Worried by the obstinacy of the oil giant, Exxon Mobil, to remediate its environment, Ibeno, an oil-producing community in Akwa Ibom State, is considering dragging the company to an international court.
Ibeno, the host community of Exxon Mobil has repeatedly called on the company to have a comprehensive audit of the environmental, social, health and economic damage its extractive activities had caused and ensure adequate remediations and reparation.
The call intensified in 2022, when ExxonMobil announced plans to sell its assets to Seplat Energy, having extracted crude from the community for about 62 years.
The community in a one-day Community Diagnostic Dialogue at the village hall in Upenekang on issues of oil pollution organised by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) noted that they would consider approaching an international court as ExxonMobil has no respect for court judgements in Nigeria as shown in the past.
In an interview with journalists on Friday, the President, Upenekang Town Council, Chief Godwin Efanga, recounted that Mobil had ignored their several petitions on the need to carry out an immediate and comprehensive audit of the community before leaving.
He noted that Exxon Mobil had been known for flouting Nigerian court orders saying that they will look for a way to approach the International Court in America through the help of a Non Governmental Organisation.
According to him: “Exxon Mobil, as we know, are those who may not want to respect government policies or court judgement in Nigeria. The longest picketing in the whole world is in Exxon Mobil and we will not take the risk of suing the company here in Nigeria because they will not even obey if we get justice.
“For instance, since 2018 after getting a judgement from the Supreme Court for Exxon Mobil to recognise the sacked Spy policemen, and other security workforce as their employees and to pay them their full entitlement, Exxon Mobil ignored the ruling, rather, it used government agents such as the policemen and the army to chase away the people.”
A leader in the community, Mrs. Iquo Dan, noted that since July 2022 when the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Ltd, through the court, temporarily blocked Mobil from selling its assets, the company has not taken any step to audit its years of operation in Ibeno.
She, therefore, called for a comprehensive audit of the Ibeno community which would cover environmental, livelihood, health, social and economic impacts of crude oil and gas extraction.
Another member of the community, Princess Wills, expressed worry on who would finance the litigation against the oil giant, saying: “Yes, going to court is good but my fear is who will sponsor it? Is it our chiefs? Of course, they don’t have the resources to finance the case and at the end of the day it would be futile.”
However, the Executive Director of HOMEF, Dr Nnimmo Bassey, while speaking, assured of the willingness of the organisation to support the community in its court processes by providing adequate documentation.
He said before the organisation can come in to provide such services, the community must first decide on what to do, saying that the community should not be discouraged about finances as there are human rights lawyers who provide pro bono services to clients.
His words: “HOMEF will support any action that is peaceful and legitimate. We will be rightly disposed to support the community with important documentation, including samples of similar cases that birthed positive outcomes.
“If they decide to litigate against any company causing troubles here, that is perfectly in order. We have seen many communities in the Niger Delta that their struggles have yielded positive results.
“We have the case of fisherfolks and farmers against Shell in Oruma and Goi, in Rivers State, and Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom State where the court in the Netherland ordered Shell to pay for the people’s losses.
“There are many examples where these communities have forced these oil companies and governments to pay attention because they are not ready to pay attention unless somebody presses them really hard.
The people should know that one thing about litigation on violation of human rights issues is that you don’t need to put money on the table first, because it is a human right struggle. The community does not need to pay, nor do we, but there are good lawyers that can take up the case Pro Bono.”