By Nathan Nwakamma/Yenagoa
A suit by Nembe communities against Aiteo Exploration and Production Limited, operators of Oil Mining Lease (OML 29), has been adjourned indefinitely.
Justice Abimbola Awogboro of the Federal High Court in Yenagoa suspended the case on Thursday.
This was done pending a higher court ruling on an interlocutory appeal in the substantive suit.
Awogboro had on March 3, 2020 declined to stay proceedings in the litigation by Nembe Communities over the adverse impact of oil exploration.
Awogboro then joined Aiteo Eastern Exploration Limited and other adjourning communities in the suit, but declined an application to strike out Aiteo Exploration and Production Company from the suit.
The judge maintained that she could not stay proceeding on the matter because the appeal was merely a subsidiary issue and had no bearing with the major substance before her, saying that she would allow the appellate court to rule before proceeding on the case.
She explained that the adjournment was to see if the appellate court will grant an order on the appeal before it asking that Aiteo Exploration and Exploration be excluded from the suit.
The Nembe communities in Bayelsa sued Aiteo Exploration and Production Limited, but another firm Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Exploration Company approached the court to be joined as the holder of OML 29 lease.
Aiteo Exploration and Exploration had approached the court of Appeal in Port Harcourt and applied to the Federal High Court to stay proceedings pending the determination of the appeal.
Earlier, Counsel to the Nembe communities, Mr Ezekiel Ikoli, told the court that in view of the court’s decision to suspend hearing pending the outcome of the interlocutory appeal, there was need for an adjournment since there was no update from the appellate court.
Mr Mike Ozekhome, SAN, Counsel to Aiteo, urged the court to adjourn the matter indefinitely since a superior court was already hearing an appeal on the case.
The court had on June 24, 2019 declined an application to halt the renewal of OML 29 pending the determination of a suit by Nembe communities in Bayelsa.
The OML 29 host communities are seeking an environmental audit of the impact of the oil field on the host communities, and the implementation of the social obligations of the host communities by the operator of the oil block amongst others.
The lease expired on June 30, 2020 while the operator of the oilfields had commenced renewal formalities with the payment of 82 million dollars to the Department of Petroleum Resources.
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.
The defendants are the Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
Others are: Aiteo Exploration and Production Ltd, Attorney-General of Bayelsa and The Deeds Registrar, Bayelsa Ministry of Lands.
Shell Petroleum Development Company in 2015 divested its equity in OML 29 and transferred its interest in the oil block, including the 97km Nembe Creek Trunk Line for $2.4 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”