Timeline: the course of the lawsuit

On 9 May 2008, four Nigerian farmers and Milieudefensie initiate a lawsuit because of the oil pollution in their villages. It takes until December 2022 for the entire case to be concluded. These are the high and low points of a historic (and ultimately victorious) lawsuit.

And this was not the only way that Shell delayed the process. Shell withheld documents. And Shell lied. In the documents that the judge ordered Shell to give us, so much text was blacked out that hardly any information was left. In 2015, the court ruled that the residents of Ikot Ada Udo had the right to compensation. However, Shell appealed this decision.

Follow the timeline of our court case against Shell in Nigeria.

9 May 2008

Milieudefensie and Nigerian farmers sue Shell
Four Nigerian farmers, together with Milieudefensie [Friends of the Earth Netherlands], take Shell to court. The farmers are victims of oil spills in their villages, Goi, Ikot Ada Udo and Oruma. The farmers want Shell to pay them compensation so that they can rebuild their lives.

20 June 2008

Shell’s response
Shell states that it did nothing wrong in Nigeria. Shell also states that it is not responsible for mistakes made by its Nigerian subsidiary. But Milieudefensie and the Nigerian farmers disagree. They believe that because Shell’s decisions are taken in the Netherlands, the company is responsible for what happened in Nigeria. These decisions could have a major influence on policy in Nigeria.

13 May 2009

Shell: this is no case for the Dutch courts
Shell states that Shell Nigeria is a Nigerian company and thus should not have to appear before a Dutch court. However, Royal Dutch Shell owns 100 percent of Shell Nigeria, a full subsidiary. And Royal Dutch Shell is a Dutch company, located in The Hague.

3 December 2009

First court session
The first session deals with the question of whether the Dutch court may rule on what happened in Oruma. Shell believes that the entire case must be tried in Nigeria.

30 December 2009

First victory: Shell may be tried in the Oruma case
The judge rules that Shell may be tried by a Dutch court in the Oruma case. Shell is disappointed. The farmers and Milieudefensie, however, are very pleased with this first victory. Separate verdicts will be given on the other villages: Goi and Ikot Ada Udo. On 24 February 2010, the judge will rule on whether these cases may also be tried in the Dutch courts.

24 March 2010

Milieudefensie wants to examine Shell documents
At the start of the case, our lawyer asked to see Shell documents, as evidence. Shell has repeatedly refused. Milieudefensie asks the judge to order Shell to give us this evidence.

2 December 2010

Lawsuit continues despite Shell’s objections
Shell wants to postpone the case. One of the farmers has also brought his case to the Nigerian court, and Shell believes that this case must be tried first. They want the start of the Dutch case to wait until then. The judge does not agree and decides to go on with the case.

19 May 2011

Hearing on examination of documents
A hearing is held on the request of the farmers and Milieudefensie to access Shell documents.

14 September 2011

Ruling on examination of documents
The judge states that Shell doesn’t have to give us all the documents we have requested. There is information on the oil spill in these documents, as well as information on maintenance of the pipelines and the involvement of Royal Dutch Shell[I1] . We only receive a few reports about the village of Goi that were written by subcontractors. On this same day, the judge also rules on another point. Shell believes that Milieudefensie cannot be named as a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit because it is not a victim. The judge disagrees. Milieudefensie is permitted to be a co-plaintiff and to continue to work on the case with the Nigerian farmers.

4 August 2011

Shell ‘has not cleaned up properly’, writes UN environmental agency
UNEP, the environmental agency of the United Nations, presents an important report on oil pollution in the Niger Delta. This report states that Shell has not properly cleaned up the pollution it caused in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta[I2] . This is good news for the court case, as one of the plaintiffs lives in Goi, which is in Ogoniland. UNEP writes the following in its report: ‘The way Shell has carried out the clean-up is insufficient. It not only violates the law, but also Shell’s own regulations. Shell claims that it has cleaned up thoroughly. However, the land and the water in Ogoniland are so polluted that the region is still uninhabitable.’
Milieudefensie’s lawyers make use of the UNEP report as important evidence.

14 December 2011

Leaks resulting from poor maintenance
We send a letter to the court, stating that the leaks were the result of poor maintenance. The farmers and Milieudefensie believe that Shell did not properly maintain the pipelines in the three villages. Moreover, Shell did not properly protect the pipelines from sabotage. And Shell scarcely cleaned up the spilled oil, which is required by Nigerian law, even if the leaks were caused by sabotage.

14 April 2012

Shell denies all liability
Shell also submits a letter to the court stating that all the spills were caused by sabotage. Therefore, it is not Shell’s fault but the fault of the rebels. Furthermore, Shell again states that this case must be handled in Nigeria and not in the Netherlands.

11 October 2012

The hearing at the court in The Hague
More than four years after the case was started, a public hearing is held at the court in The Hague. Afterwards, Geert Ritsema of Milieudefensie states: ‘It seems like Shell is living in another world, a world that only exists on paper and has nothing to do with the farmers’ harsh, daily existence in the oil-polluted Niger Delta. Millions of people in Nigeria suffer the consequences of the pollution every day. The oil has polluted their drinking water, hardly anything grows there anymore and most of the fish have died. A great many Nigerians make their living from fishing and agriculture. That has now become impossible.’

30 January 2013

The verdict: Shell convicted for damage at Ikot Ada Udo
The court rules that Shell is responsible for the oil spills on the land of Friday Alfred Akpan of Ikot Ada Udo. Shell must therefore pay compensation, the amount of which is still to be decided. The court does not find that Shell’s guilt could be proven in the cases of the other three farmers. The judge also rules that Royal Dutch Shell cannot be held liable for the activities of Shell Nigeria.

