…For violating lease agreement with Finima community
…Orders NLNG to stop operations in Finima
BY ANDREW OROLUA
In a landmark judgment, Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL), Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited and two others to pay N100billion damages to oil host, Finima community of Bonny Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State, for breaches of lease agreement and neglect.
The court also granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from carrying out further works or operations on the site of the NLNG Plant in Finima community until due and total compliance with the terms and conditions agreed upon and compliance with relevant laws.
Justice Donatus Okorowo of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, granted the order in a judgment in suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1419/2022, brought against Minister of Petroleum Resources, NNPCL, NLNG Limited and Nigerian Content Development And Monitoring Board ( NCDMB ).
The suit was filed on August 15, 2022, by representatives of the Buoye Omuso (Brown) Major House of Finima (founders of Finima, and owners of all lands in Finima) through their counsel Professor Mike Ozekhome,SAN for themselves and on behalf of the people of Finima community.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Okorowo held that there indeed exists a binding lease agreement among NNPCL, NLNG Ltd and the Finima community; and that the community was entitled to compensation for breach of the said lease agreement.
The court also agreed with the plaintiffs that the defendants’ failure to provide adequate relocation arrangements for affected members of the community was a breach of the said lease agreement and the NCDMB community guidelines.
Justice Okorowo disagreed with the defendants’ objection that the plaintiffs have no locus to institute the suit in a representative capacity for the Finima community because the plaintiffs had testified and provided in court, a copy of the resolution wherein the entire community agreed to that effect.
They also, most notably, tendered an earlier judgment in rem delivered by Justice Inko-Tariah, sitting at the High Court of Rivers state, in suit no: PHC/174/72, wherein the trial Judge had declared that “all land situate and lying between Finima and Bonny belong to the Finima community represented by the Plaintiffs.”
Justice Okorowo further ordered the defendants to effect a lease agreement between the plaintiffs and NLNG and /or any other relevant party within 30 clear days of judgment.
Consequently, the Judge awarded N100 billion as general damages against the defendants for their neglect to recognize the plaintiffs as their host community.
The court added that the NCDMB miscarried in its statutory duty by failing to enforce the lease agreement and its relevant laws against the defendants for their failure to provide adequate compensation and are thus likewise liable.
In their representative capacity the plaintiffs: Warialabo Inima Dickson Brown, Warialabo Airigha Christopher Goni Brown, Warialabo Tuwonimi Iyariari, KSC, had sued for themselves and on behalf of the people of Finima community under the provisions of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act, 2010, and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board – Community Content Guidelines (NCDMB-CCG), 2017.
The court answered in the affirmative to all the seven declarations and prayers sought by the plaintiffs.
It granted all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs, including a declaration that the plaintiffs are the host community housing the NLNG Plant and other NLNG facilities, referred to in the 2nd defendant’s letter dated March 3, 1978, with reference No: GPD.001/S.1/21 50230/225, same being their ancestral homelands.
The court also granted, among other reliefs:
*A declaration that the refusal, failure and/or neglect by the defendants, their representatives, aides, workers, agents, privies, and servants, to enter into a lease agreement with the plaintiffs, and ensure compliance with the terms agreed upon by the 2nd defendant and NCDMB Community Guidelines constitutes a deprivation of the rights of the plaintiffs as host community and a breach of the terms so agreed upon.