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Litigation as a Tool for Environmental Protection in Nigeria

Litigation as a Tool for Environmental Protection in Nigeria.

By Osazuwa OKAH Abraham



Not so fun fact the annual ritual marked as the word environment day has no meaning in Nigeria since the day is merely used by government official to deliver beautiful keynote speeches and rehearse the environmental problem plaguing the country over the years with little to no concern for proffering solutions, the existing ‘’proposed solutions’’ are weak and often go unenforced. Another not so fun fact environmental day is one of the least discussed day in Nigeria which takes place on Monday June 5th 2023. For those who are unaware of environment day, it is basically a day were issues like climate change, minimizing pollution and creating sustainable law to ensure we have a planet to live in.

Nigeria, like many other developing countries, has faced significant environmental challenges due to industrialization, urbanization, and other human activities. These environmental challenges have had severe consequences on the health and livelihoods of the affected communities, including water and air pollution, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity. In response to these challenges, litigation has emerged as a crucial tool for environmental protection in Nigeria. This essay will examine the use of litigation as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria.

What is litigation?

Litigation can be defined in different which include the following

Litigation refer to the process of resolving dispute by filing or answering a complaint through the public court system

Litigation is a legal process that involves the use of courts to resolve disputes between parties. In Nigeria, litigation has been increasingly used as a tool for environmental protection, given the growing concern for environmental degradation and the impact it has on people’s health, livelihoods, and the economy.

litigation in simple terms is the process of taking a dispute to curt of law. If parties cannot agree between themselves about the fair and proper outcome of a dispute they will present their respective cases to the court for judgment.

The use of litigation as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria has emerged as a critical approach in addressing the unprecedented challenges faced by the country’s natural environment. Nigeria like many other developing countries is grappling with a range of environmental issues that are taking a tool on human health, economic development and social welfare these issues include oil spill, deforestation air pollution, water pollution deforestation etc.

Water pollution.

Water pollution is a significant environmental issue in Nigeria, and it has had severe consequences on the health and livelihoods of the affected communities. Litigation has been used to hold companies and the government accountable for water pollution in Nigeria. Litigation against oil companies has been used to seek compensation for damages caused by oil spills, while litigation against the government has been used to hold the government accountable for its failure to protect the environment and the health of the affected communities. Litigation has been an essential tool for environmental protection in Nigeria, and it has helped to raise awareness about the consequences of environmental degradation and the need for stronger environmental laws and regulations. However, there is a need for stronger enforcement of environmental laws and regulations to prevent environmental degradation and protect the environment for future generations.


Deforestation is a significant environmental problem in Nigeria, and it is caused by both human and natural factors. The major causes of deforestation in Nigeria include logging, agriculture, and the expansion of settlements. Deforestation has had significant consequences on the environment, including soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

Air Pollution Litigation

Air pollution in Nigeria has been a significant issue, and it has led to severe health consequences for the affected communities. Litigation has been used to hold companies and the government accountable for air pollution in Nigeria. In 2017, a Lagos-based non-governmental organization, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, sued the Federal Government of Nigeria for failing to regulate and enforce air pollution standards. The case was filed in the Federal High Court in Lagos, and in 2019, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the government to develop and implement a national air quality management plan.

Litigation against Oil Companies

Oil spills have been a significant source of water pollution in Nigeria. Oil spills occur due to pipeline vandalism, equipment failure, and operational accidents. Oil spills have contaminated water sources, including rivers, streams, and groundwater, and have had severe consequences on the health and livelihoods of the affected communities.

Litigation has been used to hold oil companies accountable for oil spills in Nigeria. In 2008, a group of Nigerian farmers and fishermen, supported by environmental and human rights groups, sued Royal Dutch Shell in a Dutch court for oil spills in the Niger Delta region. The case was filed in the Netherlands because Royal Dutch Shell is a Dutch company. In 2013, the court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell was responsible for the oil spills and ordered the company to compensate the affected communities. The case set a precedent for holding multinational companies accountable for environmental damages caused in developing countries.

In the case of the Ogoni people against Shell, the Ogoni people filed a suit against Shell for oil spills that occurred in their community, causing significant environmental damage and affecting their health and livelihoods. The case was filed in the Netherlands, and in 2015, Shell agreed to pay a settlement of $83.5 million to the Ogoni people.

Similarly, in the case of the Niger Delta communities against Chevron, the communities filed a suit against Chevron for environmental damage caused by oil spills. The case was filed in Nigeria, and in 2019, the Nigerian court ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion in damages to the affected communities.

In the case of the Lead poisoning in Zamfara State, the Nigerian government was sued for its failure to prevent and address the lead poisoning that occurred in the state, which resulted in the death of over 400 children. The case was filed in Nigeria, and in 2021, the court ordered the government to pay a compensation of $200 million to the affected communities.

