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By Abiose Adelaja Adams, Lagos
A non-governmental organization, NGO, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, has hailed the decision of Royal Dutch Shell to pay compensation to over 15,000 Ogoni fishermen for a spill in Bodo, Bayelsa State, but insisted that the oil firm must clean up the affected areas.
This is coming on the heels of the justice obtained by 15, 600 Ogoni fishermen from Bodo community in the Niger Delta, on Tuesday, for the massive crude oil spills of 2008/2009.
About 600,000 barrels of crude oil were spilled from Shell’s corrosive pipe although the oil company claimed it was 4,000 barrels. After a prolonged case Shell finally agreed to pay a penalty of about 55 million Pounds Sterling (about N16bn) to the fishermen in an out of court settlement.
HOMEF, however, says that the compensation is not enough for the damage cause by the oil spill.
“While, it is a welcome news, HOMEF sees the compensation which will amount to about N600,000 for each of the plaintiffs with the balance going for community projects – school blocks and health centres – as inadequate for the severity of damage done,” says Cadmus Atake, its communications officer.
The organisation was also quick to point that urgent clean-up of oil spills is what is most needed so that the people can fish in cleaner, healthier waters.
It noted that three and a half years after the United Nations Environment Protection, UNEP, report, Ogoni people are still waiting for concrete clean up action.
Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, said that the magnitude of the damage caused by the spill is so great that the fishermen cannot fish in the affected rivers.
“The fishermen cannot hope to return to fishing in the Bodo rivers and creeks because of the depth of hydrocarbon pollution resulting from the oil spills,” he stated.
He added, “Although the amount being offered each fisherman is better than the pittance that Shell initially offered to pay, this can hardly purchase a good fishing boat and equipment necessary to return to the fishing business that the people know best – that is if they chose to move to other communities with cleaner waters in which to fish.”
Bodo community is largely a fishing community and the spills which spread across coastlines destroyed the entire ecosystem affecting trading, fishing, sustenance and social economic activities.
HOMEF sees the main victory in the case as the precedence that is being set, with Shell accepting liability and not pretending to be making a pay-out on humanitarian basis as was the trend in the past..
“Since the oil companies do not respect fines imposed on them by Nigerian regulatory agencies, or even the National Assembly, this decision should encourage other communities to bring up cases against Shell and other oil companies operating in the Nigeria, Ghana and other countries,” said George Awudi, a member of the international advisory board of HOMEF.
The British law firm, Leigh Day, which acted for the community had announced that the payment would be split, with 35 million pounds shared evenly between 15,600 Bodo individuals and the remaining 20 million pounds set aside in a trust fund for projects such as health clinics and schools.
The law firm said further that money will go directly to the bank account of beneficiaries rather than through the Nigerian authorities, or local government.
Awudi added, however, that payment of compensation and building of schools and clinics will not by any means reduce the demand for an urgent clean-up of the Ogoni environment.