By Vivian Okejeme, Abuja
Justice Taiwo Taiwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, awarded 81.9 billion as cumulative damages against Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The court held that the judgment debt must be paid within 14 days to the oil communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, after which 8 percent interest will be accruable on the principal sum annually.
Before the court was a joint suit instituted against the two defendants by the aggrieved oil producing communities.
The Ibeno communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga and 9 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.
According to the court, the giant oil company and NNPC were negligent in the way and manner they handled oil spills that caused environmental degradation in the communities.
Justice Taiwo held that the NNPC was only interested in the revenue generations from the oil exploration at the expense of the lives of the people in the communities.
The court said that it 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.
Justice Taiwo noted the claims of Mobil 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 said to be mainly fishermen and farmers.
Besides, 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.
Specifically, the court held that the oral and documentary evidence produced by Mobil company were not in any way helpful to the court as they were targeted at serving predetermined interest
The judge further said that some of the witnesses ought not to have come to the court 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 court further held that both Mobil and NNPC were negligent by their failure to visit places of the leakages of the crude oil that led to the contermination of Rivers and creeks.
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, sub section 1 of the NNPC actb2004.
But the judge held that the instant suit has to do with fundamental rights that cannot be rendered impotent by the statute of limitations.
The judge held that section 11, subsection 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.