From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Fresh crisis is brewing between Emu-Ebendo and Obodougwa-Ogume communities in Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State following a letter from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a senior advocate of Nigeria, on the enforcement of a Supreme Court judgement over disputed parcels of land between both communities.
The letter titled: ‘Re-An Appeal for Direct Enforcement of the Supreme Court Judgement’ is dated June 10, 2022 and addressed to the traditional ruler of Obodougwa-Ogume.
Malami’s letter with reference no: MJ/SD/16 was occasioned by a petition from Obodougwa over alleged illegal enforcement of the 2003 Supreme Court judgement in favour of Emu-Ebendo on the disputed Iyiechi and Oluji farmland.
The letter which sought to advise the parties on the proper enforcement of the judgement of the apex court, however stated that Obodougwa-Ogume is the host community.
“In the interest of peace, however, I wish to advise that the oil companies abide by these judgements and honour their social contract obligations to Obodougwa-Ogume community as their host community, and extend same to Emu-Ebendo which is obviously a contiguous and impacted community,” it stated.
Rather than douse tension, the letter has heightened the situation in the communities with both parties spoiling for war that may result in loss of lives and wanton destruction of property.
Emu-Ebendo rejected the position of the Attorney General of the Federation, claiming that Obodougwa is their tenant who was given the land they presently occupy by their forebears for farming purposes.
Emu-Ebendo also claimed that the AGF’s position was at variance with the judgement of the Supreme Court which it sought to interprete ab-initio, noting that the office of the AGF might have been mis-informed to arrive at the conclusion.
Former chairman of Emu-Ebendo Community Development Committee, Bernard Odagwe, faulted the AGF, saying that the litigation map which was presented from the High Court to the Supreme Court and was the major evidence that courts relied upon clearly carried distinguishing landmark features.
Odagwe said Obodougwa migrated to their present location which was given to them by Emu-Ebendo for farming before the discovery of oil at Oluji by Elf, adding that the company erroneously paid royalty to Obodougwa, a development that kick started the protracted litigation right from the High Court to the apex court.
“Originally, Obodougwa came in through us and we gave them a place to settle and farm. Before we knew it, Elf paid money to Obodougwa. Rather than taking laws into our hands, we approached the court and the High Court gave us judgement with an order that Obodougwa should refund the N15,000.00 which was erroneously paid to them,” Odagwe said.
According to him, Obodougwa appealed and won at the Court of Appeal, adding that the ruling was upturned by the Supreme Court in 2003.
He said it was not the duty of the AGF to interprete Supreme Court judgements, noting that any party that was not satisfied with court ruling can only approach a superior court to challenge it rather than relying on the AGF for interpretation.
“Is it the duty of the AGF to say the judgment of the Supreme Court cannot stand? It appears the AGF is challenging the Supreme Court judgement which has never happened before.
“We believe that if you are not satisfied, the rules are there, it will take another superior court to overturn a judgement. So they should obey the order of the Supreme Court.
“If this government is claiming to obey the rule of law, this judgement should be obeyed, you don’t need to cut corners,” he added.
Meanwhile, two other communities, Umusam and Ogboli-Ogume, are claiming that they have common boundaries with Emu-Ebendo which, according to them is the landlord of Obodougwa.
Mr. Basil Onyeme, who is community development committee chairman of Umusam, told our correspondent in Asaba that from the beginning, “Emu-Ebendo has boundary with Umusam. Ogboli has boundary with Umusam.
“The oil company is located in Emu-Ebendo. Obodougwa, I don’t know how to put it, are tenants to Emu-Ebendo who gave them where they are residing today. They (Obodougwa) migrated from Ogume to that area where they are residing right now, that is why they called Obodougwa-Ogume.”
On his part, lawyer to Ogboli-Ogume, Jonathan Ekperusi, insisted that the court judgements affirmed Obodougwa-Ogume as customary tenants of Emu-Ebendo, noting that “the current problem arises from the activities of Obodougwa people in exceeding the portion of land given to them by Ebendo.
“Ebendo are neighbours of Ogboli, they have established boundary and there is no dispute about that. It is the tenant of Ebendo, that is Obodougwa, that is causing this problem.”
On the AGF letter, Ekperusi said it was being misinterpreted, maintaining that the Supreme Court in the case of Okochi and Animkwor as reported in 2014, volume 114, law reports of the courts of Nigeria at page 2924, was unambiguous in settling the matter.
“So there is really no land dispute, nobody is saying that Obodougwa does not occupy land there, they occupy land given to them by Emu-Ebendo. That is the case they presented that went to Supreme Court.
