Gbemre v. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd.
The Jonah Gbemre filed a suit against Shell and the Nigerian government arguing that the flaring of gas in the Niger Delta violated the constitutional rights of people in the area.
The Niger Delta is Africa's largest wetland area and home to about 15 million people. It is also an area abundant in fossil fuel reservers including oil and gas. The area, after four decades of oil and gas exploration and extraction, has experienced significant environmental degradation, with oil spills and gas flaring being the major sources. This has resulted in destruction of farmland, sources of drinking water, mangrove forest, and fishing grounds. The social impact of environmental degradation has been increased militant activities, civil unrest, poverty, exposure to health hazards, and under-development of the region.
The practice of gas flaring is carried out by multinational oil companies in the Niger Delta as a cheaper alternative to reinjection. The practice produces not only significant greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global climate change, but also significant local air and water pollution.
Against this backdrop, Jonah Gbemre brought an action under the Fundamental Rights(Enforcement Procedure) Rules of 1979 on behalf of himself and the members of the Iwherekan Community in Delta State, Nigeria. The respondents in the case were the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and the Attorney General. The applicants sought to assert their fundamental rights to life and dignity of the human person as provided by sections 33(1) and 34(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, and Articles 4, 16 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights(Ratification and Enforcement) Act. They asked the court to find that the rights to life and dignity included the right to a clean, poison-free, pollution-free and healthy environment, and that the practice of gas flaring violated this right.
The court ruled in favor of Gbemre, finding that the practice of gas flaring by the respondents represented a gross violation of the fundamental right to life (including healthy environment) and the dignity of human persons as enshrined in the Constitution.
While Ggembre was a significant victory in the courtroom, it has unfortunately been turned into a hollow victory as the judgement has never been enforced by the Nigerian government.