Here’s an encouraging news item to kick off Black History Month. After a 13-year battle in a Dutch court, farmers in the Niger Delta have finally been awarded a monetary victory against Royal Dutch Shell for the company’s role in two massively destructive oil spills in 2006 and 2007. Technically, the settlement pins responsibility not on Royal Dutch Shell but on its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company. And, of course, the ruling can be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court. Nevertheless, it is a landmark win for victims of one of the worst acts of environmental devastation in recent memory.
Afropop Worldwide witnessed some of that destruction in 2017 while researching the program "Hip Deep in the Niger Delta." And Banning Eyre reported on musician activism associated with the disaster for All Things Considered. Eyre and "Hip Deep" scholar Mark LeVine spent a day in Ogoniland with one of the four plaintiffs in the legal case, Chief Eric Dooh. The chief’s village had been transformed into a toxic wasteland, its fisheries rendered useless, his people scattered with little or no help from any official source. On learning of the court’s ruling, Chief Dooh told the New York Times that the result was bittersweet as two of the four plaintiffs, including Dooh’s father, have died since the case began.
“Finally,” said Dooh, “there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil.” Given the extent of the spoilage and the human cost in the Niger Delta over decades, this “justice” is surely too little too late. But let’s hope it stands and that assistance reaches the region soon. Righting the larger wrong of oil extraction in the Delta will be the work of lifetimes.