SERAP V. federal republic of Nigeria: in this case the socio economic right and accountability project (SERAP) Sued the Nigerian government for its failure to prevent and address oil spill in the Niger delta region .this case resulted in a landmark judgment in 2021,in which the court ordered the government to take measures to address the environment harm and compensate affected communities

We also have the case of mudiga-odja v. Shell petroleum Development Company: in this case, a Nigerian community sued shell for oil spill that had polluted their land and water sources .this case was settled out of court in 2015, with shell agreeing to pay 55 million in compensation to the affected community.

These cases demonstrate the effectiveness of litigation as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria. Litigation has been used to hold companies and the government accountable for their actions and to seek redress for communities affected by environmental degradation. It has also been used to raise awareness of environmental issues and to promote environmental justice. Nigeria has a rich and diverse environment that is home to a variety of flora and fauna. However, the country’s environment is facing significant threats from human activities.

The primary aim of litigation as a tool for environmental protection is to hold accountable the corporations and government that engage in activities that cause environmental harm. The court in Nigeria have increasingly become a forum for resolving environmental dispute, with some high profile cases that have had a significant impact on the country’s environmental polices like the ones already listed also we have a landmark litigation against shell petroleum development company ( spdc) over oil spillage in the bodo community which resulted in a significant clean up exercise, compensation, and the implementation of sustainable practice .

Tool for environmental protection in Nigeria.

Litigation can be an effective tool for environmental protection in Nigeria, as it provides a means for individuals, communities, and organizations to seek legal remedies and hold polluters accountable for their actions. Here are some key aspects of litigation as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria:

1. Access to Justice: Litigation ensures that affected individuals and communities have access to justice and a platform to voice their concerns about environmental degradation. It allows them to seek legal remedies and redress for harm caused by pollution or other environmental violations.

2. Environmental Legislation: Nigeria has various environmental laws and regulations in place to protect its natural resources and ecosystems, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency Act, and the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act. Litigation can help enforce these laws by compelling compliance and penalizing violators.

3. Judicial Activism: Nigerian courts have shown a growing interest in environmental issues and have demonstrated judicial activism in environmental litigation. They have played a crucial role in interpreting and enforcing environmental laws, setting precedents, and promoting sustainable development.

4. Public Interest Litigation: Public interest litigation allows individuals or groups to take legal action on behalf of the public interest. It enables NGOs, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens to bring environmental cases to court, even if they are not directly affected. This mechanism has been utilized to challenge activities such as oil spills, deforestation, and other environmental harm.

5. Remedies and Compensation: Through litigation, affected parties can seek remedies and compensation for environmental damage. This can include the restoration of polluted areas, financial compensation for loss of livelihood or health impacts, and the implementation of preventive measures to avoid future harm.

6. Awareness and Advocacy: Environmental litigation helps raise awareness about environmental issues and promotes public discourse on the importance of protecting the environment. It draws attention to specific cases and brings them to the forefront of public attention, contributing to advocacy efforts and public pressure for better environmental governance. Like what this essay is trying to do


The national environmental standard and

Regulation enforcement agency.

This body was established in 2007 for enforcing environmental standard, regulations, and guidelines. NESERA’S primary mandate is to enforce compliance with environmental laws, regulations and standard across various sectors of Nigerian economy. Its aim is to prevent and control pollution, promote sustainable development and ensure environmental quality. NESREA collaborates with other governmental agencies such as the federal ministry of environment, state ministries of environment, and relevant sectors specific regulatory bodies to achieve its objectives. To reiterate on what has already been stated NESEA also create awareness by conducting public enlightenment campaigns and educational slandered and regulations.


In conclusion, litigation has been increasingly used as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria, and it has been effective in holding companies and the government accountable for their actions or inactions that cause environmental degradation. By seeking compensation and enforcing environmental laws and regulations, litigation has helped to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable development. However litigation is not enough to address the environmental challenges faced by Nigeria. There is no need for a collaborative effort by all stakeholders to prevent environmental degradation and promote a sustainable development. This include an adoption of a stronger environmental laws and regulation and the promotion of environmentally friendly practices. By working together we can protect our environment for future generation and ensure a sustainable future for us and the generations to come.


1) Hpps://> wex 2)ikelegbe,a(2017) environmental litigation and access to litigation access to justice in Nigeria. Journal 3)law,619(2) 157-181 4)okafor,o (2017). Court order 5)hpps://burlingtion legal. Com. New 6)kiobel v. royal dutch petroleum co. u.s 108 (2013) 7)serep v. federal republic of Nigeria, suit no FHC/AB/153/

About the Author 

Osazuwa OKAH Abraham is of the Department of Public and International Law, Faculty of Law, Edo State University Uzairue


This work is published under the free legal awareness project of Sabi Law Foundation ( funded by the law firm of Bezaleel Chambers International ( The writer was not paid or charged any publishing fee. You too can support the legal awareness projects and programs of Sabi Law Foundation by donating to us. Donate here and get our unique appreciation certificate or memento.


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