ExxonMobil Corporation says it is considering next steps to deal with the order of the Federal High Court, Abuja for it to pay about N81.9billion compensation to some oil-bearing communities in Akwa Ibom State.
The communities located under Ibeno Local Government Area of the state where Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MPNU), the upstream Nigerian subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation.
The company has its operational headquarters in the area allegedly devastated by an oil spill reportedly traced to the company’s facilities between 2000 and 2010.
Since the court order, ExxonMobil has not reacted formally to it.
An environmental rights group, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) on Monday urged ExxonMobil to comply with the order for it to pay the compensation.
But when MEDIATRACNET contacted ExxonMobil on Tuesday for its reaction, its spokesperson, Ogechukwu Udeagha said in his response to an email sent to him: “We (ExxonMobil) disagree with the court’s holding that MPN (Mobil Producing Nigeria) is liable for damages, and we are considering next steps,” Udeagha did not expatiate on what the next steps.
However, legal experts say they may include filing an appeal to get the judgment set aside.
The affected fishing and farming communities dragged Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and its joint venture partner, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to court in 2012 to demand compensation for the incident, which they claimed devastated their farmlands and streams.
In its judgment, the Court gave the company and NNPC 14 days ultimatum to pay the compensation to the affected communities.
The Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Godwin Ojo, who described the court judgement as a “landmark on the long walk to environmental justice and the protection of the environment and livelihoods,” urged strict compliance.
“The judgement is also significant because payment of compensation to victims of oil pollution will impact positively on the lives of the people of the Niger Delta suffering under the heavy burden of oil spills pollution and destruction of their livelihoods, ” Ojo said.
Such court judgement, he said, represents “a conflict arbitration resolution mechanism that will help to rekindle hope in the court system that justice may be delayed by oil companies with war chest for huge legal fees, but cannot be denied. “There is no more hiding place for oil companies and they should take full responsibility to comply immediately, and to clean up and pay up compensation immediately”.
Ojo said this ruling and other recent “judgements delivered by courts in the Netherlands involving fisher men from Goi, in Rivers state, Oruma in Bayelsa state and Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom state against Shell, and the decision recently handed down in the case instituted by the Ogale community in Eleme Local government area of Rivers state against Shell in the courts of justice in London, would galvanize local communities to redouble their effort to hold all polluters in the country accountable for their deleterious actions,” the rights group said. ERA/FoEN Director of Programmes, Mike Karikpo, applauded the Ibeno Communities for remaining steadfast in the pursuit of justice despite all odds.
The group also praised the Nigerian judiciary for the rational and courageous decisions that they have been handing down recently in cases involving local communities and the multinational oil and gas companies who often used their deep pockets to capture and truncate the judicial process.
“ExxonMobil should not repeat the stance of Shell, which refused to pay the N17billion compensation awarded by a Nigerian court to the Ejama-Ebubu community in Eleme local government area of Rivers state for oil spills that devastated their land in 2010.
“This spill occurred during the Nigerian civil war 1967-1970 and Shell has refused to undertake proper cleanup of the spill or pay adequate compensation.
“In November 2020, Shell lost an attempt to extricate itself from responsibility for the spill and the compensation cost awarded against it.
“The Nigerian supreme court rejected Shell’s bid to set aside the 2010 compensation award, with accruing interest the compensation claim now stands at N180billion which is far less than the monumental environmental damage, biodiversity losses and destruction of livelihoods,” Karikpo said.
Meanwhile, reports are that
Ibeno community has insisted on the company complying with the court judgment.
The community is reported to have issued 14 days ultimatum within which to pay oil spillage damages.
The community threatened dire consequences against MPNU and NNPC if they failed to pay within the stipulated deadline provided by the court.
The ultimatum was issued during an emergency town hall meeting with stakeholders of Ibeno Community last weekend, attended by the Paramount Ruler of Ibeno Local Government Area.