Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, has adjourned a suit seeking to halt the renewal of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 instituted by Nembe communities in Bayelsa.
The court, presided over by justice Abimbola Awogboro, however, declined to heed the prayer of the complainants, the Nembe/Bassambiri group, from making an order maintaining the ‘status quo ante’ which the defendants argued would effectively halt the ongoing operation of the oil well.
While the lease would expire on June 30, 2019 , the operator of the oilfields had commenced renewal formalities by the payment of $82 million to the Department of Petroleum Resources for its renewal, it was learnt.
According to justice Awogboro, the adjournment was to hear the application of other communities within the OML 29 seeking to join the suit filed before the court, namely the Nembe/ Ogbolomabiri people.
In the Suit No. FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015, the Nembe people alleged the abdication of social obligations to the host community by the owners of the facility. The plaintiffs are Ikaonaworio Eferebo-Igoma, Iyerite Chiefson Awululu-Atubu, Ayebaesin Edoghotu-Omoh, Markson Amaegbe-Orutari, B.C. Benwari-Yousuo and Doibo Evans representing OML 29 host communities, while the defendants are the Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Federal Ministry of Environment and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
Others are Aiteo Exploration and Production Ltd, Attorney-General of Bayelsa State and the Deeds Registrar, Bayelsa State Ministry of Lands. At the resumed hearing in Court 2, Federal High Court, Yenagoa, the Plaintiffs’ legal team led by Mr Iniruo Wills, had urged the court to make an order declaring that the status quo be maintained since if renewed, the decision of the federal government may render the case nugatory.
Justice Awogboro adjourned the case to September 27, for hearing on the application for joinders and several others.
Shell Petroleum Development Company in 2015, divested its equity in OML 29 and transferred its interest in the oil block, including NCTL for 1.7 billion dollars to Aiteo. However, the host community, said the divestment was done without resolving the untold negative impact of their operations on the people. The communities are also seeking an environmental audit of the impact of the oil field on the host communities and the implementation of the social obligations to them.
Awogboro, regretted that she was unable to take the applications for joinder to the case as slated because she has 10 pending judgements to deliver before the court goes on vacation on July 3.
Counsel to the Plaintiffs, Wills, told journalists outside the court room that the interest of other Nembe communities was an indication that almost all the host communities to OML 29 were unanimous in the quest for welfare for the oil communities.
He assured that the communities would remain law abiding and await the decision of the courts on the pending case and hoped that the dependants would not jeopardise the ongoing process.