A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and its joint venture partner, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to, within 14 days, payN81.9billion to a number of communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, affected by oil spills between 2000 and 2010.
The money formed the damages Justice Taiwo Taiwo awarded against Mobil and NNPC in a judgment he delivered on Monday in a suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/54/2012 filed by representatives of the communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga.
In the judgment, Justice Taiwo agreed with plaintiffs’ lawyer, Chief Lucius Nwosu (SAN) that Mobil and NNPC were negligent in the way they handled oil spills that caused environmental degradation in the communities.
Justice Taiwo came down hard on NNPC for being interested in the revenue generations from oil exploration activities at the expense of the lives of the people in the affected communities.
The judge said he believed the oral and documentary evidence submitted 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.
He said although Mobil and NNPC carried out clean up exercise, they failed to address the compensation that would have mitigated the economic losses of the people said to be mainly fishermen and farmers.
Justice Taiwo described as unreliable the witnesses called by Mobil, noting that for no reason, they became evasive while being cross-examined by plaintiffs’ lawyer.
He added that some of the witnesses ought not to have testified at all going by the discrepancies in the documents brought to the court, adding that they only embarked on guess research that is not reliable.
The judge held that the oral and documentary evidence produced by Mobil company were not helpful to the court as they were targeted at serving pre-determined interest
He said 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 NNPC’s contention that the suit was statute barred in 2012 when it was filed, noting the suit has to do with fundamental rights that cannot be rendered impotent by the statute of limitations.
He noted that Section 11(5) of the Oil Pipeline Act makes it mandatory for oil companies to monitor and repair their pipelines to avoid spillages and environmental degradation.
Justice Taiwo proceeded to award N42.8b (as damages for intangible losses), N29.1billion (as special damages) and N10 billion (as general damages).
He said the judgment sum, must be paid within 14 days, failing which it will attract 8 per cent interest annually.
The judge excluded that third defendant (ExxonMobil Corporation) from any liability, holding that the plaintiffs failed to establish any cause of action against it.