1 May 2013

Both Milieudefensie and Shell appeal
Milieudefensie and the farmers from Goi and Oruma appeal the decision. The judge ruled that the oil spills were caused by sabotage and that Shell could not have prevented the leaks. The farmers and Milieudefensie disagree and therefore appeal to the court. Shell also appeals. The judged ruled that Shell has to pay compensation to Friday Alfred Akpan from the village of Ikot Ada Udo. But Shell does not believe it is responsible for the leaks. This surprises the Nigerian plaintiffs and Milieudefensie – Shell had said previously that it would accept the verdict of the court.

10 September 2013

Milieudefensie again requests access to Shell internal evidence
Milieudefensie again requests that Shell allow access to key documents and reports. Milieudefensie wants to use these to prove that Shell headquarters in The Hague directly controls the Nigerian company, and thus is responsible for the spills in the Nigerian villages. In September 2011, the court had denied the same request.

7 January 2014

Shell replies: no access to internal documents
Shell still doesn’t want to allow us access to key documents. Shell also states for the third time that this case does not belong in a Dutch court.

25 March 2014

Particulars of claim on court jurisdiction
Milieudefensie and the farmers submit a ‘particulars of claim’, explaining why they believe that the case may be tried in a Dutch court.

30 June 2014

Court to rule on appeal in two phases
In a pre-trial review, which deals only with the procedure and not with the content of the case, the judge remarks that Shell continually returns to the fact that this case should not be tried in the Netherlands. It is thus decided that Shell’s claim should first be examined before the content of the case is considered. This means that the appeal will be divided into two parts.

7 October 2014

New evidence
Milieudefensie has received new information from Britain. Nigerians from the village of Bodo have settled a lawsuit in England that is very similar to that of Milieudefensie. The English lawyers were given access to Shell’s internal documents, while those of Milieudefensie were not. These documents revealed a great deal of information which was very useful in the legal case.

The Shell documents stated that the pipeline in Goi was very poorly maintained and should have been replaced long ago.
Through these documents, we also discovered that Shell had previously lied in court. Shell’s lawyers had said that a pipe-pressure monitoring system was installed in Goi. But the documents in the English court case state that Shell had never installed this pressure monitoring system. This is good news for the Goi farmers.

7 January 2015

Bodo residents awarded €70 million from Shell
On 7 January, the residents of the village of Bodo received wonderful news. They had started a lawsuit in England and reached a settlement with Shell. Shell is to pay residents of the Nigerian village 70 million euros. They can use this money to repair the damage that was caused by spills from the oil pipelines. Even though this case is independent of ours, it is great news for us too. The case addressed the same pipeline that runs through Goi, where our farmers live. And it shows the Nigerians that it is possible to sue Shell outside of Nigeria. However, it is true that Shell avoided dealing with its problems by paying off the residents. Because the case has been settled, Shell no longer needs to appear before the court.

12 March 2015

Appeal heard
On 12 March, the farmers, Milieudefensie and Shell again face each other in court. Milieudefensie wants access to Shell documents which could prove that the pipelines in the Niger Delta were poorly maintained. These documents would also reveal how much Shell headquarters in The Hague knew about the spills in Nigeria.
Shell continues to repeat itself: the company does not believe that a Dutch court may rule on the activities of Shell in Nigeria.

18 December 2015

Dutch court authorized to rule on Shell’s activities in Nigeria
Verdict on ‘first phase’ of the appeal (procedural points)
The first verdict in the appeal is a big success. The judge finds in favour of Milieudefensie on all points. The judge rules that a Dutch court is authorized to rule on the oil spills in Nigeria. The judge also orders Shell to allow Milieudefensie access to all documents having to do with the case. This means we can finally proceed with the substance of the case.

11 October 2016

Interim verdict: Shell may no longer withhold information
Shell had sent us several documents. However, a great deal was hard to read, because so much was blacked out. Thus, we have to go back to court, which finds in our favour. Shell then must resend the documents, without any parts blacked out.
The judge rules in our favour on another point as well. Shell claims that important information on the maintenance of the pipelines has been lost, but we do not believe this. And the judge doesn’t either. Shell is subsequently required to provide the reports to Milieudefensie.

27 March 2018

Experts carry out research
It is only on the 27th of March 2018 that 3 experts for the interim verdict are appointed. It is unclear why this has taken such a long time. Shell didn’t cooperate anyway, as they sent information about completely different pipelines to the experts. The experts were given 3 months to complete their research. During the same interim verdict, the court announced it will make a decision on the 1st of May about the blacked out and missing documents.

December 2018

The appointed experts hand in their findings on the causes of the oil spills.

March 2019

We hand in the statement of grievances. These are the grounds of our appeal. This includes the findings of the experts.

8 October 2020

Second part of the higher appeal. Hopefully, this is the last time we will face Shell in court about the Nigerian oil spills. This part of the appeal concerns the content of the case. How did the leaks originate? Has Shell carried out adequate maintenance on the pipelines? And has shell done enough to prevent future leaks?

29 January 2021

Verdict Higher Appeal. Milieudefensie and Nigerian farmers win landmark court case against Shell.

23 December 2022

On 23 December the compensation is announced. The farmers and their communities are awarded 15 million euros in damages. They are finally able to get on with their lives. It is the culmination of a historic lawsuit. Read more about it here.