Bodo, Nigeria: "I was so happy that Shell agreed to pay"

London,

The oil company Shell was recently forced to pay £55 million in compensation to people in Bodo, Nigeria, after their lives were devastated by two massive oil spills in 2008. One of them is Pastor Christian Lekoya Kpandei, 53 - a “born and bred” Bodo fish farmer with a congregation of 300. He tells us how this landmark lawsuit is changing people’s lives.

How did you feel when the settlement with Shell was agreed?

I felt inexpressible joy. I was so happy that Shell agreed to pay, because this has never happened in more than 50 years since oil companies came to the Niger Delta. The event has gone down in history. There was great jubilation among everyone, old and young.

What difference will the compensation make?

Everywhere in Bodo, people are already starting to rebuild. I am going to construct new fish ponds that will produce 10,000 catfish a year. After the oil spills we couldn’t afford school fees, but now my daughters have gone back to school. Children suffered especially, but now many have money in the bank for their future.

Shell still hasn’t cleaned up the oil pollution. How does that affect people?

People’s health is bad, but there is no proper hospital here. The water, the fruit, the trees are all contaminated. My old fish ponds are on the river bank, so I can’t return until it has been cleaned. Shell has made promises, but we will only know they mean business when they appoint a proper contractor to do the clean-up.

I was so happy that Shell agreed to pay, because this has never happened in more than 50 years since oil companies came to the Niger Delta.
Pastor Christian Kpandei

What difference has international support from Amnesty and others made?

I love it. I sincerely feel that now Bodo is an international community. We can call on people in Europe, when before nobody would hear us. We also thank CEHRD (the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, a local NGO) who have led everything.

Will the Bodo community’s case help stop more oil spills?

Other communities can now also rise up, and we can share what we have learned with them. Amnesty and CEHRD trained me to monitor oil spills, so I can help others. But the companies must also change their pipelines – the one that caused the Bodo spills is many years old. There could be many more legal battles ahead.

What are your hopes for Bodo’s future?

I think we can have a bright future, but it will take a long time. Experts have said it will take 20-30 years for the environment to be restored. But I think Bodo can be a pillar for other Niger Delta communities. To them [compensation] seems like a dream but it is a reality.

This interview also appeared in the April-June 2015 issue of Wire, Amnesty’s global magazine, under the headline “Money in the bank”.

Read more

The Nigerian community that took on Shell and won: Amnesty campaigner Joe Westby reports from his recent trip to Bodo, Nigeria.