A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, awarded cumulative damages of N81.9 billion against Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and its Joint venture partner, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The judgment debt, the court ordered must be paid to the oil-producing communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State within 14 days from the day the judgment was delivered, after which eight per cent interest will be accruable on the principal sum annually, according to Tribune Online.
Delivering judgment in a joint suit filed against the two defendants by the aggrieved oil-producing communities, the trial Judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo held that the American oil company and the NNPC were negligent in the way and manner they handled oil spills that caused environmental degradation in the communities.
The Judge particularly took swipe at the NNPC for being interested in the revenue generations from the oil exploration at the expense of the lives of the people in the communities.
Justice Taiwo said he believed the oral and documentary evidence adduced 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, he noted Mobil’s claims that it did clean up exercise and held that the American company failed to address the compensation that would have mitigated the economic losses of the people, who are mainly fishermen and farmers.
The Judge described as unreliable, witnesses called by Mobil adding that, for no reason, they became evasive during cross-examination by counsel to the plaintiffs.
The court held that the oral and documentary evidence produced by Mobil company was not in any way helpful to the court as they were targeted at serving the predetermined interest and that both Mobil and NNPC were negligent by their failure to visit places of the crude oil leakages that led to the contamination of rivers and creeks in the communities.
Justice Taiwo rejected the claims of the NNPC that the suit was statute-barred in 2012 when it was filed by the aggrieved plaintiffs.
The NNPC had claimed that the suit was not filed within 12 months by the plaintiffs as required by the provision of Section 12(1) of the NNPC Act 2004.
But the judge held that the instant suit has to do with fundamental rights that cannot be rendered impotent by the statute of limitations adding also 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 consequently awarded the sum of N42.8 billion as damages for intangible losses, N21.9 billion special damages as annotated, and N10 billion as general damages.
The Ibeno communities, led by Obong Effiong Archianga and nine others had, through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu (SAN) brought the action against NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, and ExxonMobil Corporation seeking about N100 billion compensation for economic losses suffered from oil spillages caused by the defendants during exploration.
The third defendant was however deleted from the court action when the court found out that there was no cause of action against it.