By Kenechukwu Obiajuru, Yenagoa 

The Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa on Monday declined an application to halt the renewal of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 pending the determination of an pending suit by Nembe communities in Bayelsa.

The 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 will expire on June 30, while the operator of the oilfields had commenced renewal formalities with the payment of 82 million dollars to the Department of Petroleum Resources.

Justice Awogboro Abimbola, in a ruling in response to an application by Lead Counsel to the Plaintiffs, Mr Iniruo Wills, that the renewal of the lease be halted decline to grant the application and adjourned the case to Sept 27 to hear applications of parties seeking to join the suit.

Abimbola regretted that she was unable to take the applications for joinder to the case as slated because she has 10 pending judgements to deliver before the court goes on vacation on July 3. 

Some 40 chiefs from Nembecommunities seeking to join the suit besieged the court premises as early as 8am.

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.

Members of Ogbolomabiri in Nembe and adjourning communities had earlier filed applications for joinder in the matter. 

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.”  

Speaking after the court session, Lead Counsel to the Plaintiffs, Wills noted that the interest of other Nembe communities was an indication that almost all the host communities to OML 29 were unanimous in the quest for welfare for the oil communities.

He assured that the communities would remain law-abiding and await the decision of the courts on the pending case and hoped that the dependants would not jeopardise the ongoing court process.

“We will expect all the parties to act in good faith and await the outcome of the court, and on the part of the defendants, we expect them to await the decisions of the court, so we don’t expect them to be mischievous and sabotage the court process,” Wills said. 

On the earlier moves for out of court settlement, Wills said that the communities were eager and willing to find an amicable resolution of the issues on the negotiating table but regretted that the oil firm did not approach the talks in good faith adding that they were merely adopting delay tactics to waste time while their operation goes on.

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