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Nigerian farmers hail Shell ruling

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It has taken 13 years for Fidelis Oguru to get the victory that he and a group of other farmers in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region so badly wanted.

On Friday, the Court of Appeal in The Hague ruled that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), was at fault for environmental degradation caused by pipeline leaks in the villages of Oruma and Goi in the Niger Delta region.

The Dutch court ordered the Nigerian arm of the British- Dutch company to pay yet-to-be-decided compensation to the affected villages.

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“I am very happy and I thank God,” said Oguru, an 80-year-old farmer and one of the plaintiffs from Oruma village.

He told Al Jazeera oil leaks from pipelines have devastated farmland and waterways in the region, and the SPDC’s reluctance to replace old pipelines had led farmers to watch in angst as their crops such as cassava and plantain succumbed to oil pollution and their livelihoods eroded.

Frequent appeals to the SPDC for compensation and environmental clean-up had been futile, he said.

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In 2008, four farmers from the villages of Oruma, Goi, and Ikot Ada Udo received backing from an environmental campaign group, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, to file lawsuits against Shell in a Dutch court over oil spills related to the SPDC between 2004 and 2007.

“In 2013, I went to the Netherlands when the judgement was on and the [court] ruled against us,” Oguru recalled.

SPDC and other oil companies often blame oil leaks on sabotage. Under Nigerian law, applied in the Dutch civil case, the company is not liable if the leaks were the result of sabotage.

But on Friday the court found it could not establish “beyond a reasonable doubt” that saboteurs were to blame for leaks that spewed oil over an area of a total of about 60 football pitches in Oruma and Goi.

Although the court ruled that sabotage was to blame for an oil leak in the village of Ikot Ada Udo, it said the case over whether Shell was liable would continue.

Shell discovered and started exploiting Nigeria’s vast oil reserves in the late 1950s and has long faced heavy criticism over oil pollution and for allegedly close and enabling ties to the government.—Al Jazeera

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