It is his first visit to the Netherlands; home of the company he says has destroyed his family’s investments in Nigeria: “Our fish ponds, our bakery, our land.” He wants them back. Today Eric Dooh will be sitting in a courtroom in The Hague as a unique legal case against Royal Dutch Shell resumes.
By Helene Michaud
Eric Dooh’s home village of Goi together with three other Niger Delta communities, supported by the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) launched proceedings against the oil giant in 2009. They are demanding that Shell Nigeria and its parent company in The Netherlands clean up the oil pollution in their region and compensate those who have lost their livelihoods. Initially Shell argued that a Dutch court could not rule on the activities of Shell Nigeria – but the court ruled in December 2009 that the case should go ahead. It’s the first time a Dutch corporation has been called to account in a Dutch court for damage done abroad.
The green parks, the urban infrastructure, trains that arrive on time: Eric Dooh was impressed by what he saw The Hague after attending Royal Dutch Shell plc’s Annual General Meeting on Wednesday. He was there to put his case to company’s shareholders.
I am here to inform them about the activities of Shell Nigeria, the level of devastation in the Niger Delta. Our fish ponds were contaminated, our source of drinking water was contaminated, our farms were contaminated as a result of this crude oil pollution.
Shell’s response was a familiar one to those who have been following the case. CEO Peter Voser said that sabotage and theft accounts for more than 80% of the volume of oil spilt in 2010, amounting to around 100,000 barrels a day. When asked when if it has a timetable to clean up the spills or end gas flaring, the company responds that it is committed to do so, but that this depends on the Nigerian government’s willingness to invest and on limited access to sites because of violence by militant groups.
“Pure politics” is how Eric Dooh describes Shell’s position, and he says it’s time for the company to live up to its promises.
I’ve been hearing this story for so long. When people want to deceive you, or when governments want to deceive their citizens, they say “the people will soon smile”. Now Shell is telling us we will soon smile, and I ask: how soon?
Dutch pension funds concerned
Shareholders big and small have become increasingly vocal when it comes to Shell´s environmental record in Nigeria. At this year´s AGM, Sylvia van Waveren speaking on behalf of the Dutch APG pension fund, the Robeco investment fund and other important shareholders with pension funds worth over 500 billion euro, said they “remain highly concerned with the operations in Nigeria and the potential damage to Shell´s reputation.” She said they were equally concerned about the “low standard and quality” of Shell´s dialogue with indigenous communities, not only in Nigeria but also in Canada where controversial oil sands are being exploited.
Eric Dooh, wearing a black hat a la Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and large necklaces with red and white beads around his neck, is impressed. “I noticed that people of this part of the world have great interest in the suffering of the people in the Niger delta. You don’t know us, and yet you are agitating for how the benefits of oil are being used in developing this area. I find this commendable.”
Chief Dooh will be following the legal proceedings against Shell in The Hague closely. Before leaving Nigeria he told his daughter he was coming to The Netherlands to defend her, her mother and her grandfather. And he already knows what he’ll do with his share of any compensation he and his fellow Nigerian plaintiffs should eventually receive from Shell.
If I have benefit from this mission, I will send my daughter abroad to study, so that she can attain the same knowledge than those people in charge of those multinational companies have acquired.