoni to communities, especially courts abroad? So could you tell us a little bit about how, you know how expensive litigation is and how communities deal with that aspect of things?
C: Well, litigation is very costly. In fact, these cases, that community people win. The Bodo, the Goi, the Ogale, the community people, you know, it is not the people paying. These cases, are being done pro bono. The community people cannot afford to even sue in Nigeria, not to talk about a foreign court, because it’s a very costly procedure and process. The judiciary is very, very costly, you know, and to even transport or fly witnesses from Nigeria to The Hague, or the London and book for hotel and the processes that are involved is frightening because it takes a lot of money. It takes very strong lawyers like Leigh Day and Milieudefensie, all these organizations, like the case in The Hague was paid for by Milieudefensie. So it takes very strong organizations to champion the costs. Otherwise, no community or individual can form any singular case, whether it is in Nigeria, or outside, you can imagine the Ejama matter. 31 long years. Who will be gathering money to pay for a lawyer for 31 years? Who will be doing that? Nobody will be doing that. It means that you will not do anything in your life than to gather money for a lawyer. And you can imagine. So that’s it. It is a costly process, it can only be taken over and championed by international organizations that are interested in ameliorating the pains that community people are going through, especially in Nigeria and Niger Delta.
A: Thanks Celestine. I think that’s also a really important point about international collaboration and making sure we’re working together. But I think also perhaps, across lines of responsibility, right? So organizations in countries where Shell has historically been established, like in the Netherlands, or in the UK, helping or going in communities to fight a company from which the country has these countries have really benefited? which is sort of another question I have for you in terms of where these court cases are being brought. You mentioned corruption in Nigeria as a problem and in serving justice in these court cases. And that it’s a common refrain that I think people use to justify bringing these court cases in the UK, the Netherlands, or other wealthy countries, often with colonial histories. So that the rule of law in these countries is stronger. But of course, they are built on a colonial history of extracting wealth, extracting oil from countries like Nigeria, and Ogoni territory in particular in this case. So I’m wondering, , I know many court cases are also brought in Nigeria… Do you find it important to develop the court system in Nigeria as well, and to bring court cases there is also important to strengthen the local rule of law. I’m wondering whether you have any thoughts on this?
C:Well it is not about strengthening the judiciary system in the country. And because the judiciary is not an island, they are not alone. It is a chain, you know, the executive arm. If you have the president of Nigeria that is interested in the rule of law then every other department of the country will begin to work. Every other section will begin to work. The judiciary cannot work alone. So no matter how much money you pump into the judiciary, if our system is bad, they say if the head rots, the whole body is useless. So until we begin to have a leadership that knows what is happening in the world. Look at what is happening in Ruanda. Ruanda just came back from a war. But because they have a president that knows what to do, Ruanda, has become a destination. It is growing very fast. So if you have a leadership of the country that said, I want the judiciary to work, definitely the judiciary will not be up for sales. Recently, some judges were summoned by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Why? They were summoned because they gave conflicting judgments in a political case. But there have been conflicting judgments in cases in oil production, pollution and nobody’s talking. But they have invited the judges to Abudja now because the conflicting judgment they gave will affect politics, which is one sided. So it won’t be bad. It will be bad to begin to campaign for that. Let us rebuild the judiciar, let us reject the judicial system and launch a campaign by the side. Yes, that will be a change, but for how long can you hold on if you don’t have the support of the central system?
A: Right. So actually, political transformation is necessary in Nigeria. And it’s not just limited to the court system in order to move things forward locally. I know you’ve been working on this pretty much your whole life from change from the ground up. But I do have this question that remains as to whether you think that bringing court cases in the UK or in the Netherlands has a bit of a sort of neocolonial taste to it in the sense that, again, these court cases are being decided far away from the communities who are really impacted? Or maybe that’s just what’s necessary right now? Do you have any thoughts on this?
C: Well, you can say that. But I don’t think that this is what community people are thinking about. They are not thinking about colonial or neocolonial undertones. Our community people that have suffered so much are looking for justice at the end of the day, that we have justice. But this particular case is very interesting, because judgements are not coming from other countries, judgments are coming from the home countries of the companies. So, yeah it smells that there is this thing of neocolonialism there. But because home government, parent countries are punishing their companies for not, you know, obeying a minimum standard, for not carrying the flag of their country, I think. We are not looking much about that because they are not taking from us all this time. Rather, they are giving to us. But we would have preferred that our own country is punishing the oil companies for destroying economic livelihoods of their own citizens. But they appear to do nothing with the oil companies. They are two sides of the same coin. They look the other way. When they were to kill Ken Saro-Wiwa they chose oil above laws for one of their bests. So a country that thinks like that, you don’t mind if your salvation is coming from outside. But the ideal thing would have been that the home country is giving this kind of ruling that we are hearing from The Hague and from London. If Nigerian courts were giving these kind of rulings, I can tell you for free that the company will not do what they’re doing. They will sit up. But they are partners in crime.
