Artisan Sues Oil Firm for Alleged Fraudulent Land Acquisition

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* Seeks N850m compensation

By Alex Enumah in Abuja

A lagos-based artisan, Friday Okolo, has dragged Midwestern Oil and Gas Company to a Federal High Court in Abuja, over an alleged fraudulent acquisition of his land for oil exploration.

The plaintiff, in the suit filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Nnamdi Ebo, is claiming a whopping sum of N855 million compensation from the oil company for allegedly trespassing on his land without his authority.

In the suit, which has one Chief Sunday Ochonogor and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as defendants, the plaintiff is praying the Federal High Court for an Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the oil company from paying annual rent, pledges, dues and other payments to any other person except himself, being the rightful owner of the land upon which the firm is operating.

In his Writ of Summons marked ABJ/CS/952/2018, the plaintiff asked the court to stop the oil firm from recognising or dealing with any other person or family except himself as the lawful owner of the land in dispute and where oil is being explored.

According to his witness statement on oath, the 47-year-old Lagos-based electrical rewire claimed to have purchased two plots of land from one Chief Sunday Ochonogor in 1998 and that all necessary documents relating to the land situated at Oleh-Ogwashi kwu expressway in Ndokwa West Local Government of Delta State were handed over to him.

He claimed that the said private land was sold to him in an outright purchase from the portion of land allocated to the said Ochonogor, being an elder of Umuachi family under the Ukwani Customary Land Tenure and that the said Umuachi family members were fully aware of the sale and transfer of the land portion to him.

The said land measures 1037.9 square metres as shown in the survey plan number AOD/DT/218/1998 dated june 18, 1998 and prepared by licensed Surveyor P. O. Odigili.

The plaintiff further claimed that after the purchase, beacons and fenced were erected on the land to ensure its security and in addition, over 250 blocks kept on the land as part of preparation to commence a structure for his family use.

The palitiff, who claimed to be an indigene of Kwale in Delta State, averred that he returned to Lagos for his work to enable him raise funds for his building project and that upon his return to his land in March 2012 he noticed a trespass and the exploitation of oil and gas and also that his beacons and fence have been pulled down by the oil company.

He claimed that upon his investigation, it was discovered that Ochonogor who lawfully sold the land to him had without his knowledge leased the same land to the oil firm and that when the oil firm was confronted, the company begged and proposed to give him another land in Kwale, which he rejected.

Okolo averred that two court cases instituted against the oil company in Delta State were allegedly frustrated and that his life and those of his sympathisers were threatened with impunity especially, with incessant unlawful police arrest and detention.

The plaintiff further averred that the oil company in conspiracy with Ochonogor had vowed to deny him his ownership of the land and accrueable benefit from the oil business.

He therefore prayed the court to recover the land for him and declare him as the beneficial owner and person entitled to the grant of the statutory right of occupancy over the two plots, been part of the land where the oil company is transacting oil business.

Among others, he prayed the court to order the oil company to pay him compensatory damages to the tune of N100 million and another N300 million being accruable benefit to him.

In the alternative, he urged the court to direct the oil company to pay him N350 million as outright payment for drilling oil on his land without permission and another N50 million as presumed damages for the unlawful lease of the land by Ochomogor.

The plaintiff further demanded N50 million for a decade of unlawful occupation of his land, N10 million being the cost of court litigation and another N5m as punitive damages for unlawful actions on his land.

No date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.