A Federal High Court on Friday, 15th September, 2022, in a landmark judgement, awarded the sum of 100 billion naira in suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/1419/2022, against the Defendants. Hon. Justice Donatus Okorowo of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, in the said suit delivered judgment in favour of the representatives of the Buoye Omuso (Brown) Major House of Finima (Founders of Finima, and owners of all lands in Finima).
The plaintiffs had on 15th August, 2022, filed the suit through their Counsel, Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN, for themselves and on behalf of the People of Finima Community of Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State, suing four defendants, namely, the Federal Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited ( NNPC ),Nigeria LNG Limited and Nigerian Content Development And Monitoring Board (NCDMB ).
The court in its judgement held,agreeing with Ozekhome who led a team of lawyers comprising of Benson Igbanoi, Esq, Mrs Amauche Onyedum, amongst others, that, there exists a binding lease agreement between the NNPC, the NLNG Ltd and the FINIMA community; and that the community was entitled to compensation for breach of the said lease agreement.
They also complained about the Defendants’ failure to provide adequate relocation arrangements for affected members of the community which resulted in the breach of the said lease agreement and the NCDMB community guidelines. The court also held that the plaintiffs have the locus to institute the suit in a representative capacity for the FINIMA community,as they testified and provided in court, a copy of the resolution wherein the entire community agreed to that effect. They also,most notably, tendered an earlier judgement in rem delivered by Hon. Justice Inko-Tariah, sitting at the High Court of Rivers state, in suit no: PHC/174/72, wherein the trial Judge had declared that, “all land situate and lying between FINIMA and Bonny belong to the FINIMA community represented by the Plaintiffs”.
Hon. Justice Okorowo also ordered the Defendants to effect a lease agreement between the plaintiffs and the NLNG and /or any other relevant party within thirty clear days of judgement.The Judge awarded 100 Billion naira as general damages against the defendants for their neglect to recognize the plaintiffs as their host community. He further granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from carrying out further works or operations on the site of the NLNG Plant in Finima Community until due and total compliance with the terms and conditions agreed upon and compliance with relevant laws.
The court added that, the NCDMB miscarried in its statutory duty by failing to enforce the lease agreement and its relevant laws against the defendants for their failure to provide adequate compensation and are thus likewise liable. Justice Okorowo answered in the affirmative to all the declarations and prayers sought by the Plaintiffs,Warialabo Inima Dickson Brown, Warialabo Airigha Christopher Goni Brown, Warialabo Tuwonimi Iyariari, KSC (Suing for themselves and on behalf of the People of Finima Community of Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State) under the provisions of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act, 2010, and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board – Community Content Guidelines (NCDMB-CCG), 2017.
The Honorable court consequently, granted all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs,to wit:
* A DECLARATION that the Plaintiffs who sued in a representative capacity for themselves and on behalf of the Buoye Omuso (Brown) Major House of Finima, (Founders of Finima, and owners of all lands in Finima) and Finima Community in Bonny Local Government Area, Rivers State, is the host community housing the NLNG Plant and other NLNG facilities, referred to in the 2ndDefendant’s letter dated 3rd March, 1978, with reference No: GPD.001/S.1/21 50230/225, same being their ancestral homelands.
* A DECLARATION that the refusal, failure and/or neglect by the Defendants, their representatives, aides, workers, agents, privies, and servants, to enter into a lease agreement with the Plaintiffs, and ensure compliance with the terms agreed upon by the 2ndDefendant and NCDMB Community guidelines constitutes a deprivation of the rights of the Plaintiffs as host community and a breach of the terms so agreed upon.
* A DECLARATION that the Defendants ought not to have commenced any form of business in the Plaintiffs community without due, total and adequate compensation to and relocation of the Plaintiffs to a decent settlement which shall be in compliance with the terms duly entered into by the 2ndDefendant; and in any case not below the standards of what the Plaintiffs had enjoyed before the coming of the Defendants to their ancestral lands.
* A DECLARATION that the Defendants’ non-compliance with the required terms, conditions and guidelines of extant laws, has had direct consequential adverse effect on the Plaintiffs, their livestock, buildings, tombs, totems, residential homes, streams, cash crops, minerals, life, means of livelihood and dignity of the human person.
* A DECLARATION that the dealings on the said lands and alleged compensations clandestinely and surreptitiously paid to any person or persons not being the representatives of the Buoye Omuso(Brown) Major House and members of Finima Community are illegal, wrongful, unlawful, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
* A DECLARATION that the acts of the Defendants, whether by themselves, their workers, representatives, privies, servants, agents, e.t.c, in demolishing all, or any part of the structures, built and erected by the Plaintiffs in Finima community, including farmlands, economic trees, livestock, totems, relies, etc, and consfication of ancestral lands in Finima Community contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act, 2010, and Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board – Community Content Guidelines (NCDMB-CCG), 2017, are therefore illegal, wrongful unlawful, unconscionable, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
* A DECLARATION that it is, illegal, wrongful, unconscionable and unlawful for the Defendants to refuse, neglect and fail to ensure due compliance with the provisions of Sections 25, 26, 27, and 28(2) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act, 2010, and Guidelines 1.0 to 7.0 of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board – Community Content Guidelines (NCDMB-CCG), 2017, as they affect the Plaintiffs’ land in their community before or after the commencement of work, or soon after the coming into effect of the instant Act and guidelines by the 3rd
* AN ORDER directing the Defendants to effect a lease agreement between the Plaintiffs and the NLNG and or any other interested or relevant party within 30 clear days from the date judgment is delivered in favor of the Plaintiffs in this suit.
* AN ORDER directing the Defendants to accord and award the Plaintiffs directly, their entitlements, privileges and benefits which have accrued and accruable to the Plaintiffs as host community that bear the brunt of the Defendants’ operations.
AN ORDER OF PERPETUAL INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants, whether by themselves, their representatives, workers, servants, agents and/or privies howsoever called, from carrying out further works or operations on the site of the NLNG Plant in Finima Community until due and total compliance with the terms and conditions agreed upon by the Plaintiffs with the 3rdDefendant, the provisions of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act, 2010, and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board – Community Content Guidelines (NCDMB-CCG), 2017, as well as other extant regulatory requirements.