A: Thanks Celestine. I think it’s definitely important for listeners to understand the dynamics in Nigeria between the Shell subsidiary there, the Shell Petroleum Development Company, and the Nigerian government because they historically have been quite intertwined, which, again, has to do with the development of the state of Nigeria, and how involved the British government and at that time, Burma Shell was, one of the forerunners of Shell at that time was a British company. And so, we’ve seen this time and again that I think Shell has been very buddy with the Nigerian government and that came to the fore in the Ken Sarowiwa case in the 90s, where Shell very much conspired with the government to arrest and hang the Ogoni 9 which Amnesty and various other activists have brought to the front. The case still has to be decided, but this is the complaint. But I want to talk a little bit about what you mentioned about justice and that communities want justice, but also how long it sometimes takes to get justice, right. You mentioned the Ejama Ebubu community who have who whose case took 30 years and this is not uncommon. For example, the case that with the four farmers from various Ogoni communities that was brought with Milieudefensie, the Dutch Friends of the Earth Earth organization was decided in January of this year, but took 13 years, and two of those farmers have passed away. And you mentioned also with the Ejama Ebubu case that a number of the plaintiffs have passed away before they received compensation. So, court cases do they just take too long to get justice for communities?
C: Yeah, it takes too long, and they never get justice. In Nigeria, you never get justice. It is too long. In fact, it is in their books that none of the litigants will be able to be alive because it’s a pattern. It has worked for them. They have all the money to pay. So while the cases are in court the oil production is going on. While you struggle to look for money to pay for lawyers, they are taking oil from your land to pay the lawyers. So you are the loser and you never win. The Ejama matter is a case in point in fact, that is none of the cases that they took abroad that did not start from Nigeria, including the Goi matter. It started here Nigeria. The Ogale matter started in Nigeria, I told you, to maintain a single advocate for three years, nobody talked to them. They were just filing motions upon motions. So the first step people in fact, the mere thought of going to the courts, you will not think about it, because it will sell all your farmlands. You will sell every economic thing you have just to get a lawyer who will want to do that. So, I mean, it’s not only long, it does not only take long, but justice does not come at the end of the day. If judges are coming now, they will be coming because there is a precedent from oversea courts. And this case in the Ejama Ebubu the order they leave from the London and the Netherland courts, I just pray that other courts in Nigeria, will now begin to have the courage at last. We have one court that has done this. So it’s a welcome development that the judge in the Ejama matter decided that way. I think the other judges we begin to follow the lead from them. But my fear is that it will take long to come. If it can it will take long. Like the Ejama Ebubu took over 30 years.
MS: I am very curious to hear.. Because what I hear you say is that with the recent court cases a sort of turning point has been reached. And before you mentioned that Shell has started now to sell some of their shares and it is moving more offshores. So could you elaborate more on what you see happening or what you expect to happen in the near future and maybe what role court cases can still play then?
C: Well what I see is that Shell will continue to be in the dark? For a very long time. Even after they have left oil mining business Shell will continue to be in the dock. Because the company when destroyed livelihoods everywhere that they operated and people are putting their files together. So I see Shell in the …. And it will be getting unfairable ruling that will compel them to pay compensation to all the territories that they have destroyed. The Ogoni people as a collective they are here to sue Shell over compensation because of the UNEP report, actually what I call a death sentence, actually found Shell guilty. Because if you read that report they talked about benzine and cancer causing substances in the water that the Ogoni people drink. It talked about that the water standard is 900 times worse than the level recommended by the organisation. It talked about 5 feed of soil that was then, now there is water table. So, that’s a death sentence given by UNEP that Shell hired to do the assessment. So it is a valid document, scientifically proven that Shell destroyed the Ogoni and that we are yet to challenge Shell over compensation because the report was silent over compensation. It only stated that Shell destroyed the environment, destroyed the air, destroyed the water, destroyed the livelihood, they were silent on the issue of compensation. So definitely the Ogoni people as a collective will come out and ask for compensation as a result of the findings of UNEP. And several other communities are just in the process of putting their files together as a result of the ruling in London. And I can tell you, that is why Shell is running. They are running offshore and at one point they will shut down completely. They will be changing their name. Ken Saro-Wiwa already predicted that the day will come. And that day has come. I can tell you there will be no peace for the wicked. We will chase them. Everybody will chase them until all the money they stole from the people, of course their blood money – the money that you take from people here is blood money- they are going to pay back all that money to the community people where they destroyed livelihoods. That is what I see.
