INDIANAPOLIS — In an out-of-court settlement announcement Wednesday, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria agreed to a compensation package of 55 million pounds — about $83.4 million — for a Nigerian farming and fishing community damaged by massive oil spills in 2008 and 2009. An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor had been among witnesses for the residents of Bodo, Nigeria, in their three-year legal battle.
According to a statement by Leigh Day, the London-based law firm representing the community of Bodo, 15,600 individual claimants will received a total of 35 million pounds, with the remainder of the settlement going to the Bodo community as a whole. Shell has also agreed to clean up the Bodo Creek, Day said.
Scott Pegg, chair of the Department of Political Science in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, has been actively involved in the life of Bodo for more than 14 years. As someone who has worked in Bodo for years and as an honorary chief in the village, Pegg said it was the least he could do to provide a detailed witness statement on behalf of the Bodo plaintiffs.
Pegg first visited the community in 2000 and returned a year later with his wife, Tijen Demirel-Pegg. The then newlyweds donated $2,800 of their wedding gift money to the Bebor Model Nursery and Primary School in Botor Village, Bodo. This money finished a roofing project and funded a cement floor for a five-classroom primary school building at the school that now serves more than 300 children.
The couple continued to raise money for the school, and in 2002 their work was formally incorporated into the work of the Indianapolis-based charity now known as Timmy Global Health. The Peggs’ work with the school in Bodo now includes providing boreholes for drinking water; boys’, girls’ and teachers’ toilets for better sanitation; and a pilot health program providing immunizations, health exams and deworming treatments to students at the school.
In 2002, the Bodo Council of Chiefs named the Peggs honorary chiefs in recognition of their contribution to the community’s educational development. In August 2005, Botor Village in Bodo dedicated the “Chief Prof Scott Pegg Road.”
Pegg’s written testimony, filed in the case before the High Court in London, used numerous pictures to document the story of Bodo’s transformation after the oil spills from a vibrant fishing community to a land of “environmental devastation as far as the eye could see.”
Of particular interest to the British lawyers representing the Bodo claimants were the many photographs Pegg had from earlier visits to Bodo before the 2008-09 oil spills. Pegg and people who visited with him often would go down to the waterfront and paddle out into Bodo Creek on a traditional fishing canoe for recreation. Pegg said he never envisioned that his “tourist photos” along the waterfront would actually be used to help document how green and verdant the mangrove forests in Bodo were before the oil spills.
Pegg, who holds a doctorate in political science, described himself as “sort of a perfect storm” as a witness in that the combination of his academic training and interests and his track record of publications on the oil industry in Africa, plus his local status as a chief in the village, made his testimony hard to discredit. At IUPUI, Pegg primarily teaches courses on international relations, war and conflict, U.S. foreign policy, globalization and African politics.
The IUPUI professor is proud of the fact that the Bodo case is the first major legal settlement where compensation has been paid directly to individual Africans and not just done through chiefs or community leaders. He believes the success or failure of the promised environmental cleanup of Bodo Creek will ultimately be even more important than the compensation itself. He also hopes the case will set a precedent and establish benchmark standards for oil companies to follow in dealing with other oil spills throughout the Niger Delta.
“Bodo has suffered and continues to suffer horribly because of the two massive oil spills that hit the community in 2008-09 and for which any kind of clean-up effort has still not yet started,” Pegg said in an email message to Timmy Global Health supporters and other friends. “Even if everything goes well with this settlement, the community faces a daunting list of challenges and problems.
“Still, this is a great day for the people of Bodo. As people who have supported them in various ways, I hope you can savor and enjoy this news as well.”