– By Sam Asoluka
In what appears to be a caricature and suppression of justice in Nigeria, TOTAL E&P Nigeria Ltd (TEPENG) has filed an injunction against seven of the families that were affected by the impact of the Gas Blowout from the Oil and Gas operations of TOTAL E & P Nigeria Ltd (TEPENG) in EGI land in Ogba- Egbema – Ndoni Local Government area of Rivers State between March and April of 2012.
The families through their legal representatives threatened to drag both TEPENG and its France – based parent company, TOTAL SA , before a High Court in London , if TEPENG does not compensate the seven families that make up the EGITE community, £47 million for the damages caused to the community’s farmland and ecosystem . The community’s decision to drag the matter to either London or France is based on their conviction that they will get fair justice and compensation as TEPENG has failed to compensate them at all.
Although TEPENG said in one of several correspondence to the community’s lawyers that it had paid mutually agreed compensation to all parties that were affected by the gas eruption and as such, is no longer liable to pay further claims to any community. However , the seven families that make up the EGITE community wrote to TEPENG ( through their lawyers ) , disassociated themselves from any negotiations that may have taken place between TEPENG and a community group named EGI Peoples Assembly, saying they did not appoint the latter to represent them.
As a result of the disputed claims, EGITE community instructed a North London based law firm, Judith Maurice Solicitors, JMS, which in turn, wrote to the Managing Director of TEPENG on November 6, saying that ” till date, the above named community (UMU- Elemele Autonomous family and six other families) have not received any compensation contrary to the assurance given by your chairman.” Continuing, JMS noted that: “The community have been denied the use and benefits of their farm land,” and that “it would be up to ten years or more before the area” returns to its pre- pollution state. Furthermore, the community complained that the “cleanup operation is not proceeding at any reasonable pace at all,” thereby making the place a “restricted area.”
The community’s lawyers also noted that: “despite several attempts to resolve the matter, TEPENG has failed to compensate the above community in any way at all.” In view of this , the lawyers said not only have they been instructed to commence legal proceedings against TEPENG and its France – based parent company, TOTAL SA, they informed TEPENG and it’s parent body, TOTAL SA, that the seven communities’ claims as at May 2013 is over £47 million. More importantly, the lawyers added that: “please take note that our client has not mandated the EGI Peoples Assembly or any other group or persons to enter into any negotiations on our behalf.”
In a reminder letter dated December 2, 2013, written to TEPENG’s Managing Director, JMS gave the oil major a 28-day ultimatum, warning TEPENG that if the company does not get in touch with them, “we will advice our clients to commence legal proceedings against you for compensation and damages at the appropriate court.”
But rather than negotiate and compensate the EGITE community, TEPENG, meanwhile, rushed to the Federal High Court in Port – Harcourt about a fortnight ago and through its lawyers – Adewale Atake , Godwin Omoaka, Igonikon Whyte and Victor C. Akpan of TEMPLARS located at 4th Floor the Octagon, 13A, A.J. Marinbo Drive, Victoria Island Lagos and C/O FRED MUKORO of Flat 11 Everrich Estate, Off Dons Close, Orazi, Port Harcourt – filed an application (SUIT NO. FHC/PH/01/2014) dated January 2, 2014 for an injunction, prohibiting the seven affected Communities and their Nigeria and London based legal representatives from commencing any legal proceedings against TEPENG or TOTAL SA in any court outside Nigeria. Judith Maurice Solicitors, on behalf of the community had already stated in a November 2013 correspondence written to both TEPENG and its parent body in France, TOTAL SA, and titled “Letter Before Action” that its clients reserve the right to commence legal proceedings in France, Nigeria or the United Kingdom.
And most of the legal experts who spoke on the court injunction filed by TEPENG said it’s an example of how the judicial system can be used to truncate justice in Nigeria. The experts expressed the view that the seven affected communities have a right as stated by their Solicitor to commence legal proceedings against TEPENG or TOTAL SA in the United Kingdom, France or Nigeria. The legal experts stated that the action taken by TEPENG is an affront to natural justice. They stated that having admitted liability, the reasonable cause of action is for TEPENG to make a reasonable proposal to pay adequate compensation to the seven affected communities through their legal representatives. One legal expert described the application filed by TEPENG as being below elementary law and laughable. It is yet beyond believe how TEPENG can resort to such a move which the communities view as being confrontational.
Sam Asoluka can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org