The people of Nembe-Bassambiri in Bayelsa hasurged the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, to halt the renewal of lease for OML 29 to Aiteo pending the outcome of a substantive suit before the court.
The development is sequel to plans by the Minister of Petroleum Resources to renew the lease of OML 29 oil block to Aiteo for $82 million without regard to the position of the community in Suit No. FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015.
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 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 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.
The application sought an order restraining the Minister of Petroleum Resources from granting any 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 went ahead to make payments to the 2nd Defendant through the Department of Petroleum Resources.
“The 82 million dollars 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.
At the resumed hearing in Court 2, Federal High Court, Yenagoa, the trial 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.
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 if $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.
Counsel to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, S. Soberekon, however, pleaded for time as the motion was served on her client that very morning.
On Aug. 4, 2015, the Nembe-Bassambiri community through their lawyers, Ntephe, Smith and Wills had asked the court to stop the renewal of OML 29 to Aiteo on several grounds.
The grounds, including an alleged attempt by Aiteo to escape their development and social obligations to the host community.
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.”