By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Twenty nine communities in Bayelsa State have approached the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, to reverse the licence renewal fee for OML 29 to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) while there is a pending case.
Leading five others before justice Abimbola Awogboro, Mr Iniruo Willls, counsel to the plaintiffs, insisted that the defendants erred when they made a payment of $82million to the DPR for the renewal of the OML 29 licence when all issues surrounding the facility had not been resolved.
The respondents in the case include the Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment, Shell Petroleum, Attorney-General of Bayelsa State and the Deeds Registrar, Bayelsa Ministry of Lands and AITEO.
The lawyer told justice Awognoro, that though there was an ongoing out-of-court settlement process in place, the defendants had not reached out to his clients since December last year when the process started.
The plaintiffs had in suit no. FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015 sought a court order retraining the 2nd defendant(Minister of Petroleum) from renewing OML 29 in favour of the 5th defendant unless all pending issues raised in the suit were addressed.
They are seeking the order of the court to mandate the Minister of Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kackikwu, the federal ministry of the environment and Shell to commission an independent and comprehensive environmental impact study to ascertain how the oil company’s 53 years operations have affected the 29 communities similar to UNEP’s assessment in Ogoni land.
The Nembe kingdom in papers filed before the court, averred that the defendants had done absolutely no proper environmental due diligence.
Wills, lawyer for the plaintiffs argued that it was an affront to the power of the court for the 2nd and 5th respondents to ignore the court and proceed to make and receive payments for the renewal or processing of application for the renewal of Oil Mining Lease 29.
Chiefs from the 29 communities, who thronged to the court, through their lawyer, told the court that a massive explosion which took place on the facility on March 1, was yet to be investigated.
” The ongoing attempt to renew OML 29 will not only render the suit nugatory, but also constitutes a major security risk as it is capable of provoking concerned groups within the plaintiff’s kingdom and other host communities to resort to self help.
” The consequences of this may be similar to the now abating state of militancy in the Niger Delta region in general and the ongoing suspension of oil production for over 25 years in OML 11 in Ogoni land in particular ” the lawyer argued.
Counsel to the 2nd respondent (Minister of Petroleum) and 5th respondent (Aiteo), Soky Soberekon, told the court that there were ongoing ‘rigorous discussions’ as to how to resolve the matter out-of-court within the shortest time.
Justice Awogboro subsequently adjourned the case to April 11 and urged the parties to expedite action on the out-of-court settlement before the next sitting.