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Africa

Ogoni residents hope Shell oil spill settlement sets precedent

Residents in Ogoniland have welcomed a settlement in which oil giant Shell will pay double digit million pound compensation for land ruined by two oil spills in 2008. They hope other deals will follow.

The oil giant Shell has agreed to a compensation package for the Bodo fishing community in Ogoniland in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta totaling 55 million pounds ($83 million, 70 million euros).

Two oil spills in 2008 destroyed thousands of hectares of mangroves and the fish and shellfish from which the villagers derived their livelihood.

The deal reached on Wednesday ends a three year legal battle fought in the UK between Bodo residents and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).

Shell said it was paying a total of 35 million pounds to 15,600 individual fishermen and farmers and 20 million pounds to their Bodo community.

Dick Saru Nowiko, a resident of Bodo, told DW the settlement would draw attention to the "agitation of Ogoni people," which was "not born out of hatred for Shell as a company, but for the damage they have caused the people."

Like many other Nigerians he is pondering over the implications of the deal "If they have accepted [responsibility for] Bodo, what about other spills?"

Rights group Amnesty International said hundreds of oil spills from Shell's pipelines occur every year.

Öl in Nigeria

Nigeria depends on oil exports for 70 percent of government revenue

Bemene Tanene, who lives near Bodo in a neighboring community, told DW the deal was a welcome development. "When multinationals own up to their responsibilities, it is good for the people," he said.

Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC, which is 55 percent owned by the Nigerian government, said "we have always wanted to compensate the community fairly."

But residents' lawyers Leigh Day said Shell had originally offered just 4,000 pounds to the entire community.

'An exceptional case'

DW's correspondent in Lagos, Sam Olukoya, said the out-of-court settlement marks a departure for Nigeria.

"It is not every time that you have oil spills happening in the Niger Delta and you have compensation being paid. Most times when oil spills happen the oil companies take policemen to the areas to arrest the people, accusing them of sabotage. So this is quite an exceptional case," he said.

Shell admitted that the spills were caused by pipeline failures, but insisted that most oil pollution in the Niger Delta was caused by sabotage, illegal refining and attempts at theft.

Nigeria Bodo, Ogoniland Öl

Nigeria's oil rich southern Niger Delta suffers hundreds of oil spills every year.

Amnesty International and the rights group Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) have been campaigning for clean-up operations and compensation on behalf of Bodo residents for the last six years.

Shell had argued that only 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Bodo, but an assessor for Amnesty put the volume of spilt oil at more than 100,000 barrels.

Joe Westby, corporate accountability campaigner with Amnesty, told DW that sabotage and theft were serious problems in the Niger Delta but "Shell's claim that most of this is caused by that is not credible."

'30 years to fully rehabilitate Ogoniland'

Chief Sylvester Kogbara, chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, told the AP news agency he hoped "that Shell will take their host communities seriously now" and embark on a clean-up of all of Ogoniland.

A United Nations Environment Program report has estimated it could take up to 30 years to fully rehabilitate Ogoniland, where villagers have been in conflict with Shell for decades.

DW's correspondent said the settlement with Bodo residents has created a precedent that "the oil companies cannot always get away with such acts of pollution."

Shell's Sunmonu said company was "fully committed" to a clean-up.

Referring to the size of the spills, Westby said this case meant that Shell had to disclose information "which would otherwise never have come to light."

Amnesty said Shell admitted during the legal action in the UK it had underestimated the amount of oil spilt.

Kogbara said the 20 million pounds allocated to the community will be used to provide needed basic services. "We have no health facilities, our schools are very basic, there's no clean water supply," he said.

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