“There is no boundary between Ogboli and Obodougwa. Ebendo has boundary with Ogboli, there is no dispute to that. Ebendo is our neighbour, it is Obodougwa that is exceeding the portion of land given to them by Emu-Ebendo.
“So the best Obodougwa can get is the benefit a tenant will get in a location where there is oil activity, and it is not new, there have been several similar scenerios,” he added.
But the Community Development Committee chairman for Obodougwa-Ogume, Anslem Oyibo, countered the positions of Odegwa, Onyeme and Ekperusi, saying that it was wrong to claim that his community is a tenant to Emu-Ebendo.
Oyibo said Obodougwa-Ogume shares common ancestry with Ogboli-Ogume as one of the seven quarters of Ogume clan, and that Obodougwa and Umusam have maintained fraternal ties until recently when Ogboli and Umusam became “newly recruited enemies.”
While not disputing the judgement of the Supreme Court in favour of Emu-Ebendo, Oyibo contended that the courts did not make a declarative claim that Obodougwa are tenants as it was not one of the reliefs sought by Ebendo.
Oyibo stated that the Supreme Court judgement as interpreted by the High Court in Ozoro in suit number HCJ/62/20/28, favoured Ebendo in two parcels of land, that is Oluji and Iyiechi, adding that the judgment never made Obodougwa an integral part of Ebendo.
He contended that the judgment was wrongly being enforced, insisting that the litigation map that showed the disputed area is six kilometers away from the location of the land hosting Energia facility.
According to him, the Ozoro High Court also made a declaration to limit the enforcement of the Supreme Court judgment to the area verged green in the litigation map.
Oyibo argued that Energia and Xenergi facilities are on Obodougwa land, adding that “if you go to Energia, all crops, property that they met in any of their location belong to Obodougwa. The farms surrounding their facility till now belong to Obodougwa.
“Energia facility is not within the area granted Emu-Ebendo by the court, the area granted by the courts is six kilometer from the area where Energia facility is. We are appealing that Ebendo should confine to the area granted to them by the courts.”
Regardless, Osteen Igbapike, lawyer to Emu-Ebendo, said Obodougwa lost the case, and were now grandstanding, and looking for something to hold on to in order not to respect and obey court judgment.
Igbapike said the AGF intervention through the letter to the traditional ruler of Obodougwa, was an abuse of office, maintaining that it was outside the powers of the AGF to review Supreme Court judgement.
“The AGF by the simple doctrine of separation of power cannot review a Supreme Court judgement by letter, that is not his job.
“For the AGF to write to the traditional ruler of Obodougwa is an abuse of his office, he ought to have ignored the petition from Obodougwa because he is dwelling on a judgement of a court.
“It is an abuse of his office because by the Land Use Act, every land in any state is domiciled in the bosom of the governor of the state. So for him to write a letter without consultation of the state government and issue it straight to the traditional ruler of Obodougwa is an abuse of his office,” he stated.
On the 2018 declaration by Ozoro High Court, Igbapike said the court made findings that the place presently occupied by Obodougwa was given to their fore fathers by Emu-Ebendo for farming purposes.
“So they do not own a single land there. The two portions of land that they went to court for was won clearly that they belong to Ebendo. So there is no six kilometer distance from where we are talking about, they are just liers, trouble makers and the government of Delta is aiding and abetting them.
“The 2018 judgement clearly stated that where they stay belong to Ebendo. So they are tenants. They are now grand standing on how to execute and how not to execute Supreme Court judgement.
“Those fighting for land are standing on quick sand, they don’t have a land there, so they cannot be creating trouble for us, they should call a spade by its name and allow peace to reign,” he added.
He alleged that plans to delineate the area by the state government after the court judgement were truncated on the fititious ground that the litigation map used throughout court proceedings was now defective.
Contacted, Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Isaiah Bozimo, said the state government had already waded into the matter but added that he was unaware of the letter from the AGF.
Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Emma Amgbaduba, also confirmed that the state government was on top of the situation to ensure lasting peace in the communities.
Amgbaduba confirmed that both parties were recently summoned to a meeting in Asaba where they presented their positions.
“They presented their respective positions, and government has encouraged them to continue to maintain peace while we look into it and come up with a solution which we think will be beneficial to all.
“And they have all agreed to maintain peace as good citizens of state. Both sides have made presentations and we have taken the presentations into cognisance, and they have agreed to maintain peace,” Amgbaduba told our correspondent.
Pix 1: Odagwe
Pix 2: Onyeme
Pix 3: Oyibo