The Federal High Court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, has adjourned to February 25, 2021 on the case between OML29 host communities and Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited, on the adverse impact of oil exploration on them.
The adjournment, according to the presiding judge, Justice Abimbola Awogboro, is to await the ruling of the Court of Appeal, on an interlocutory appeal by a subsidiary of Aiteo in the suit.
Awogboro had in March 2020 declined to halt proceedings in the ongoing litigation by OML29 communities, while Aiteo had approached the court of Appeal in Port Harcourt and applied for a stay proceedings pending the determination of the appeal.
The adjournment followed arguments by counsels to Aiteo and Nembe communities on the court’s competence to entertain the case while an appeal to its earlier decisIon.
Awogboro said she could not stay proceeding on the matter, in the interest of other parties in the case numbering over 20, adding that until she was served an order of the superior court, she would continue hearing.
She explained that the adjournment was to see if the appellate court could give and order on the appeal before she could stall proceedings.
Counsel to OML29 communities, Mr Iniruo Wills, told the court that they had filed a counter affidavit opposing the application for stay of execution and wondered why the applicants cannot await the Court’s ruling.
Wills said that arguments canvassed by Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited, who is just a party out of the 21 parties to the suit, amounted to holding the entire judicial process to ransom.
He urged the court to consider the plight of the law abiding people of Nembe, who had taken the peaceful route in seeking legal redress to ventilate their grievances, rather than resorting to self help.
Counsel to Aiteo Exploration, Andrew Oru, urged the Federal High Court to steer clear of the matter, pending a decision of the Appeal Court, explaining that they were not the beneficiaries of OML29 licence.
OML29 lease expired on June 30, 2020, while the operator of the oilfields had commenced renewal formalities with the payment of $82million to the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR.
Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, in 2015 divested its equity in OML29 and transferred its interest in the oil block, including the 97 kilometers NCTL for $1.7 billion to Aiteo.