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Reps order Shell to pay Ijaw $1.5b compensation
ABUJA — AFTER decades of hues and cries of environmental degradation by the Niger Delta region caused by prospecting oil companies, hope for succour has risen as the House of Representatives has ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigeria Limited to pay the sum of US$1.5 billion to Ijaw Aborigines of Bayelsa State as compensation for the untold hardship and environmental devastation it has brought the Ijaws since 1956. The House of Representatives issued this directive to Shell (SPDC) following the recommendation of a-four-man advisory legal panel which it set up to consider the petition filed by Ijaw Aborigines against Shell.
Similarly, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Bukhari Bello has called on the oil company to comply forthwith with the recommendations of the legal advisory panel, by commencing the prompt payment of compensation to the to the Ijaw people.
Bello commended the lower House of the National Assembly for constituting the advisory legal panel chaired by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Bello (rtd.). Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, he said “while admitting that no amount of compensation can assuage the devastation identified above, the respondents (Shell) should pay compensation calculated in foreign currency, as it is the practice worldwide, to the tune of US$1.5 billion as claimed by the petitioners.” He disclosed that the said sum would be paid instalmentally, with US$500,000,000 to be paid with immediate effect while US$1,000,000 billion would be paid within a period of 10 years in equal instalments of US$100,000,000 per annum.
Bukhari explained that the panel’s recommendation stemmed from the following findings:
l That oil spillage and other environmental incidents have occurred in the facilities of the respondents in its facilities in Bayelsa State for many years;
l That these spillages which have consistently affected the aquatic and agricultural life of the communities in the state, assumed epidemic proportions between 1993 and 1994, leading to the outbreak of contagious diseases, killing over 1,400 people and several others critically hospitalised, with probable effects of contacting cancer;
l Persistent refusal of the respondents to pay compensation for oil spillages and other environmental incidents on the unsubstantiated claim of sabotage. Where compensation is paid, it is hardly adequate, considering the prolonged effects of the hazards on the people and their communities;
l That the relationship between oil companies including the respondents and their host communities is less than cordial and claims of provision of social amenities are bogus and grossly inadequate; where amenities are provided, they lack the requisite manpower and equipment for sustained maintenance. In fact, the first pipe borne water provided by the respondent in Bayelsa State was undertaken in 1999, in spite of the fact that they (respondents) admitted undertaking production in the area in 1956;
l Uncontroverted expert opinions suggest that people in Bayelsa and Rivers states suffer from cancer and other forms of neo-plastic diseases as a result of prolonged undiminished exposure to crude effluents arising from contract with petroleum or oil spillages;
l In spite of the respondent’s admission of several oil spillages in its facilities in Bayelsa State, they are unable to give an accurate data of the volume of spill and the number of spillages since they commenced operations in the area. Where spillages occur, the respondent’s response is rather slow as confirmed by on-the-spot assessment of House members.
Arising from the foregoing findings, the advisory panel made the following recommendations to wit:
*That a comprehensive study of the respondent’s 60 years of operations in the Niger Delta should be carried out, with a view to determining the level of environmental degradation caused by numerous oil spillages and environmental incidents. This study should be multi-disciplinary involving relevant professionals and stakeholders, with the participation of the oil communities;
*Arising from massive human sufferings, such as displacement, strangulation of means of livelihood and violation of human rights, the respondents should embark upon environmental containment in accordance with international standards of the affected communities in Bayelsa State;
*While admitting that no amount of compensation can assuage the devastation identified above, the respondents should pay compensation calculated in foreign currency, as it is the practice worldwide, to the tune of US$1.5 billion as claimed by the petitioners, subject to the deduction of proved damage caused by the acts of the petitioners. The said sum should be paid instalmentally, $500,000,000 payable forthwith, US$1,000,000,000 payable within a period of 10 years in 10 equal instalments of US$100,000,000 per annum commencing not later than one year after the payment of the US$500,000,000 aforementioned.
*That in view of the importance of oil and gas to the economy of Nigeria, there is need to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the Niger Delta. Accordingly, the following additional measures recommended:
*Treatment of oil communities as true stakeholders in the oil and gas industry by the respondents and other oil producing companies;
*Provision of immediate containment of oil spillages and provision of emergency relief and medical attention to communities affected by oil spillage;
*Initiation of more sustained community development projects in oil communities;
*Preferential employment of indigenes of oil producing communities and constructive engagement of youths and empowerment of women;
*Petitioners to cooperate with the respondents to eliminate cases of sabotage of oil facilities;
*Confidence-building mechanism for the ventilation of grievances and the assistance of law enforcement agents in times of crises.
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