By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja

The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Monday, ordered the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and its Joint venture partner, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, to within 14 days, pay an aggregate sum of N82billion to communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.

The court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, awarded the sum as special and general damages for oil spillages that occurred in the communities from 2000 to 2010.

It held that failure of the Defendants to pay the damages within the stipulated time would attract an 8 percent interest per annum until when the payment is completed. 

Moreso, the court, issued an order of mandamus mandating the NNPC, which was sued as the 1st Defendant in the matter, to discharge its duties by ensuring that its venture operators clean up, detoxify, and rehabilitate the land ecosystem, underground water, and air quality of the oil producing communities in Akwa Ibom state.

The judgement followed a suit that was brought before the court by nine chieftains of Ibeno clan, led by their king, HRH Obong (Dr) Effiong Archianga.

The Plaintiffs, in the Writ of Summons they filed through their team of lawyers led by Mr. Lucius Nwosu, SAN, told the court that there has been incessant crude oil bursts and spillages from facilities owned by Mobil.

They averred that the spillages discharged over 500,000 Barrels of Crude hydrocarbon oil and associated production water into the marine, swamp, mudflats and fragile wetland environment of their homestead.

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According to the Plaintiffs, “the spills mostly occurring from sub-surface pipeline networks, deposit very toxic soluble and dense particles to the sea bottom”, adding that shell fish, crabs, mudskipper, mussels, crustecea, periwinkles and fish fingerlings were exterminated by repetitive mass crude oil poisoning.

“Domestic drinking water sources from fresh water, underground aquifers are heavily polluted with crude oil such that waters from dugout wells and boreholes have oily sheens on their surface, smells and tastes kerosene.

“Fibrous and prop rooted plants such as Raffia Palm, Oil Palm, Mangroves by sheer capillarity, pick up the contaminated water in lieu of nutrients and these manifest in their stressed foliages, palm wine and fruits products poisoning. 

“Similarly, tuber plants such as yams, (Discorea Atata), Coco yams (discorea Rotundata) three leafed yams, cassava (Manioc) and Sweet Potatoes all pick up the oil contaminants in their various tissues. 

“These are eventually taken into the food chain of the populace as their main source of carbohydrates. These are known to be carcinogenic, birth deformities, sight impairment, organ damage and increasing infertility”, they added.

Besides, the Plaintiffs, accused the oil giant of engaging in continuous gas flaring which they said emit huge carbon dioxide, dangerous monoxide, and carbon particles (sooth).

They told the court that their communities are enveloped by very toxic contaminants and suspended solids that are constantly inhaled by livestock and humans alike. 

“These result in serious respiratory tract infections, lungs dysfunction, asphyxia, induced asthmatic conditions, pneumoniasis, oxygen deficiency and dizziness.

“There is the high incidence of typhoid, alimentary disturbances, dysentery, gastro-enteritis, dermatitis and lesions”, the Plaintiffs further averred.

They told the court that Mobil I operating in their area based on a joint venture agreement it entered into with the NNPC.

Meanwhile, though both NNPC and Mobil applied for the suit to be dismissed for being incompetent and status barred, however, the court, in its judgement, said it was satisfied that the Plaintiffs made out a good case to warrant the grant of compensatory reliefs they sought in the matter.

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Justice Taiwo held that both Mobil and NNPC were negligent in the way and manner they handled oil spills that caused environmental degradation in the communities.

“It is my finding that crude oil escaped from pipelines of the 2nd Defendant (Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited) which amounted to oil spillages.

“It was not established by the Defendants that they monitored the economic impact of its activities in the communities”, Justice Taiwo held, adding that no evidence was placed before the court to show that flaring of gas, “which is also harmful, was contained by the 2nd Defendant”.

The court held that the Defendants were unable to adduce any evidence to show that they either embarked on any clean-up exercise or compensated the communities.

It held that claims of the Plaintiffs were not disputed, noting that expert witnesses the oil company brought to testify before the court, tendered “very dubious documents”.
Justice Taiwo further dismissed NNPC’s  contention that the suit was statute barred as of 2012 when it was filed by the communities.

He held that claim by NNPC that the case ought to have been filed within 12 months after the alleged spillages occurred, lacked merit. 

The court held that the suit could not be rendered impotent by the statute of limitations since it had to do with fundamental rights.

Consequently, it awarded the sum of  N42.8bn to the Plaintiffs as damages for intangible losses, N21.9bn special damages as annotated and another N10bn as general damages.

The court however struck out the name of Exxon Mobil Corporation (5959 Las Conilas Boulevard Irving, Texas), which was listed as the 3rd Defendant on the premise that the Plaintiff did not establish any cause of action against it.

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