By BENJAMIN OMOIKE
A Lagos Federal High Court, on Tuesday, fixed April 26, 2022, for ruling in a N3,451,970,000.00 billion suit filed against Chevron Nigeria Limited, by an Ondo community, over alleged damages of their ecosystem
Justice Lewis Ambrose Allagoa, who presided over the court, fixed the date after counsel to parties in the suit moved and adopted their various applications before the court.
The members of the Ondo community, which includes: Elisha Omomowo; Abiye Ehinmore; John Omomowo; Benson Omomowo; Omotola Omomowo; Eyisogo Omomowo and Shiloh Ebun Omomowo, suing for themselves and as descendants of Adeli Oriyomi Awoye of Awoye, llaje LGA, Ondo State, had dragged Chevron Nigeria Limited and the Honourable Minister of Petroleum, before the court in a suit numbered FHC/L/CS/1815/2020.
The plaintiffs, who are descendants of Adeli Oriyomi Awoye, in Ilaje Local Government Area, Ondo State, have asked the court, to order Chevron Nigeria Limited, to pay them a total sum of N3,451,970,000.00 billion, as general and exemplary damages, for alleged breach of their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and loss of earnings occasioned by loss of their fishing grounds, fishing lines, fishing fences, gears and surface rights to Chevron’s oil operations.
They specifically asked the court for an order awarding the sum of N1,451,970,000 billion, as special damages, for loss of earnings occasioned by loss of their fishing grounds, fishing lines, fishing fences, gears, etc., and surface rights to Chevron’s oil operations.
And an order awarding the sum of N500 million against Chevron, as compensation to them, for the company’s breach of their rights under Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), as well as under other statutes, and the terms of the applicable Oil Mining Lease, as it relates to the killing or displacement of their object of veneration namely; Aghon Erin Adeli.
The Plaintiffs in their endorsement of claims are also seeking a declaration that Chevron’s entry of their land, Omi Adeli (now known as Oke-Oluwa), in Awoye Town of llaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, for the purpose of carrying out easy operations in their oil facilities or having easy access to same without prompt payment of adequate compensation is in breach of the Plaintiffs’ Fundamental Human Rights guaranteed by Sections 43, 44(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Petroleum Act, other statutes, as well as the terms of the applicable Oil Mining lease.
A declaration that Chevron’s killing or permanent displacement of their huge and highly venerated Sea Turtle (Aghon Erin Adeli), kept and nurtured for decades by their matriarch for prayer and conservatory purposes, is in breach of their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as guaranteed by Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), the Petroleum Act, other statutes as well as the applicable Oil Mining Lease.
They also asked the court for an order compelling Chevron to immediately abate and prevent the sea incursion into their community, which was occasioned by Chevron’s alleged ‘reckless dredging of a canal that opens into the sea and leading to their Location “K”.
An order directing the second defendant to closely monitor Chevron’s activities, to ensure full compliance with the terms of the Oil Mining Lease and all environmental protection legislation for the benefit of the Plaintiffs.
But Chevron Nigeria Limited, in its preliminary objection, has asked the court for an order striking out the suit for want of jurisdiction.
At the resumed hearing of the matter today, the Plaintiff’s counsel, Ige Asemudara, told the court that the second defendant, Minister of Petroleum, despite being served with all the processes, did not file and respond in defence of the suit.
But Chevron’s counsel, Mr Ama Etuwewe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), urged the court to strike out the suit for wants of jurisdiction and for being statute bar.
Etuwewe (SAN), said the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit because it bothered on land matter, which can only be entertained by State High court. He added that if the court even had jurisdiction on the suit, it had become statue bar.
He consequently, asked the court to strike out the suit.
Responding, the plaintiff’s counsel, Asemudara, told the court that he had filed a counter-affidavit with written submissions and further affidavit of facts and a written address in opposing the preliminary objection filed by Chevron.
Asemudara particularly told the court to discountenance Chevron’s preliminary objection, on the ground that the same counsel, who had once told an Ondo State High court that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit, is the same counsel now saying that the Federal High did not have jurisdiction to hear the suit.
The Plaintiff’s counsel, while citing Section 41 (2) of 1 Schedule of Petroleum Act, said his clients’ suit is on compensation for disturbance right, which the Federal High Court had a right to entertain. Adding that the suit was not brought under Pipeline Act but Petroleum Act.
He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss Chevron’s preliminary objection with substantive and punitive cost and grant his clients’ requests.
Upon adopting the parties’ processes after moving them, Justice Allagoa, adjourned till April 26, to rule on Chevron’s preliminary objection.