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Odimodi/Forcados judgment: A proof of corporate wickedness in the Niger Delta
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is agreed by many that war may be a lawful act and without sin, if it meets these three conditions: waged by the lawful public authority in defense of the common good, waged for a just cause, and waged with the right intention, not vengefully nor to inflict harm.
But looking at the ‘legal war’ between the people of Odimodi Federated Communities and Forcados Community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta state, all as plaintiffs, and Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited as the defendant/respondent, in a case that spanned for 17 years, one will discover without labour that Mobil Producing entered into that war neither qualified nor confirmed with the above preconditions but simply banked on its financial war prowess to crush the tiny but innocent communities whom they (Mobil) have wronged.
The offence committed by the community is captured in their prayer to the federal high court to enforce their fundamental/environmental rights against Mobil Producing in an oil spillage incident occasioned by Mobil’s negligence which got their environment polluted, destroyed the eco-system and have the economic lives of the people disrupted. That prayer was recently answered after seventeen years of crisscrossing the federal high courts. A victory the community claimed to have expended over N500 million to secure.
But, this victory as currently savored may again be short-lived as they (the community) have cried out that Mobil’s legal team has signaled their willingness to apply, and obtain a stay of execution in order to prepare for another round of litigation at the appellate court, just the way Mobil handled similar cases involving some coastal communities in Lagos and other parts of South South; developments that have since thrown these communities into a deeper depth of despondency while internalizing the age-long saying that, ‘if a man has no income or money, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He only exists.
Going by the records of the judgment, it was visible that Justice Shitu Abubakar of the Federal High Court, Warri did a heck of a job by the comprehensive way he handled the issues in his judgment in suit number No.FHC/WR/CS/33/20 a few weeks back, were he among other conditions, ordered the oil giant, Mobil to pay the sum of one billion, four hundred thirty million as compensation to the communities.
Adding context to this discourse will necessitate first, a total condemnation of Mobil’s deliberate attempt to ‘kill’ the community they are supposed to protect via a protracted litigation, without contemplating/recourse to alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Again, the situation points to the bigger frame of challenge faced daily by the Niger Deltans in the hands of these multi-national. A state of affairs orchestrated by the weak regulatory frameworks on the part of the federal government and its interventionist agencies; Ministry of the Environment, Niger Delta Ministry, Federal/state Environment Protection agencies, etc.
While blaming the oil company for setting the stage for this debacle, the greater part of the blame goes to the government agencies for lacking in the political will needed to discharge their regulatory responsibilities. To this effect, while the FG and its agencies are busy shirking their responsibilities, they, in turn overlook some silent but vital points.
First, if the government should stand by and watch Mobil muscle their way through this situation without paying this ordered sum or the communities not adequately compensated for this spillage and monumental environmental degradation, the fate of other communities in the region shall be hanging on a balance as they will now live at the mercy of these oil giants who have immense financial war chest prosecute legal battles against any case patterning to environmental degradation against them.
In the same fashion, If the government should stand by and watch these helpless but innocent communities hand-twisted, it will again lay credence to the belief by many that our leaders are the architects of our woes.
Viewed through this prism, it will be pertinent to draw the attention of the Federal Government to this domestic truth. In the words of Daron Acemoglu, nations fail today because the extractive/ economic institutions do not create the incentives needed for people to save, invest and innovate. Extractive political institutions on the other hands support this economic institution by cementing the powers of those who benefit from the extraction’. Invariably, it is my view that the Federal Government as the extractive political institution is through its undeserving silence cementing the illegalities of these oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region.
But such a silence on the part of the government can only amplify further agitations in the region and thereby disrupt the nascent peace as currently enjoyed. As recently canvassed, the fact is, the agitators/the Niger Deltans will continue to fight because they are tired of being perpetual victims of state-sponsored poverty and human degradation visited on them. From all indications, they may be ready and committed to peace by any means necessary, but may not want to be committed to becoming the victims of peace’
Catalyzing an end to this vicious circle of undeserving silence will therefore require the government, the ‘Oil Majors’ and all of us to learn from history, study the actions of eminent men, to see how they conducted themselves in a time such as this, and to discover the reasons for their victories or their defeats, so that we can avoid the later and imitate the former. Our economy is at stake; hence, this matter should not be treated with levity but requires the full/immediate intervention of the federal government.
To further illustrate the above, the information as reported in the news recently reveals that the youth in the communities are already threatening to short down the Forcados crude oil terminal. An exercise which they claim could lead to another round of economic recession in the country. This, to my mind, is not what the nation needs presently. This time is auspicious for all to learn that aggression has a way of bringing devastation to all, including he that employed it.
Similarly, what the oil prospecting organizations should not lose sight of is that opting for a legal solution at all time without first exploring the alternative dispute resolution mechanism gives the management away as a group that is medium in vision in the affairs of public relations and reputation management. Apart from the action going against the tenets of corporate social responsibility (CSR), it will adversely affect the corporate visibility, identity, and image which are the amalgam of the organization’s value in the estimation of the right-thinking citizens.
Keeping the issues where they are, a further analysis of the judgment reveals that Mobil will pay the plaintiff the sum of N980,000,000.00(Nine Hundred and Eighty Million Naira ) being fair and adequate compensation due and payable to the Odimodi federated communities for injurious effect, ecological damage, loss of means of livelihood and damage to fishing creeks, rivers, lakes, ponds, grounds, streams,
Also, Mobil will be required to pay the plaintiff another sum, again, amounting to the sum of N450,000,000 being fair payment and adequate compensation due and made payable to the Facades community for injurious effect’.
Despite the above, it is my conviction that the whole expression is not cast in stone but could open the floodgate for further negotiation between the oil company and the federating communities. A development I feel the communities will gladly welcome. It is also my understanding that opting for negotiation will definitely serve the interest of all, renew the already strained relationship, save the communities from further financial burden while presenting Mobil Producing as a good corporate neighbor and entity.
Jerome-Mario writes via; firstname.lastname@example.org