The strange thing about Nigeria, is that we are so isolated in our different regions, that we never quite understand or appreciate the issues that other regions face. This is especially true of the Niger Delta regions and their continuing struggle to find a balance between protecting and preserving their environment and allowing the multinational oil companies that extract oil from its oil rich lands. One of the ways they have found a compromise is through compensation for land damaged by the drilling activities of these companies. This has led to several decades in courts trying arbitrate a compromise.
The recent round of court battles have revolved around a recent judgement by the Federal High Court of Uyo against Mobil Producing Nigeria limited granting the communities who had dragged the oil giant to court the sum of N1.2 billion plus interest as compensation for their land. The suit no: FHC/UY/CS/53/2003, had been 11 years in the system and the resolution by lauded by some parties. However, Mobil contested the judgment citing that it had honoured its previous obligations and asserting the the Federal High Court in Uyo had limited jurisdiction in deciding cases of this matter. They took their case to the Calabar Court of Appeal contesting the court’s decision and by extension the court’s legal rights to even arbitrate in cases of this nature.
It has taken another four years, but the Appeal court finally passed its verdict, and it sides squarely with Mobil Nigeria on one of the complaints before its hallowed halls.
The Court of Appeal, Calabar on July 13, 2018 delivered Judgment in favour of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (Mobil) in an Appeal arising from the Judgment of the Federal High Court, Uyo delivered on March 27, 2014 on compensation to land. It states that according to Section 39 of the Land Use Act, Federal High Court Uyo lacks the necessary legal backing to intervene in Land use cases of this nature. The Judgment was delivered by the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Calabar, Hon Justice I.M.M. Saulawa, with Hon. Justice S.J. Adah and Hon. Justice J.O.K Oyewole also proved that Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited had indeed already paid compensation for the land in question to the appropriate authorities and as such had no say in how the funds were actually distributed. It might tell badly on the company that it didn’t ensure the money actually got the people who needed it, but it isn’t obligated to.
The counsel to Mobil, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu SAN, as canvassed by Ituah Imhanze, Esq. of Kenna Partners have deliberately set a precedent for future suits regarding land use. It will be interesting to see how this decision is invoked in future cases.