By Omoniyi Salaudeen
All prospective corporate organizations and individuals bidding for marginal oil field licenses being issued by the Federal Government may need to do a proper background check of the prevailing circumstances in the Niger Delta region before taking a plunge into an investment that may bring no returns.
For the benefit of hindsight, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) had on April 6, 2020 announced the revocation of 11 of the 13 marginal fields licenses it issued to indigenous oil firms and subsequently threw open a fresh bidding process involving over 50 fields.
But some concerned Ijaw leaders in response filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, seeking to halt the bidding process pending the publication of a comprehensive baseline environmental evaluation, survey/assessment of all oil and gas fields awarded, renewed or divested since 1956 in accordance with international best practices.
The suit seeking to restrain the Federal Government from giving licences for marginal fields in the region was filed by Chief Philip Brown Agu, Founder/President, Assured Ethical Advancement, Femowei Braye Friday and Mrs Rosemary John-Oduone, President, Ijaw Women Connect, on behalf of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality from across the various oil producing communities in the Niger Delta.
This was sequel to the failed effort by the Ijaw Elders Forum to prevail on the concerned authorities to, among other things, determine, once and for all, the issue of ownership of the natural resources of the Niger Delta, provide remediation for the chemically polluted and environmentally ravaged oil communities and compensate the people and affected communities for grievous infractions committed against them.
The suit with number PHC/YEN/CS/81/2020 filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by Baredo Chambers is seeking to restrain the Federal Government from issuing licences for marginal fields to oil prospecting companies. In a public notice dated November 18, 2020 signed by Enie Otrofanowei (Esq), Otrofanowei and Otrofanowei, the counsel to the petitioners warned “all persons and corporate organisations not to apply for or obtain any licence from marginal fields as same is a subject of litigation.”
It reads in part: “This is to inform the general public and all oil prospecting companies that by the suit No: FHC/CO/18/2020 between High Chief Philip Brown AGU (OPU AGU V111) and 2 ORS.vs Hon Attorney General of the Federation & 2 ORS now pending at the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, the plaintiffs are claiming amongst others the following relief:
“An order of injunction restraining the defendant from issuing out licenses for marginal oil fields in Ijaw land unless and until a comprehensive baseline environmental evaluation, survey/assessment of all oil and gas fields awarded, renewed or divested since 1956 is done by Independent International experts and published in accordance with international best practices.
“There is also pending a motion seeking an order restraining the defendants/respondent from further advertising or receiving bids in respect of marginal fields pending the hearing and determination of the suit, restraining the defendants/Respondents from giving out/approving licences in respect of marginal fields pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
However, while the matter is still pending before the court, some concerned elders are getting increasingly worried by the intrigues that have been trailing the proceedings of the case.
The Secretary, Ijaw Elders Forum, Mr Efiye Bribena, speaking with Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, decried the endless adjournment of the case, adding that the youths might be pushed to take laws into their hands, if the legal option being explored to seek redress for years of neglect suffered by the people of the oil producing communities is frustrated by the Federal Government.
He said: “Ijaw people have suffered a lot of environmental degradation. Means of livelihood have been taken away from the communities through oil exploration activities. Meanwhile, the state which is the main beneficiary of the oil exploration activities is not interested in addressing most of these human right issues. The people have waited in vain for the government to address these heinous crimes against humanity and have decided to seek legal redress, especially with the recent bidding for marginal field licence.
“What we are saying is that the bid round should be suspended until these issues are addressed. But the Federal Government is trying to use all kinds of tricks to avoid addressing the issues in court. They are not showing any seriousness in defending the matter. They are making efforts to frustrate the matter by not coming to court, seeking endless adjournments, while at the same time they are actively trying to complete the bid round.
“Government should have a change of attitude. It is in the interest of government to address this issue because those of us who have decided to go to court might be pushed aside by the youths who would not be patient and that may lead to crisis in the region.”
The National Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group, Comrade Joseph Evah, also speaking on the matter, said that the goal post shifting strategy adopted by the court to thwart the effort aimed at peacefully resolving the contentious issues might jeopardise the prevailing peaceful atmosphere in the Niger Delta region.
“The painful thing is that they are shifting the goal post in our own state in our own region. The court is not in Zamfara State, it is not in Boko Haram state of Borno, it is in our own land. If we cannot get justice in our own land, where else are we going to get justice? That is why we are appealing to the international community; that is why we are appealing to all the embassies in Nigeria to prevail on the Federal Government to allow this peaceful process to continue because they are pushing us to the wall.
“They are provoking the people of the Niger Delta with the manner in which they are treating this matter. If I could confront the military regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha through my lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) and stopped the dredging of River Niger for not doing environmental assessment impact, I don’t know why this insult is coming against our people in a democracy. We will not accept it,” he fumed.
Also, on his part, an environmental activist, Morris Allagoa, while lamenting the endless deprivation the people of the Niger Delta region have been suffering since the discovery of crude oil, urged the Federal Government to toe the path of peace in the overall interest of the country.
He said: “I think these adjournments are not unconnected with attempts at getting orders or instructions from the Federal government on what to tell those who have approached the court on the subject matter.
“Considering the continuing oil industry-induced environmental pollution and degradation with consequences like loss of livelihood, health challenges, deaths, and violent conflicts, there is a need for government to take the plaintiffs seriously. This is even more so as the locals are denied participation and ownership in the oil industry.
“It would profit the country more in positive ways, if this peaceful approach to the resolution of the contentious issues is given the desired attention. I want to urge the authorities to ensure that the needful is done on this matter.”
Meanwhile, the court presided over by Justice Abimbola Awogboro has adjourned the case till April 28. The petitioners are praying the court to restrain the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Minister, Petroleum Resources and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Resources, Timpre Sylva, from taking further action on the issuance of licences.
Stakeholders urged the Federal Government not to miss this opportunity to peacefully resolve the genuine concerns of the people.