A Federal High Court in Abuja has given Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, and its joint venture partner, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) 14 days within which to pay about N81.9 billion as compensation to communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom impacted by oil spill .
The order was given on Monday in a ruling by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, in a judgment debt case filed against the joint venture oil companies for economic losses suffered by members of the communities from oil spillages due to their exploration activities.
Failure to carry out the order and pay the compensation to the communities within the stipulated time would attract an accruable interest of 8 percent on the principal sum annually.
Delivering judgment on a joint case filed against the partners by the aggrieved oil-producing communities, Justice Taiwo held that ExxonMobil and NNPC were negligent in the way they handled oil spills that caused environmental degradation in the communities.
In his judgement, Justice Taiwo, particularly took a swipe at the NNPC for being interested in the revenue generations from the oil exploration at the expense of the lives of the people in the communities.
The judge said he believed the oral and documentary evidence by the plaintiffs to support their claims that lives were made miserable for them when their water and land were polluted through crude oil leakages from old oil pipelines.
While acknowledging ExxonMobil claims of Mobil that it did clean up exercise, Justice Taiwo, however, 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.
The oral and documentary evidence produced by ExxonMobil were not in any way helpful to the court as they were targeted at serving predetermined interest.
Therefore, the federal high court judge 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, adding that the 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.
Ibeno communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga and 9 others had through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu, SAN, instituted a legal action against NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and ExxonMobil Corporation.
They had sought for about N100 billion compensation for economic losses suffered from oil spillages caused by ExxonMobil during exploration.
The 3rd defendant was however deleted from the court action when the court established that there was no cause of action against it.
Multinational oil exploration and production companies have been in constant conflict with host communities over oil spillages and subsequent environmental degradation.
Dutch appeals court ruled that the Nigerian branch of oil giant, Shell, is responsible for damage caused by leaks in the Niger Delta and therefore ordered Shell Nigeria to pay compensation to Nigerian farmers, while the subsidiary and its Anglo-Dutch parent company were told to install equipment to prevent future damage.