A: Yeah Celestine, I think you make a very interesting point about the UNEP report which I think came out in 2011 that actually these scientific reports serve a purpose in supporting communities to build their cases and to bring Shell to court for example or to take action in other ways to remediate their situation. And i want to move towards the sort of final questions about court cases in general as a tactic. You mentioned that you saw, I think, in the Bodo case there was also money for clean up and I am wondering are court cases also able to not only pay reparations -it seems like you see opportunities to remediate also the situation in the future. So are there ways that court cases can help us do that?
C: Yes, definitely, definitely. Judging from the Bodo case, the Ogale people, the Goi people, Oruma, Bille, all of them have as components of their resolution that you come and clean up your mess. A precedent has been set in Bodo. Right now, we are replanting the mangroves, revegitating our forests. So it is a component of every negotiations. So in the days coming, we will begin to see, the same thing happening in Bodo, happing in Goi, happening in Ogale, happening in Oruma, happening in Bille and it will happen in every other community until this mess is finally cleared and other companies that are still interested in oil there will be no exploitation. Because the oil is moving away to something better, greener. So why I am excited, the courts will help us. If Ken Saro-Wiwa knew back then he would have taken the courts, i think so, he would have taken the courts. It would have been better for us than the over 2000 people that we lost. Innocent lives. So I am happy that remediation is part of every case we make.
A: Definitely so compensation and reparation for what happened but also clean up moving forward must be part of these court cases. I sense from you a little bit of despair, in the sense that justice seems to take so long with these court cases. You just mentioned justice never comes but on the other hand this sense of hope that court cases in addition to movements on the street really are really able to move for communities to get justice from Shell. Do you think that court cases can actually dismantle Shell as an organisation, do you think that is something that can be achieved by bringing a corporation to court like that.
C: Yes definitely. The kind of judgment we are seeing now is capable of ending Shell. Is capable of shutting them out of business. Of course, like I said, Shell is never going to divest. It is the first time we are hearing about that. Why are they afraid? Why are they running away? They are running away because of the court cases that are coming from people. So they are migrating to parts where there is no human being to take them to court. But I think that the past mess will cripple them. Shell will definitely be out of business. There is no doubt about it. It will be out of business because of the current litigation that is happening. When the Ogale matter is finally decided you can imagine how much money Shell will be paying to Ogale people. You can imagine how much it will be paying to Bille people. You can imagine how much they will be spending at Goi. So their day is here. And we can’t wait to see Shell bleed and empty their accounts.
MS: Yeah I think neither can us. Thank you so much for sharing this. As you might know as part of this series we are going to interview a lot of people in each episode investigate a different political, economic tool to dismantle Shell. So my last question to you Celestine is next to bringing Shell to court, what other tool may it be taxing Shell, may it be cutting subsidies, do you think is absolutely crucial on the pathway to a future beyond Shell?
C: Well I think Shell should be in the court for ecocide. That particular matter can be taken up by any particular person in the world. Because there is no barrier. The devastation, the poison, the air will not get to Europe because the air does not remain in Nigeria. So anybody can sue them for ecocide. I want to see different leaders at the international court at The Hague. I want to see an environment court set up so that we somehow get these wicked companies ended. And that will be different from particular cases, specific cases. That will be the general that Shell you were capable in Bodo, you were capable in Bille, you were capable in Ogale, you were capable in Oruma, we will sue you for ecocide. The same you have with genocide. Because it is the environment that they destroy. I think that would finally put the nail on their coffin. And again these shareholders can withdraw their shares. I remember when I went to The Hague, I attended the Shell shareholder meeting. I was sponsored by Friends of the Earth International. When I got there after I cited my cases one woman stood up and said, if this is the kind of business the company is invested in, I am no longer interested. One woman stood up. Because I told them that the money that is shared with you is blood money. Somebody is dead for that money to come. Somebody’s farmland is stolen, somebody’s means of livelihood has been destroyed, a family killed for you to get this money. And the woman said if it is so I cannot be part of this anymore. So we also need to campaign to shareholders to withdraw their investments immediately because the money Shell shared with them in blood money.
MS: Thank you Celestine for sharing all this valuable information with us today and your analysis on how far we can get with court cases in our endeavor to dismantle Shell! You have left me hopeful that there is definitely potential for strategic litigation, particularly in terms of moving towards justice for communities who have been harmed by the company.
With this we have reached the end of today’s episode. If you liked the show, please follow and like us on your podcast platform and join us for our next episode on nationalization! You can learn more about a Future beyond shell at futurebeyondshell.nl and for more information on our guests and the court cases we have discussed today, check out our show notes.