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Shell Scores a Courtroom Encore in Nigeria After Alleged Environmental Ode to the Niger Delta

Posted by John Donovan: 5 Jan 24

In a twist befitting a legal drama, Nigeria’s Supreme Court, with all the suspense of a season finale cliffhanger, ruled that Shell – the oil giant with a knack for environmental escapades – should get another day in court over an alleged oil spill in the Niger Delta. This decision came hot on the heels of the Court of Appeal putting a pin in Shell’s asset sale party and insisting on a judgment claim payout before listening to Shell’s sob story.

This courtroom saga, just one of Shell’s numerous legal battles both locally and on the international stage, began with a High Court ruling in November 2020. The court, in a move that surely had Shell’s execs spilling their tea, ordered the company to cough up a hefty 800 billion naira (a cool $878 million) to the Egbalor Ebubu communities in Rivers state. These folks accused Shell of turning their waterways and farms into an oil artist’s canvas.

But wait, Shell, in a plot twist no one saw coming (or did they?), denies causing the spill. Shocking, right?

In a bid to evade the High Court’s judgment like a character in a high-speed chase scene, Shell appealed to halt the execution of the verdict. However, the Court of Appeal, playing the role of the tough cop, told Shell to park its assets and deposit the money in a court-controlled account if it wanted to proceed with its appeal.

Furthermore, in a move that could be seen as the scriptwriters upping the drama, Shell was told to freeze the disposal of local assets last June until the Supreme Court’s ruling, just to ensure the Niger Delta Community wouldn’t miss out on any potential compensation.

Mohammed Ndarani, the community’s lawyer and possibly our hero in this tale, told Reuters that the Supreme Court had now passed the baton back to the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court, in a scene reminiscent of a judge pounding the gavel for order, declared on Friday that the appeal court hadn’t really dived into the juicy bits of the case and directed that Shell be given a stage to present its case.

This legal telenovela is drawing wide attention, especially after Nigeria’s oil regulator played the stern parent by refusing to bless Exxon Mobil’s $1.28 billion asset sale to Seplat Energy in 2022. This has left international oil companies fretting about the complexities of selling assets in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Shell, along with other oil majors, is pivoting to deep water drilling and trying to wash its hands of onshore operations, which have been marred by crude theft and pipeline vandalism. It’s like they’re trying to switch from one controversial playground to another, leaving Nigeria’s oil production in a bit of a soap opera itself.

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