Port Harcourt — It was a mild drama in the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, as host communities of OML 29 displayed their disappointment over the absence of the Presiding Judge, Justice Awogboro Abimbola.
The Judge’s absence stalled the hearing on the suit filed by the communities against the renewal of OML 29 licence for Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company.
Recall that the people of Nembe-Bassambiri in Bayelsa, the host communities of OML29, had approached the Court to halt the renewal of the lease for OML 29 to Aiteo, pending the outcome of a substantive suit before the court.
The development is a sequel to plans by the Minister of Petroleum Resources to renew the lease of OML 29 oil block for Aiteo for the sum of $82million, without regard to the position of the community in Suit No. FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015.
The application sought an order restraining the Minister of Petroleum Resources from granting an application for the renewal of OML29 beyond the subsisting 30-year term, which will expire on May 30th, 2019.
But the absence of Justice Awogboro Abimbola stalled hearing on a suit filed by Nembe Community seeking to halt the renewal of the OML29 lease.
Officials of the court informed the parties to the case that Justice Abimbola’s absence was due to the demise of her mother and communicated the new adjourned date of Maay 16, 2019.
Reacting to the development, Legal Adviser to the Opu-Nembe Council of Chiefs, Diewerio Wuku, said that more communities in the Nembe Kingdom have indicated interest in joining the suit.
“The courtroom was filled to the brim as more Chiefs from Nembe who are seeking to join the case were disappointed at the court not sitting and their interest to join is welcome.
“The Nembe Chiefs resolved to approach the courts to seek redress to avoid people resorting to self-help,” Wuku said.
Also speaking, the Spokesman of the Nembe Council of Chiefs, Chief Nengi James, urged the Judiciary to rise to the occasion and dispense justice to the people.
“We are used to the antics of the oil companies and we are hopeful that the judiciary will rise up to the occasion. If they have access to everything, they should know that we have access to the creeks,” the chief stated.
It should be noted that the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, in 2015 divested its equity in OML29 and transferred its interest in the oil bloc including the Nembe Creek Trunkline, NCTL for the sum of $1.7 billion, to Aiteo.
The Nembe communities, however, frowned at SPDC’s divestment and transfer of interest to Aiteo (an indigenous company) without factoring in what they described as “social obligations”to the host communities.
They subsequently approached the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, to halt the renewal of the OML 29 lease which is due to lapse in June 2019 but the court urged the parties to resolve the disagreement by dialogue.