By John Ikani
Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court yesterday ordered oil giant, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and its Joint venture partner, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to pay the total sum of N81.9 billion as damages to Ibeno communities in Akwa Ibom State over oil pollution.
The court also ordered that the sum be paid to the concerned communities in Ibeno Clan within 14 days, after which a post-judgment interest of 8% per annum would be chargeable.
It would be recalled that Ibeno communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga and nine others had through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu, SAN, brought the action against NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and ExxonMobil Corporation.
They had sought about N100 billion compensation for economic losses suffered from oil spillages caused by the defendants during exploration.
The 3rd defendant – ExxonMobil Corporation – was however deleted from the court action when the court established that there was no cause of action against it.
Delivering judgment on Monday in a joint suit instituted against the two defendants by the aggrieved oil producing communities, Justice Taiwo held that the American oil company and NNPC were negligent in the way and manner they handled oil spills that caused environmental degradation in the communities.
He particularly took swipe at the NNPC for being interested in the revenue generations from oil exploration at the expense of the lives of the people of the communities.
The judge held that the oral and documentary evidence adduced by the plaintiffs supported their claims that lives were made miserable for them when their waters and land were polluted through crude oil leakages from old oil pipelines belonging to the defendants.
He noted the claims of Mobil that it did clean up exercise and held that the oil giant failed to address the compensation that would have mitigated the economic losses of the people said to be mainly fishermen and farmers.
Besides, the judge described as unreliable witnesses called by Mobil adding that for no reason they became evasive during cross examination by counsel to the plaintiffs.
He held that the oral and documentary evidence produced by Mobil Company were not in any way helpful to the court as they were targeted at serving predetermined interest.
The judge further said that some of the witnesses ought not to have come to the court at all going by the discrepancies in the documents brought to the court, adding that they only embarked on guess research that was not reliable.
He further held that both Mobil and NNPC were negligent by their failure to visit places of the leakages of the crude oil that led to the contamination of Rivers and creeks.
Justice Taiwo rejected the claims of the Mobile joint venture partner, NNPC, that the suit was statute barred in 2012 when it was filed by the aggrieved plaintiffs.
The NNPC had claimed that the suit was not filed within 12 months by the plaintiffs as required by the provision of Section 12, Sub Section 1 of the NNPC Act, 2004.
However, the judge held that the instant suit had to do with fundamental rights that cannot be rendered impotent by the statute of limitations.
He stated further that Section 11, Subsection 5 of the Oil Pipeline Act made it mandatory for oil companies to monitor and repair their pipelines to avoid spillages and environmental degradation.
Justice Taiwo consequently awarded the sum of N42.8 billion as damages for intangible losses, N21.9 billion for special damages as annotated and N10 billion as general damages.