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Environmental Degradation: Court Fixes April 26 For Ruling In N3.4bn Ondo Oil Community Suit Against Chevron

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A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos today, fixed April 26, 2022, for ruling on a N3. 451, 970, 000 billion suit filed against Chevron Nigeria Limited by an oil community in Ondo State, over alleged damages to their ecosystem

Justice Lewis Ambrose Allagoa who presided over the matter , fixed the date after counsel to parties in the suit moved and adopted their various application before the court.

Members of Ondo State oil bearing community, who instituted the suit includes: Elisha Omomowo; Abiye Ehinmore; John Omomowo; Benson Omomowo; Omotola Omomowo; Eyisogo Omomowo and Shiloh Ebun Omomowo, sueing for themselves and as descendants Of Adeli Oriyomi Awoye of Awoye, llaje LGA, Ondo State, had dragged Chevron Nigeria Limited and 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 billion, as general and exemplary damages, for alleged breach of their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and for loss of earnings occasioned by loss of their fishing grounds, fishing lines, fishing fences, gears and surface rights to the Chevron’s oil operations.

The plaintiffs 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 Chevron’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 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 asked for 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 Minining 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, Mr Ige Asemudara, told the court that the second defendant, Minister of State for Petroleum, despite being served with all the processes, did not file any response in defence of the suit.

But Chevron’s counsel, Mr. Mr. Ama Etuwewe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, urged the court to strike out the suit for wants of jurisdiction and for being statue barred.
Etuwewe, SAN, said the court lacked jurisdisction to entertain the suit because it bothered on land matter, which can only be entertained by State High Courts. He added that even if the court has jurisdisction on the suit, it has become statue barred.
He consequently, asked the court to strike out the suit.
Responding, the plaintiff’s counsel, Asemudara, told the court that he has 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 once told an Ondo State High court that it lacked jurisdisction to entertain the suit, It is the same counsel now saying that Federal High Court did not have jurisdisction 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 land, which the Federal High Court has 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 substantial and punitive cost and grant his clients’ requests.

Upon adopting parties’ processes after moving same, Justice Allagoa, adjourned till April 26, to rule on Chevron’s preliminary objection or judgment on the substantive suit against it.

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