Port Harcourt — The Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital on Tuesday adjourned the suit brought before it by Nembe-Bassambiri community, seeking to halt Federal Government’s renewal of OML 29 for Aiteo Group, to April 11, 2019.
Recall that on August 4, 2015, the Nembe-Bassambiri community through their legal counsel, Ntephe, Smith, and Wills had asked the Court to stop the renewal of OML 29 to Aiteo on several grounds, pending the outcome of a substantive suit before the court.
The grounds, according to the host community, includes an alleged attempt by Aiteo to escape their development and corporate social responsibilities to the host community
The community says the development is a sequel to plans by the Minister of Petroleum Resources to renew the lease of OML 29 oil block to Aiteo for $82million without regard to the position of the community in the suit No. FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015.
The plaintiffs representing OML 29 host communities in the case are, Ikaonaworio Eferebo-Igoma, Iyerite Chiefson Awululu-Atubu, Ayebaesin Edoghotu-Omoh, Markson Amaegbe-Orutari, B.C. Benwari-Yousuo, and Doibo Evans.
While the defendants are Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Aiteo Exploration and Production Ltd, Attorney-General of Bayelsa State and The Deeds Registrar, Bayelsa State Ministry of Lands.
In an 18 paragraph motion on notice, the plaintiffs said they had filed an application for an interlocutory injunction on June 29, 2017, before the court, seeking an order to restrain the Minister of Petroleum Resources from granting an application for the renewal of OML 29 beyond the subsisting 30-year term.
“The lease on OML 29 will expire on June 30, 2019, and the Nembe communities want the pending hearing and determination of the substantive suit before the lease is renewed.
“They also averred that without allowing the court to decide on the interlocutory injunction, the 5th Defendant (Aiteo) went ahead to make payments to the 2nd Defendant through the Department of Petroleum Resources.
“The $82 million payment was made in five tranches of $18,455,000, $9,277,500, $9,277,500, $6,866,468.23, $20 million and $18,230,000.
“The payments were made on 22nd January 2018, 22nd January 2018, 6th November 2018, 14th November 2018, 18th December 2018 and 22nd January 2019, respectively.
“The conduct of the 5th Defendant/Respondent in ignoring the suit to make payments for the renewal of the OML 29 is capable of generating unprecedented violence in our Kingdom within the OML 29 acreage,” the representatives of the community said.
When the matter was called in the court on Tuesday, the trial judge, Justice Awogboro Abimbola, fixed April 11 for hearing on the motion on notice, while urging both parties to make more efforts in ongoing settlement moves.
Justice Abimbola asked both parties to inform the court of any progress made on the settlement efforts at the next adjourned date.
Earlier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Iniruo Wills, told the court that by proceeding to renew the lease, the 2nd and 5th defendants were sending a dangerous and disturbing signal to both the court and the host community.
Wills informed the court that the host community was having a hard time restraining the youth from taking the law into their hands in the wake of the reported payment of $82 million by Aiteo to the Department of Petroleum Resources for the renewal of OML 29.
He described the development as an affront to the court in view of efforts to settle the substantive suit before the court and had therefore filed a motion to set aside all the steps taken to renew the lease, while urging the court to proceed on the motion on notice.
Also, Counsel to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, S. Soberekon, however, pleaded for more time, saying the motion was served on her client this morning.