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Aiteo’s OML 29 suit: Court awaits Appeal Court ruling on joinders

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By Kenechukwu Obiajuru, Yenagoa

A Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, on Wednesday, adjourned to February 25, 2021, to await the ruling of the Court of Appeal on an interlocutory appeal by an Aiteo subsidiary in a suit with its host communities in Bayelsa.

Justice Abimbola Awogboro had on March 3, 2020, declined to halt proceedings in the ongoing litigation by Nembe communities, hosts to Oil Mining Lease (OML 29) over the adverse impact of oil exploration on them.

Awogboro had joined Aiteo Eastern Exploration Limited and other adjourning communities in the suit but declined an application to strike out Aiteo Exploration and Production Company from the suit.

The adjournment followed heated arguments by counsels to Aiteo Exploration and Production and that of Nembe communities on the court’s competence to entertain the case while an appeal to its earlier decision.

The jude maintained that she could not stay proceeding on the matter in the interest of other parties in the case numbering over 20, adding that until she was served an order of the superior court, she would continue hearing.

She explained that the adjournment was to see if the appellate court could give an order on the appeal before it before she could stall proceedings.

The Nembe communities in Bayelsa had filed a suit against Aiteo Exploration and Production Limited, but another firm, Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Exploration Company, approached the court to be joined as the holder of OML 29 lease.

Aiteo Exploration and Exploration had approached the court of Appeal in Port Harcourt and applied to the Federal High Court to stay proceedings pending the determination of the appeal.

Earlier, lead counsel to the Nembe communities, Mr Iniruo Wills, told the court that they had filed a counter affidavit opposing the application for stay of execution, and wondered why the applicants cannot await the ruling of the court. He said that arguments canvassed by Aiteo Exploration and Production, a party to the suit, amounted to holding the entire judicial process to ransom.

He urged the court to consider the plight of the law abiding people of Nembe, who had taken the peaceful route in seeking legal redress, to ventilate their grievances rather than resorting to self help.

Mr Andrew Oru, counsel to Aiteo Exploration, urged the court to steer clear of the matter, pending a decision of the appellate court, saying that they were not the beneficiaries of the OML 29 licence.

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