This is the first time trhe multinational oil company is facing claims from the developing world in the UK for environmental damage.
Mr. Martyn Day of the solicitors Leigh Day – lawyers representing the community – said the spills had devastated a once-thriving fishing community of some 50,000 people.
He told the BBC’s Today programme: “I’ve been around Bodo on a number of occasions and you just have to walk round, it looks like a World War I scene, where the oil has totally destroyed much of the local environment and the fish, which particularly thrive in the mangroves, have basically disappeared from the area.”
In accepting responsibility for the oil spills, which happened in 2008 and one of which continued into 2009, Shell said they had been caused by operational failures
Shell also argued that much more oil has been spilt as a result of illegal activity in the Niger Delta, such as sabotage and theft.
It promised it would pay compensation for the spills according to Nigerian law and would clean up the oil and restore the land.
The company is , however, yet to pay compensation to the affected community for the spillage of about 4,000 barrels.
Bodo community representatives say they are resorting to legal action after negotiations for compensation broke down.
The head of Shell Nigeria said that with different lawyers representing claimants it was difficult to resolve.
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), said it was important to understand “the complexities of the Niger Delta” when dealing with these compensation payments.
“There are a lot of people who’ve claimed to be impacted and a lot of intra-communal strife which is making it difficult for anyone to have meaningful negotiations with different lawyers claiming to represent them.
“We did do everything possible to make sure that we pay compensation to the affected communities, but we also have to make sure that this compensation is paid to the right people. The trouble is you cannot do that as long as different lawyers are representing them.
“Shell will not give up trying to identify those who should be compensated,” Sunmonu told the BBC.
The Ogoni people have long complained about the environmental damage to their communities, but they say they have mostly been ignored.
A UN environmental assessment of Ogoniland last year said the region would take 30 years to recover fully from the damage caused by years of oil spills.