A Federal High Court in Yenagoa on Wednesday, adjourned until Feb 25, 2021, a suit against Aiteo Exploration and Production Limited, pending a Court of Appeal ruling.
Justice Abimbola Awogboro had on March 3, 2020, declined to stop proceedings in the ongoing litigation by Nembe Communities, hosts to Oil Mining Lease (OML 29) over the adverse impact of oil exploration.
Awogboro had joined Aiteo Eastern Exploration Limited and other adjourning communities in the suit, but declined an application to strike out Aiteo Exploration and Production Company from the suit.
The judge maintained that 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 the matter.
She explained that the adjournment was to see if the appellate court will grant an order on the appeal before it.
The Nembe communities in Bayelsa had filed the suit against Aiteo Exploration and Production Limited, but another firm Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Exploration Company approached the court to be joined as the holder of OML 29 lease.
Aiteo Exploration and Exploration had approached the court of Appeal in Port Harcourt and applied to the Federal High Court to stay proceedings pending the determination of the appeal.
Earlier, Lead Counsel to the Nembe communities, Mr Iniruo Wills, told the court that he filed a counter-affidavit opposing the application for stay of execution and wondered why the applicants cannot await the ruling of the court.
He said that arguments canvassed by Aiteo Exploration and Production, who is just a party out of the 21 parties to the suit amounted to holding the entire judicial process to ransom.
He prayed 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.
Mr Andrew Oru, Counsel to Aiteo Exploration, urged the court not to entertain the matter pending a decision of the appellate court.
The OML, was supposed to be renewed on June 30, 2019.
The court had on June 24, 2019, declined an application to halt the renewal of OML 29 pending, the determination of a suit by Nembe communities in Bayelsa.
The OML 29 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 expired on June 30, 2020, while the operator of the oilfields had commenced renewal formalities with the payment of 82 million dollars to the Department of Petroleum Resources.
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 the 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 and The Deeds Registrar, Bayelsa Ministry of Lands.
Shell Petroleum Development Company in 2015 divested its equity in OML 29 and transferred its interest in the oil block, including the 97 kilometer Nembe Creek Trunk Line 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.